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Victorian Water Closet

Early Flush Toilet: LC# GT 2400. H 5713 1987 v.4
                Perrot, Michelle (ed) A History of Private Life: IV  From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War.
                        Belknap Press, Cambridge: 1990



Its Arrangements and Appointments.

    THE bath-room should be arranged according to the pecuniary resources at one's disposal; but here, as everywhere else, one should do one's best.
    The millionaires of New York have sometimes bath-rooms worthy of Roman empresses. In Europe some very rich women, artists, and others whom it is unnecessary to mention, are particularly luxurious in everything that concerns the bath-room. The walls of these rooms are sometimes panelled with vari-coloured onyxes, framed in copper mouldings, which are polished every day. From the ceiling hang quaint chandeliers of rose or opalescent crystal; and a rich Oriental curtain, hanging from a golden rod, veils the bath of rose-coloured marble. At the opposite side of the room is placed a couch covered with the skin of a Polar bear, whereon, clad in a luxurious peignoir, one reposes after the fatigues of the bath and the douche. In one corner, also screened from view by a silken curtain, are the various apparatus for douches, shower, wave, needle, or any other kind of spray bath which may be desired. In the opposite corner is placed the flat tub or sponge-bath in porcelain. This immense basin is accompanied by another one of smaller dimensions, and both are painted with designs of waterlilies and aquatic plants. Near each bath is handily placed taps for hot, cold, and tepid water; and on small shelves of marble all the articles one requires when bathing.

Utensils and Accessories.

    When the bath-room has to serve at the same time as a dressing-room, one must place therein a large wash-stand with a complete toilet set in porcelain ware or silver, with all the minor articles to match. There must, of course, be also the dressing- table, which may be ornamented according to the taste of the presiding divinity. Everything placed upon it-brushes, combs, boxes, scent-bottles, etc.-should be chosen with artistic taste. One must not forget to mention the large wardrobe, with its three doors of plate-glass mirror, such as I have already mentioned. Therein are placed the bath-linen, the flesh-gloves, loofahs, and all the arsenal of feminine coquetry-creams, cosmetics, perfumes, etc. etc.-which should be hidden from every eye, as no one likes to be suspected of adventitious aids. One should not be able to see in this dressing-room and bath-room combined either trinkets, dresses, laces, or ribbons. Jewels and trinkets, as well as valuable laces, should be kept in the bed-room, and all dresses put out of sight in wardrobes or closets.
    In many houses, however, the bath-room is used by all the members of the family, and can therefore not be treated as a dressing-room. Under such circumstances it is not difficult to arrange a bath-room from which all unnecessary luxury may be banished while preserving every necessary comfort.
    It is best to paint the walls in oil colour - with an imitation of marble, if you can get it well done. The floor should be covered with linoleum, and the ground-glass windows should have the family monogram engraved in the centre. The various kinds of baths should be ranged round the wall: sitz-baths, sponge-baths, and the smaller baths for children. The taps of hot and cold water should be placed over the large bath, unless the water for it. is heated by means of a "geyser"; and there should also be a porcelain sink, into which the smaller baths can be emptied. Before each bath, large or small, should be placed a mat in cut-out leather, or, what is perhaps  better, in cork, whereon the bather may stand; and near each bath, at a convenient level, shelves should be fastened to the wall to carry the necessary soaps and sponges.
    In many bath-rooms where the water is heated in the room itself by means of some gas apparatus, the heater should contain a linen-box, for it is best to wrap oneself in hot linen on leaving a bath. The bath-heater must have a pipe leading into the outer air, to obviate the possibility of noxious fumes ; and with this precaution it is a useful thing, as it maintains the temperature in the bath-room.
    A wardrobe should contain a supply of bath-linen, fine towels, Turkish towels, bath-sheets, etc.; herein are also placed on the shelves the various kinds of soaps, the boxes of starch, the bags of bran, the perfumes, almond paste, cold creams, carbonate of soda, etc. etc. In one corner of the room should be placed the hand-lamp and aromatic perfume-box which are some-times used in cases of illness for sweating- baths. There are certain kinds of portable apparatus for vapour-baths which can, if desired, be placed in the same room. These apparatus, and those for shower and "rain" baths, are generally hidden behind a curtain, which divides them off from the rest of the room.
    Besides the actual baths, there should be in the bath-room a couch or ottoman, whereon to repose after the bath; a little table, in case one would wish to have a cup of tea; some chairs; and enough towel- horses whereon to lay out both the warm dry linen before the bath, as well as the wet linen after. It is unnecessary to place a dressing-table in such a bath-room as this : one returns to one's bed-room or dressing-room to complete one's toilette.

