Thursday, 5 September 2013

House of Easement.

I was just watching a programme about Hampton Court in which they said that Henry VIII built a servants' toilet there for 24 occupants, and called it 'the house of easement.'

It reminded me of the room in Pompeii, where there are stone benches with holes all the way round and where the elders of the place went in a morning both for 'easement' and also to discuss the affairs of the day.

When I was a child my Aunt Kate lived way out in the Dukeries in Nottinghamshire.   They had no water laid on to their house and the lavatory was right at the top of the garden - an awful long way to walk in the dark and in Winter.   It was an earth closet which my Uncle Frank used to keep well under control by throwing earth, cinders etc. at the back of the closet at least once a week in Winter and almost every day in Summer.   The seats, which my Aunt used to scrub until they were white, were made of wood and there were three holes in a row, so that the family could all visit together.

I have written before about the lavatory at our house - where my father had to empty the bucket once a week at the bottom of the garden (usually under the damson tree and we had a fantastic crop of damsons every year).

Now of course those days are past in this country at least and we all have 'water closets', up to date sanitation, a plethora of disinfectants etc.   In fact we have really gone over the top in our eagerness to eliminate germs in some ways I think.

But when I press the little button on top of our toilet cistern I sometimes think of those days, for like the washing and ironing, the cooking in a fire oven, the cleaning by beating carpets outside on a line and all the other jobs that took up a woman's whole life and usually made her old and arthritic long before her time, cleaning out toilets every weekend have become a thing of the past - and a good thing too.

Thank goodness I wasn't one of Henry;s servants - I have no desire to share a 'house of easement' with twenty three others.   Locks on doors is the order of the day for me at any rate, don't know about you.

15 comments:

Robin Mac said...

I am in total agreement with you Pat. Thank goodness we always had sewerage and an inside toilet in our home, but plenty of our friends living in the country had the dreaded outside loos. Snakes and redback spiders were always my terror. We had one memorable holiday for a few days at the seaside where we had to brave cane toads at night to get to the bottom of the garden to the loo! My mother and sister and I went together shining the torch one step ahead of us to make quite sure we did not step on one of the horrid creatures (they are very large), but we still went one at a time inside the loo!

JoAnn ( Scene Through My Eyes) said...

And aren't we all so happy with running water and sparkly white things in our bathrooms? Growing up in the boonies in Alaska in the late 50s we had outhouses - sometimes with one hole- sometimes with two. We weren't allowed a flashlight at night - so we had to hope that the moon was out on the nights we needed to make a trip - and that the bears weren't hanging around - guess we survived it - but I'm glad my kids had better accommodations.

Hildred said...

Well, I think the name is very descriptive, but like you, Pat, I would prefer it to be private. However, think of all the time that was saved - 15 minutes off for the house of easement, - all together now!

Cloudia said...

Interesting musings, Weaver.
Having lived in a stone church bell tower (sans plumbing), a Kona Shack with only "catchment water" and a "Lua" sit as you describe, as well as a boat for 20 years. I too have experienced such pre-modern toilet and frankly feel the richer for it; if only in that my apartment's shower, washer, kitchen sink NEVER cease to fill me with joyous gratitude-gratitude. :-)



ALOHA from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
=^..^= <3

Pondside said...

This made me smile, Pat. My first teaching job was in a community in the far north. We had no piped water, but took it straight from the lake, bucket by bucket. Bathing was an event! Light was from gas lamps and heat from a little burner. The outhouse was in front of the house, and a little downhill. Everyone in the community could watch the teachers go in and out. The outhouse had two holes, but we two young women declined to use it together!

Bovey Belle said...

The house I grew up in, whilst it had a bathroom, only had an outside toilet, so in the middle of the night you had to go outside and around the corner (for some odd reason it was built into a corner of the kitchen but the door was outside).

When we first moved here, 25 years back, the little Ty Bach was still straddling the stream, and had been in use until the 1970s when the house was finally modernized!

Rachel said...

I grew up with the lavatory in the shed. It remained this way until my mother died seven years ago, she never wanted an indoor one. However, I don't get all this groping about in the middle of the night down the garden. Did nobody else have a pot?

The Solitary Walker said...

I loved this post, Pat. House of easement! Yes, my aunt Kitty had the same, at the bottom of her garden, and three in a row too.

Virginia said...

I wish you hadn't reminded me Pat! I all too well recall (shudder, shudder) the 'long-drop' at the bottom of the garden at our 1960s crib (the South Island (New Zealand) term for what the North Islanders call a 'batch'). Fortunately my father got us a chemical toilet set up in a cubicle on the back porch. That still had to be emptied every so often, but it smelt a whole lot better. But the long-drop will never be forgotten!

mrsnesbitt said...

My Auntie Dot had an outside loo and I can remember to this day the little plaque hanging up on the back of the door...it read "John and Mary thought they knew much better than their mummies. They ate their tea with hands not washed, now both have painful tummies!"

Tom Stephenson said...

I was standing by the small river which runs past my friend's newly built house on the Somerset Levels as the 'Bio Digester' turned itself on and discharged a stream of clear water into it. She said that the water which came from it was pure enough to drink, but I declined the offer.

Dave King said...

What amazes me most is not so much the changes but the time-scale in which they have taken place - like much of what has changed, I suppose.

the veg artist said...

My gran's toilet was at the bottom of the farmyard - always slippy with hen droppings - and in a little hut built over a stream!
We were more modern. We had a flush toilet, but it was outside. One of my ealiest memories is of sitting there with the door open, looking up at the moon. I think I was about 3.

Heather said...

Yes, I prefer to go about my easement behind locked doors too. When I was a child we lived in a bungalow which had a fully fitted bathroom but no main drainage so there was a sceptic tank in the garden which had to be pumped out now and then. The lorry, which visited other houses in the village, was christened 'the scent bottle' by my father.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Seems we all have memories of the 'old days' when modern facilities were only available to the few. The farmer can't remember a time when they didn't have a bathroom, but they still had their baths in front of the kitchen fire as children because the bathroom was too cold (no central heating). Thanks for joining in.