Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-22-2013, 08:32 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
Public* bathrooms (i.e. toilets, restrooms, lavatories) before sewer pipes and flush toilets

Let's say I am a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Or, imagine that I am a member of the British Parliament feasting on the oratory of Disraeli almost one hundred years later. Imagine further, though, that as much as I long to hear Franklin's peroration or Gladstone's repartee, I really need to use "the facilities". Now. And therein lies my questions: were there "facilities" available? What were they like? Would I need to go outside? Was there a room with a slew of chamberpots lined up and ready for use? Or maybe there was an arrangement like this, presumably with a bucket or barrel under each seat.

So, I ask, what were public bathrooms* like before the era of sewer pipes? Did they even exist?

Thanks!

*let's assume we're talking the educated, cultured public (such as would be the Philadelphia Convention delegates or a British MP). I assume that bathrooms for hoi polloi, say at the local pub, are a whole different matter.
  #2  
Old 06-22-2013, 08:43 PM
Ethilrist Ethilrist is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Saint Paul
Posts: 26,537
I believe they were called "outhouses."
  #3  
Old 06-22-2013, 09:06 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
But that's my point - were there facilities inside the building, and what were they like. I find it hard to believe that a geriatric Ben Franklin was supposed to amble off whenever he had to pyff.

Last edited by KarlGauss; 06-22-2013 at 09:08 PM.
  #4  
Old 06-22-2013, 09:17 PM
Broomstick's Avatar
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 27,089
The Ancient Romans actually did have flush toilets of a sort. You know all those fountains and plumbing they had? They used the same techniques to run water through channels (usually intermittently, but potentially continuously). Said channels had seats above them. While they did have men's and woman's facilities, within those facilities there were no dividers between seats so you really did do your business in public.

Some private homes had similar arrangements, although with typically fewer seats than the true public toilets you'd find at, say, a public bath.

Picture of actual Ancient Roman toilets (in ruins now, of course)

So, really, flush toilets go back a loooong ways.

Absent flush toilets, you have pots/other vessels, pits, or designated areas of the village and/or outside the campsite. Some castles have seats located so that human waste goes down the outside of the walls (perhaps into the moat, perhaps not). Other castles just have pits built into the walls which would eventually need to be emptied.

By and large, prior to flush toilets locating toilets inside living areas tended to be avoided, although chamber pots were common household items for millenia all over the world. Of course, chamber pots can be taken outside and emptied.

ETA: yes, the "generic Ben Franklin" really was expected to "amble off" to do his business in the outhouse.

Last edited by Broomstick; 06-22-2013 at 09:19 PM.
  #5  
Old 06-22-2013, 09:55 PM
alphaboi867 alphaboi867 is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: the Keystone State
Posts: 14,105
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
In case anyone's wondering about those round holes in the front of the toilets; Romans cleaned themselves with wet sponges attached to sticks. At the public toilets you rented one from the attendant.
__________________
No Gods, No Masters
  #6  
Old 06-22-2013, 11:25 PM
clairobscur clairobscur is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Paris
Posts: 17,062
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaboi867 View Post
In case anyone's wondering about those round holes in the front of the toilets; Romans cleaned themselves with wet sponges attached to sticks. At the public toilets you rented one from the attendant.
I still don't understand. What was the purpose of the holes wrt the sponges?
  #7  
Old 06-23-2013, 12:36 AM
silenus's Avatar
silenus silenus is online now
Isaiah 1:15 Screw the NRA.
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: SoCal
Posts: 49,954
Getting the right angle to sponge off your starfish.
  #8  
Old 06-23-2013, 02:52 AM
APB APB is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Posts: 2,067
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
Or, imagine that I am a member of the British Parliament feasting on the oratory of Disraeli almost one hundred years later.
Of course, in Disraeli's day the Palace of Westminster was pretty much new and so had modern toilets. (At least for men.) Indeed, by then one of Sir Joseph Bazalgette's main sewers ran directly under the building.

What may seem rather more surprising is that in the old, pre-1834 Palace, the House of Commons had had since the sixteenth century its own 'bog house', located on the south side of the Lobby. IIRC they had even at an early date installed a tank on the roof to collect rainwater for flushing.
  #9  
Old 06-23-2013, 07:47 AM
even sven even sven is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: DC
Posts: 19,401
Today in areas without running water, there are usually public outhouses. The actual apparatus (seat? hole in the ground? open to the sky? enclosed?) will vary on whatever is locally preferred, but generally it will resemble the same setup as a residential area. If they are truly public (as in not tied to a restaurant or something), they will generally be attended and require a small fee, for which you will get toilet paper or water for cleaning.

