Working Class Life 1940s & 50s -Indoor Plumbing?
No Indoor Lavvy
If you have grown up with indoor plumbing you will not know what life was like for us who grew up without it.When I was growing up our only toilet was outside the house, in our backyard next to the coal house.
In the photograph, my brother is in our backyard with the coal house door behind him. To the right and on his left you can see part of the door of the outside toilet.
The Outside Lavvy
Not every house had its own toilet, in some cases the toilets were for communal use. Communal toilets would normally be where terraced houses had a communal back yard.
Here all the back doors of the houses would open out onto a back yard that all the houses in that row shared.
When the back was like this, two or more houses would share one outside toilet. I am glad to say that our row of terraced houses all had our own private outside toilet.
The outside toilet went by many names
The outside toilet went by a variety of names. Some that I remember are,
We knew the toilet as the
lavvy, lav, thunderbox, sh*thouse, sh*tter, WC, Water Closet, crapper, bog, loo, privy and the kharzi.
No doubt some of you could add some more names to this list. We just use to call ours the lav or the lavvy, but we Brits do seem to have a lot of names for this little room don't we.
No Power in the Outside Lavvy
There was no power in the outside toilet, which of course, meant that we had no light in there or heat.
During the day going outside to use the toilet was no problem at all. If you look at the photo you will see that there is a gap at the top and bottom of the toilet door.
This gap was plenty big enough to let enough light in for you to be able to see what you were doing when you went to the lavvy during daylight hours.
Whitewashing the inside walls of an outside lavvy seemed to be the usual thing to do back then.
The inside walls of our lavvy were just bare bricks, there was no plaster or tiles on the walls.
My dad like most people in our neighbourhood, painted the bricks inside the toilet with whitewash, which is a bit like the cheap white emulsion paint of today.
To my best recollection, most people whitewashed the inside walls of their outside lavvy.
On the floor of the lavvy were the same red quarry tiles that were on the floor of the pantry and scullery.
Just like the red quarry tiles inside the house, I had to polish the quarry tiles in the outside lavvy with Cardinal Polish.
Polishing quarry tiles inside or out was not a task that I enjoyed. The tiles looked good when I had done them but I used to get the red polish all over myself.
Having a spotlessly clean home was a matter of pride for most working class mums back then. Cleaning included the outside lavvy, the front step and your bit of pavement.
It was shameful back then if people thought of you as dirty. My mum like many of her generation would say things like, “You can't help being poor, but there is no excuse for being dirty. Soap and water cost nothing.”
Of course, that is not quite true soap does cost money. But the thought behind the saying is that elbow grease doesn't cost money, and there was no excuse for not using it.
Izal Toilet Paper
Toilet Paper v Newspaper
The toilet paper that was available back then bore no resemblance to the toilet paper of today.
Today's toilet paper tends to be soft absorbent and two-ply, in other words, built for the purpose it serves.
Go into a supermarket today and you will have dozens of choices when it comes to buying toilet paper. Back then you went into your local shops, and you would see Izal.
Izal was the only toilet paper that I can remember seeing at that time. Izal was one ply, medicated and almost totally useless.
One side of the toilet paper was almost glossy, the other side looked a little rougher. Izal was not at all absorbent and we thought it only slightly better than having nothing.
We would have a roll of Izal toilet paper hanging in our outside lavvy. But this roll of Izal was only there for the odd visitor to use, or in an emergency for us to use.
Like most of our friends and neighbours, we got around this problem by using newspaper.
One of my jobs was to cut up newspaper into small sheets 10 inches by 7 inches.
I would cut a nice little pile of these newspaper pieces. When I had enough I would make a hole in the top left-hand corner of the sheets and thread a piece of string through to make a small loop.
The string loop would hang on the nail in the wall that was within easy reach of the toilet. For most of my childhood, we used these cut newspaper pieces as toilet paper.
Newspaper was my preference
When it came to a choice between Izal and newspaper, I would choose newspaper every time.
The newspaper was much more absorbent than the Izal, and so was much better suited to the task in hand.
The only problem that I could see with using newspaper was that the newsprint would come off on your skin.
But newsprint on your skin was not much of a problem because you washed your hands when you had been to the toilet.
Let's face it, it didn't matter if you got newsprint on your bum because nobody was going to see your bum after you wiped it were they?
Something to Read
One of the bonuses of having newspaper for toilet paper is that you always had something to read when you were on the throne.
It could be frustrating though if you found an interesting piece and you wanted to know what came next.
Sometimes you could find the next bit, but more often than not the pieces did not run consecutively.
I had a short attention span back then so I was easily distracted. So, often while looking for the next piece in the newspaper article, I would find something else of interest.
The new interesting snippet of news would then make me forget the one I was looking for.
Frost and Frozen Pipes
Winter was a time that you had to be careful, because if a hard frost caught us unaware then our water pipes could freeze.
If the pipes froze we could not flush the toilet, and when our pipes did thaw we could end up with a burst pipe.
The pipes in the outside lavvy were exposed, but my dad lagged our pipes with strips of old potato sacking and then boxed the pipe in.
All that he left exposed was a stop cock on the pipe where you could turn the water off.
We had a hurricane lamp which we lit as soon as the temperature fell below freezing.
The Hurricane Lamp was to stop the pipes in the toilet freezing in the cold weather.
We put the oil lamp on the floor right next to the pipes. The heat from this lamp was enough to keep the temperature above freezing in the outside lavvy.
While there was a danger of the pipes freezing, we would leave the lamp burning through the night.
There was an added bonus because the lamp also provided a light when you went out to the toilet in the dark.
With no power in the outside lav, it was a nice treat to have both light and a little heat when you had to go lol...
My Grandparents Lavvy
My outside lavvy must seem primitive to today's generation. I can understand that because that is how my grandparent's lavvy seemed to me.
Our toilet bowl was made out of porcelain but my grandparent's toilet was made out of wood and looked similar to the one in the photo.
I remember one night when visiting my grandparents I went to the toilet. It was dark and I carried a torch so that I could see the path down to the outside toilet. When I opened the door and shone the torch on the toilet there was a big rat sitting on the wood top of the toilet. The light from the torch startled the rat and it dived back into the toilet and disappeared from view.
After the incident with the rat I was paranoid that a rat would come up under me from inside the toilet. I thought that a rat would bite me on my bum as I sat on the lavvy. So, after that I never sat on the seat but kind of hovered over it with my torch shining down to ward off rats.
Because we did not have a toilet indoors, we used to have a guzunder in each of our bedrooms.
A guzunder is a pot to pee in, we called it a guzunder because the pot's normal home was under our beds, in other words it guz under the bed.
We Brits seem to love to give anything lavatorial a name. This little pot went by many names, here are a few that were popular back in the forties and fifties.
- Chamber pot
Of course if you used the guzunder in your bedroom someone had to empty it.
As soon as I was old enough to do this job without slopping the contents of the guzunders it was my job to empty them.
Instead of having three guzunders to empty we had an enamel slop bucket.
It was my job to tip the contents of each guzunder into the slop bucket. It was a job that I had to do each day as early as possible.
A guzunder left un-emptied, especially in the summer time, would soon begin to whiff a bit.
When not in use the slop bucket lived next to the toilet in the outside lavvy.
I never gave the guzunder much thought until my German penfriend came to stay.
When I took my penfriend up to my bedroom which we were to share during her stay, I remember being embarrassed that I had a guzunder under my bed.
During my penfriend's stay with us, I did not use the guzunder, she knew it was there and what it wasd for but neither of us used it.
In fact after she went back to Germany, I don't think that I used the guzunder ever again.