On Bathing.

    Regular bathing should enter into the habits of all classes of society. If it is absolutely impossible to immerse oneself completely every day in a large bath, or if it is forbidden by the doctor, a sponge-bath may be considered sufficient for the needs of cleanliness and health.
    The human skin is a complicated network, whose meshes it is necessary to keep free and open, so that the body may be enabled through them to eliminate the internal impurities, from which it is bound to free itself, under pain of sickness, suffering, and possible death. The healthy action of the pores of the skin is stimulated by the bath, especially if it is followed by friction with a flesh-glove or a rough towel. One can dispense with massage if one objects to be manipulated by a strange hand. Both fevers and contagious maladies of many kinds are often avoided by such simple precautions as these.
    In cases of internal inflammation and congestion, and of bilious colic, there is no more certain remedy than a hot bath. It is also known to have worked surprising cures in cases of obstinate constipation. Anyone who is afraid of having caught a contagious malady should immediately have recourse to a hot bath, as it is quite possible that the infection may make its way out of the body through the pores. Of course, particular care would be needed not to take a chill on leaving the bath.
    Cleanliness of the skin has a great effect in the proper assimilation of nourishment by the body; and it has even been recognised that well-washed pigs yield superior meat to those that are allowed to indulge their propensities for wallowing in the mire. It is therefore hardly necessary to repeat that the salutary expulsion which the body accomplishes through the skin, teaches the necessity of keeping the pores open by absolute cleanliness, the smallest particle of grime or the finest dust being sufficient to block the tiny openings with which Nature has so admirably endowed the cuticle.
   Pitiful Middle Ages that ignored the use of soap and water! "A thousand years without a bath!" cries Michelet in one of his historical works. It is not surprising that plagues and pestilences ravaged poor humanity in those days. Even in the time of Henri IV. the use of the bath must still have been sufficiently rare, when one remembers the naif astonishment of a grand seigneur of the period who asked, "Why should one wash one's hands when one does not wash one's feet?"
    Even at the Court of Le Roi Soleil the fair ladies were yet so neglectful on this point that one shudders with disgust when one reads about their habits; and yet in all ages les grandes coquettes have recognised the good effects of baths and ablutions. Isabel of Bavaria, having heard that Poppaea, wife of Nero, used to fill her bath of porphyry with asses' milk and the juice of strawberries, determined not to be behindhand in similar researches. Even in those days marjoram was recommended, and justly so, for its refreshing effect upon the skin; so the spouse of Charles VII. had enormous decoctions of this plant prepared, in which to bathe.
    It is on record that Anne Boleyn took baths, a fact which is more or less supported by the story of certain of the courtiers, who, by way of flattery, drank her health in part of' the water wherein she had bathed. Diane de Poietiers bathed every morning in a bath of rain-water.
    In the eighteenth century the great ladies became fanciful in the matter of baths, and had them concocted, like Poppaea, of asses' milk; of eau de mouron, like Isabel; of milk of almonds; of eau de chair, or weak veal-broth; of water distilled from honey and roses; of melon-juice; of green-barley water; of linseed- water, to which was added balm of Mecca, rendered soluble with the yolk of an egg. All these decoctions were undoubtedly good for the skin, but the bath for cleansing purposes does not need so much preparation.
    The Dauphine Marie Antoinette "invented for her demi-bain," says a writer of· her time, "a half-bath which yet bears her name." It was a deep basin of oblong shape, mounted in a wooden frame supported on legs, the back of the frame being raised and stuffed like the back of an armchair. This shape is more conveniently imitated in zinc at present. For her large baths the Princess had a decoction prepared of serpolet, laurel leaves, wild thyme, and marjoram, to which was added a little sea-salt. The prescription for these baths was made by Fagon, chief physician to Louis XIV., who also desired that they should be taken cold in winter and tepid in summer, so as to balance the external temperature with the sensibility of the epidermis.

 Hot, Cold, and Sponge Baths.

