Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Victorian toilet

I apologize for not having posted in a while. I have no excuses other than the weather has been unbearably hot, which generally makes me feel quite ill. I even missed a delightful local steampunk picnic. :(
As it rained today I am feeling more like myself and am back to wondering about day to day items and how they were in Victorian times. Today I tackle that most humble of day to day objects - the toilet.

Roman public toilets

Rudimentary Toilets have been in use since ancient times. The Egyptians and Persians had them. Even the Romans had public toilets that were basically an open seat over a running channel of water, which carried the waste out a system of channels to the nearest river. They used a sponge on a stick to wipe themselves, which sounds alright until I read that these sponges were shared - eww. No wonder diseases like cholera were rampant.

Elaborate Victorian toilet

Chamberpots were the most common way of collecting and disposing of waste during ancient times and well into the 19th century. Waste would be dumped out the window, and onto the street where gutters would carry waste towards the nearest body of water. This made walking down the street a sometimes treacherous and smelly experience.
As cities got more crowded, the simple gutter system became less effective. Many cities like Paris began building local cesspools. A system of pipes would take waste away from houses towards the nearest cesspool. Workers would then pump the liquid out, and shovel the solid waste to be taken away by cart. It was thought to be excellent fertilizer.

Victorian toilet tank

In Victorian London, the gutters and sewer system emptied out into the river Thames. As this was also the source of drinking water, the city suffered from various cholera outbreaks, the largest during the 1840s. In 1858 the pollution combined with a hot summer lead to what became known as "The Great Stink". The smell was do bad Parliament was relocated that year. It was then decided that the sewer system had to be improved.

Public toilets were put up around the city, although the wealthy could afford to have their own plumbing systems. Waste was collected in chamber pots and the servants would dispose of it in a "slop sink" in an upstairs housemaid's cupboard. The chamber pots were washed in a wooden sink to avoid chipping the pots.

Victorian public toilets

The modern flush toilet was invented in the 1880s with Thomas Crapper being one of the first makers of these early above tank, pull chain toilets.

At first it was only the rich that could afford this luxury, but as indoor plumbing became more common so did the household loo. By the 1920s most homes had an indoor toilet.
In the 1890s the low flush model most of us know was invented and in the 1920s toilet paper rolls with perforated square sections came onto the market (before that squares of rough paper were used). All making for a more comfortable and convenient experience.

Ornate upscale Victorian loo.

I hope you enjoyed the history of this household object. If you have any suggestions for items I could feature, please let me know. :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. I thought Thomas Crapper's invention was from the 1860s, but I think I'm confusing that with Hopper's "earth closet" of the same decade...

    once again, great post. Thanks for teaching me about Victorian public restrooms. I wasn't aware that they had those!

  2. Ahh, the Crapper...Well done Love,

  3. I almost forgot about Thomas Crapper. You made me giggle. But I did that every time at Dalnavert too, so, lol.

  4. Some of those pictures are oddly beautiful. I never thought I could think a toilet was beautiful.
    Great post!