Day 8 of 30 days with Daisy.
I thought today I’ d discuss some of the pertinent points of places of easement in the 18th century.
By places of easement I mean what you and I know as the lavatory, toilet, Loo, Bog and half a dozen other euphemisms. No, don’t gag on your morning coffee at this point, please recall a great deal of historical information is gained by the study of the cess pit and the rubbish dump.
One of the periods of the greatest improvement in public health in the UK occurred during the 19th century. Why? Because they cleaned up the mess left from the 16th, 17th and 18th century.
As you already know 18th century plumbing was rudimentary at best or none existent in the majority homes. There were some cities still depending on the sewers the Romans had put in place. I know, Miss Sunny, you will be pleased to know that.
A few shining beacons like Mr. Matthew Boulton existed with his indoor flushing lavatory but in general most of the populace used close stools, what you might call a potty chair. This example is quite elaborate the middle section pulls out.
If close stools were not used people would visited a privy outside. Even royal palaces had these things though they were called houses of easement rather than the common term privy.
Inside a house of easement a board seat with one or more suitably sized holes for sitting gave access to a cess pit below. The pit slowly filled with offerings until the stink forced the owners to call in the Night Soil Men. These stoic souls were paid to empty the pit with bucket and shovel and then took the contents to sell to farmers outside the city. This occurred primarily in London but other growing cities had the same system. Cess pits in older properties could have been put in place a hundred years or more before and used continuously.
If a house didn’t have a cess pit it may well have had a midden where all rubbish was thrown. Midden dumps are another excellent archaeological tool for research. Middens could grow to very large proportions in households with a large family and their servants. In the country there contents were sometimes used for fertiliser for the fields, in towns they were sometimes cleared away by the Night Soil Men.
Remember too, in the 18th century the streets would be regularly peppered and sprayed with horse droppings, some of the streets ran with refuse from butchers shops as well. One element of the London Season was it gave people the opportunity to be out of the city when it was most likely to be unhealthy.
So, how did all this impact on the lives of people in the mid 18th century. I have to say in general I don’t dwell on this detail in my story A Gentleman’s Folly too much as it seemed just an ordinary part of my character’s lives. Close stools are present in all the different homes Katherine is in, as they would have been at the time. These are regularly emptied by servants.
Herbs and pomanders and sweet smelling items would sometimes be placed or hung close to a close stool, but not always. Some close stools were made of exquisite imported woods and decorated beautifully. Others were very plain. I suppose as long as they served their purpose people were happy enough.
Toilet tissue or paper wasn’t invented until 1857, that’s a long time away from the 18th century and people used other materials for the necessary tasks. Rag, old linen and moss are all listed as being used.
For those risking travel by coach public facilities grew everywhere in the countryside.
I do hope you found this post entertaining. During the the next week’s worth of posts I’ll be looking at more pleasant things, well, mostly. I’ll be talking about foods available in the 18th century, cooking and dining.
A note to all of you wishing to comment on this post. I am out at an antiques fair for much of the day and will moderate and reply to comments when I get back. Please do comment as I really enjoy the feedback from you.