Thursday, 28 July 2011

Doing the business

In period dramas and contemporary novels you rarely see the characters doing the more mundane, daily routines in life, and one question I am often asked is "Where did they go to the toilet?"

Flushing toilets as we know them didn't come into popularity until the Victorian period, so what did people do before this? In English country houses there was no separate toilet or washroom - instead the facility came to the Lord or Lady in the form of chamber pots. These had the benefit of being exceedingly practical (particularly when you had the convenience of servants to take them away) and could be brought to you anywhere.

In each bedroom in high status houses there would also have been a night table, also referred to as a pot-cupboard or commode (not to be confused with a French chest of the same name). In these walnut or mahognany chests, chamber pots and sometimes seats, were hidden. In fact the reason that night tables were referred to as commodes in England was because of their striking resemblance to small chests and cupboards - commode in French.

This Georgian night table would have had a chamber pot placed discreetly inside -
to be removed by the servants in the morning


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  2. Thanks for an interesting snippet of personal hygiene history.
    What did the 18th century use for toilet paper?

    This is not an idle question. I need this info for some of my writing and I can find it no where.

    I look forward to your answer

    John Coffey

  3. Apologies for the delay but it's not something that appears in many of my books! As toilet paper wasn't invented until the late nineteenth century, it looks like people continued to use what they had been using for centuries, namely the rich used wool or cloth and the poor used whatever they could find, such as leaves, moss or rags (the latter having the added benefit of being reuseable). Hope this helps!