A well-maintained latrine with proper venting and a cover doesn't have to be that gross, and can often be located just behind a building.
  #10  
Old 06-23-2013, 08:54 AM
Shakester's Avatar
Shakester Shakester is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Dec 2008
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Posts: 2,988
Quote:
Originally Posted by KarlGauss View Post
pyff
The long s - which you're representing with an f - is never used at the end of a word. In the word piss, it could be written as "pifs" but never as "piff" (or "pyff").
  #11  
Old 06-24-2013, 07:31 AM
Lust4Life Lust4Life is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: perfidious albion
Posts: 6,422
In the Bay of Skaill, on Mainland, the Orkney Islands, Scotland, are the remains of a Neolithic settlement that had toilets with running water.
  #12  
Old 06-24-2013, 07:35 AM
Ludovic Ludovic is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: America's Wing
Posts: 28,619
Quote:
Originally Posted by clairobscur View Post
I still don't understand. What was the purpose of the holes wrt the sponges?
It's where you put the three seashells.
  #13  
Old 06-24-2013, 08:48 AM
bob++ bob++ is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Worcestershire UK
Posts: 6,090
Those Roman toilets survived even in the 20th century: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M0c7MJy3FT8
  #14  
Old 06-24-2013, 10:23 AM
GythaOgg GythaOgg is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2002
Location: St. Louis
Posts: 591
Henry VIII had some fairly advanced (for the time) plumbing in some of his palaces. He actually built a public bathroom for the court - his 'Great House of Easement' - at Hampton Court Palace. It had 28 seats and drained through sewer pipes into the Thames. Great House of Easement

According to historian Alison Weir in 'Henry VII, the King and His Court', most of his palaces also had running water in many areas, though not typically bathrooms as we know them.
  #15  
Old 06-24-2013, 11:51 AM
runningdude runningdude is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: May 2013
Posts: 696
I think I recall seeing a colonial brick outhouse next to Independence Hall in Philadelphia still in existence.

Last edited by runningdude; 06-24-2013 at 11:53 AM. Reason: wrong building
  #16  
Old 06-24-2013, 12:05 PM
md2000 md2000 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 13,996
Quote:
Originally Posted by runningdude View Post
I think I recall seeing a colonial brick outhouse next to Independence Hall in Philadelphia still in existence.
How was it built?


I remember an old British film (IIRC, the basis for "All In The Family" original British series) that featured the old working-class townhouses, and even during WWII they still had outhouses in the back yard, in loo of indoor plumbing. (I assume those got emptied out regularly - now there's a job!)

Also saw a row of public toilet stalls in the great outdoors at the entrance to a monastery just outside Lhasa. A small mountain stream ran across the setup, along an open concrete trough traversing across each stall. You could squat and leave your load for the water to wash away. Presumably the upstream stalls were the best of a bad situation.

Last edited by md2000; 06-24-2013 at 12:08 PM.
  #17  
Old 06-24-2013, 12:31 PM
Broomstick's Avatar
Broomstick Broomstick is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 27,089
Quote:
Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
I remember an old British film (IIRC, the basis for "All In The Family" original British series) that featured the old working-class townhouses, and even during WWII they still had outhouses in the back yard, in loo of indoor plumbing. (I assume those got emptied out regularly - now there's a job!)
When I met my spouse he was living in a part of the South Side of Chicago where the remnants of such a system were still present and visible. The outhouses were on top of cesspits which yes, did need regular cleaning. The "soil" was then sold as farm fertilizer. A nasty job for sure.
  #18  
Old 06-24-2013, 12:34 PM
purplehorseshoe purplehorseshoe is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Texas, USA
Posts: 9,462
Quote:
Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
... even during WWII they still had outhouses in the back yard, in loo of indoor plumbing...
Typo? Deliberate funny?
  #19  
Old 06-24-2013, 12:39 PM
KarlGauss KarlGauss is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2000
Location: Between pole and tropic
Posts: 7,544
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shakester View Post
The long s - which you're representing with an f - is never used at the end of a word. In the word piss, it could be written as "pifs" but never as "piff" (or "pyff").
Thank you - ignorance fought.
  #20  
Old 06-24-2013, 01:44 PM
fiddlesticks fiddlesticks is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Alamo City
Posts: 4,444
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
When I met my spouse he was living in a part of the South Side of Chicago where the remnants of such a system were still present and visible. The outhouses were on top of cesspits which yes, did need regular cleaning. The "soil" was then sold as farm fertilizer. A nasty job for sure.
Night soil... the job was done at night so as not to disturb the general populace.
  #21  
Old 06-24-2013, 01:49 PM
Nava Nava is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Hey! I'm located! WOOOOW!
Posts: 39,182
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
ETA: yes, the "generic Ben Franklin" really was expected to "amble off" to do his business in the outhouse.
Or use a chamber pot. I've seen thrones whose seat had a hole (specifically, it was in Stirling Castle); a chamberpot could be inserted and removed from the back. That way the king didn't need to leave the room to attend the kind of business one cannot delegate.

