Weird Histories 2: Victorians on the Toilet
Toilets and Toilet Behaviour in the 18th and 19th Centuries
About this Weird Histories series of Articles
This is one of a series of articles primarily written for parents and their children. Many children (and a surprising number of adults) are fond of toilet humour. The facts and stories contained in these articles indulge this tendency but also educate children about past times and how times have changed.
INTRODUCTION: On the Toilet - Then and Now
Nowadays we go to “the rest room” (US vernacular) or to “the toilet” in the UK. Although some men use group urinals to pee, they use lockable and private toilet cubicles for anything more. Women use private toilet cubicles to pee and anything else. Though normally we use the same space to wash our hands (because we don’t like to spread germs) we would never consider doing anything that involved sitting on a toilet in a communal setting. Oh how times have changed!
Victorian Toffs in the Rest Room or on the Toilet
Although Queen Victoria, other Royals and rich people may have had their own commodes – a seat which doubled as a toilet – these were not usually in special rooms and most likely caused problems when it came to privacy. There are tales of posh people using their commodes behind a curtain in the dining room while everybody else carried on eating. The use of commodes would also have caused problems for the housemaid tasked with emptying the contents – as there were no flush toilets until the late Victorian era.
Every Other Victorian in the Rest Room or on the Toilet
But what of other people in the 18th and 19thcenturies, how did they toilet? They used outdoor facilities or had a potty under the bed – all their lives – not just when they were young children. Of course, adults had much bigger potties than children (stands to reason as their bums are much bigger). A potty would have been a preferable alternative to the toilet used by several families in the courtyard between back-to-back housing blocks. They didn’t have individual cubicles like we do today – one toilet block would have been for everyone and the toilet inside had a seat that accomodated two, three or even four people at a time. There are examples still in existence of these two, three and four seater toilets. Remember, none of these would have had a flush. Also, toilet paper hadn’t been invented so guess what they used? (ANSWER: anything including newspaper if they were very lucky).
Say “err” and “yuk” a lot and have a laugh at the Victorians expense while telling your children about this – but also remind them that no other super-power since has ruled as much of the world as the Victorians and there’s still the Commonwealth. To finish this tale ask children if they are glad that they live today rather than in Victorian times.
- Check out some more facts about Victorians online. Look at the size of their empire (known as the British Empire) and the size of the Commonwealth today. Google “Osborne House” and see where Queen Victoria liked to live and toilet
- Find an example of an 18th or early 19th century double, treble or quadruple toilet online. CLUE: google “Black Country Museum” and “Birmingham, back to back houses.
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