Last edited by Nava; 06-24-2013 at 01:51 PM.
  #22  
Old 06-24-2013, 04:11 PM
Slithy Tove Slithy Tove is offline
BANNED
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: Buford, Georgia
Posts: 8,011
Rio de Janero had no sewer system: human wastes was scooped into baskets and carried on slaves' heads to be dumped at the beach. The porters were called tigres from the streaks that were bleached on their skin.
  #23  
Old 06-24-2013, 05:05 PM
Claverhouse Claverhouse is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 4,169
Last year there was a BBC documentary on the history of such sanitation, from Rome to the golden lavatories of today's far east; including outhouses, but connected to the sewers, of the back-to-back housing of the poor in the recent past of Britain.

Google


Review
__________________
The efficiency and success of the Italian aviators in Tripoli are noteworthy, but must not be overvalued. There were no opponents in the air.

v. Bernhardi ---- Germany and the Next War
  #24  
Old 06-24-2013, 05:22 PM
bob++ bob++ is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Worcestershire UK
Posts: 6,090
In the days before flush toilets the 'honey wagon' would come round ever night to take the soil away.

If you go back to the 17th century then places like London must have stunk.

From Pepys Diary:
"Saturday 20 October 1660
This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one which Sir W. Batten had stopped up, and going down into my cellar to look I stepped into a great heap of turds."

http://martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/great_stink.html

Quote:
During the 18th century, a new invention, the flush toilet, or water-closet, became more and more popular; the handy chamber-pot kept in the sideboard was no longer socially acceptable. By one of those curious paradoxes that occasionally embarrass the reformer, however, London at the beginning of the 19th Century was more dangerously polluted than ever due to the increase in the provision of these water-closets. The new WCs were so arranged that they discharged into the old cess-pits, which consequently overflowed into the surface water sewers beneath the streets. As these had been earlier designed to collect rainwater only, and to discharge into the rivers and ditches connected to the Thames, the improved domestic arrangements unaccompanied by improvements in the sewerage system brought London to the verge of disaster, a giant step forward for personal hygiene and two steps backward for public sanitation.

Last edited by bob++; 06-24-2013 at 05:24 PM.
  #25  
Old 06-25-2013, 04:19 AM
APB APB is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Posts: 2,067
Quote:
Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
In the days before flush toilets the 'honey wagon' would come round ever night to take the soil away.

If you go back to the 17th century then places like London must have stunk.

From Pepys Diary:
"Saturday 20 October 1660
This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one which Sir W. Batten had stopped up, and going down into my cellar to look I stepped into a great heap of turds."
Not so fast. The full sentence reads,

Quote:
This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one which Sir W. Batten had stopped up; and going down into my cellar to look, I stepped into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me; but I will have it helped.
In other words, Pepys did not usually have heaps of shit in his cellar, he regarded it as a serious problem when he discovered that he did and he then thought it necessary to do something about it, probably as a matter of urgency. So he viewed this in exactly the same way that we would a broken pipe from a toilet.

The less obvious point is that properly maintained cesspits, which Turner's clearly wasn't, usually didn't smell. Which is precisely why most people did make an effort to maintain them properly.
  #26  
Old 06-26-2013, 06:10 PM
BigT's Avatar
BigT BigT is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: "Hicksville", Ark.
Posts: 34,684
Quote:
Originally Posted by Nava View Post
Or use a chamber pot. I've seen thrones whose seat had a hole (specifically, it was in Stirling Castle); a chamberpot could be inserted and removed from the back. That way the king didn't need to leave the room to attend the kind of business one cannot delegate.
Exactly what I was going to ask. Why not use a chamber pot, and have one of your many, um, servants dispose of the contents for you?
  #27  
Old 06-26-2013, 10:38 PM
Grateful-UnDead Grateful-UnDead is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 267
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaboi867 View Post
In case anyone's wondering about those round holes in the front of the toilets; Romans cleaned themselves with wet sponges attached to sticks. At the public toilets you rented one from the attendant.
Oh.

I had just assumed that the Romans were really, really, really well hung.
  #28  
Old 06-27-2013, 02:44 AM
clairobscur clairobscur is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Paris
Posts: 17,062
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ludovic View Post
It's where you put the three seashells.
What? I must be dense, I still don't understand.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 01:09 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017