    There are many people who immerse themselves every day for a few instants in a cold bath; one must be very strong to support this form of bath, and it is perhaps wiser not to try it without having consulted a doctor. Even when the cold bath is allowed, it is best to take only one plunge and come out at once. The water ought to be about 50º to 600º Fahrenheit, and a good rubbing is indispensable after a bath of this kind.
    The hot bath is good for those who are subject to a rush of blood to the head. Its temperature should not exceed 100º.
    The tepid bath is the one most used, and its temperature may range from 68º to 96º. It is a mistake to remain too long in a tepid bath; thirty minutes is the maximum time one should stay therein, and it is perhaps best to leave it after a quarter of an hour, unless of course medical orders decide otherwise.
    If it is impossible, for various reasons, to have a large bath every day, a sponge bath will replace it conveniently, and is sufficient for the necessities of health and cleanliness. One should begin by taking a sponge bath of tepid water, and then by degrees one can lower the temperature of the water until at last the daily tub is a cold one. In all cases, however, the bath-room should be slightly warmed in winter, spring, and autumn; and care should be taken that the towels are warm and dry. People with delicate lungs should remain faithful to the warm bath. A good rubbing is a necessity after all and every bath; but of that we shall speak farther on, as well as of massaGe. It is often a good thing to take a little air and exercise after the bath, but only on condition of walking very fast. Never take a bath, or in any way immerse yourself in water, immediately after having eaten; a bath would be distinctly dangerous, and even minor ablutions are apt to trouble the digestion. One should allow three hours to elapse between any meal at all copious and a bath.
    When soap is used in a large bath, it should be used towards the end of the time of immersion, and should be immediately washed off with clear water. In a sponge bath this is an easy matter, as the fresh water is ready to hand in a large basin alongside of the bath. The soap chosen should be white and very pure, and little, if at all, perfumed. It seems almost superfluous to say that it is contrary to cleanliness and hygiene that two people should bathe in the same water, no matter how healthy they may be; but as some fond mothers have a habit of taking their little ones into the bath with them, it is as well to warn them that the delicate skin of babies is often apt to suffer from such a custom.

Soothing and Refreshing Baths.

    It is unnecessary here to speak of Russian or Turkish baths, nor even of vapour baths. These last belong properly to the domain of the doctor, who can order or administer them when necessary. The others demand an installation which it is almost impossible to have at home, even when expense is no object.
    But there are other baths whose soothing properties may be recommended without having recourse to a doctor. In spring it is best to take one's bath at night, just before going to bed, so as to avoid all possibility of a chill, which is more dangerous at that time of year than any other, and also so that the skin may benefit by the moist warmth which it will thus be able to keep for several hours after having left the water. A delicious bath for this season can be prepared with cowslips or wild primroses. Three handfuls of these flowers, freshly gathered, should be thrown into the bath, which thus becomes not only delight. fully perfumed, but extremely calming to the nerves by the virtue in the sweet golden petals.
    The bath of strawberries and raspberries which Madame Tallien took every morning, as we are told by the gossips of her time, was prepared in the following manner:- Twenty pounds of strawberries and two of raspberries were crushed and thrown into the bath, from which the bather emerged with a skin freshly perfumed, soft as velvet, and tinged with a delicate pink.
    A bath of lime-flowers (also a delightful perfume) is particularly soothing to over-excited nerves. A decoction of spinach, if a sufficient quantity were obtained, would make an excellent bath for the skin. Here, however, is a recipe equally good for rendering the skin fresh and delicate :-Sixty grammes of glycerine and one hundred grammes of rose-water, mixed with two quarts of water, are added to the bath five minutes before using it. Some women mix almond-paste with their bath, and perfume it with violet; others prefer oatmeal and orange-flower water; others, again, prefer tincture of benzoin, which gives the water a milky appearance. Nothing is better for the skin than a bran bath. Two pounds of bran, placed in a muslin bag, are allowed to soak in a small quantity of water for three hours before the bath, to which it is added, is required. A bath of aromatic salts is easily prepared. Pound into powder some carbonate of soda and sprinkle it with some aromatic essences (of which only a small quantity is needed). These aromatic essences can be prepared beforehand, according to the following recipe

Essence of fine lavender ... 15 grammes
Essence of rosemary ... 10 grammes 
Essence of eucalyptus ... 5 grammes
Carbonate of soda crystals ... 600 grammes

    Pound the crystals, sprinkle and mix them with the essences) and keep them in a well-stoppered bottle. For a large bath, 315 grammes of this aromatic salt will be required; for a basin, a teaspoonful to a quart of water.
    For a tonic and refreshing effect upon the skin the aromatic bath is one of the best: 500 grammes of the various aromatic plants enumerated in Fagon's recipe for Marie Antoinette's bath (of which I have already spoken) should be allowed to infuse for an hour in three quarts of boiling water; the water should then be strained, and added to the bath. Another bath which is both strengthening and soothing is thus composed:- Dissolve in the bath half a pound of crystals of carbonate of soda, two handfuls of powdered starch, and a teaspoonful of essence of rosemary; the temperature of the bath should be 36º to 37º C., and the immersion should last from fifteen to twenty minutes.
    When the nervous system is much exhausted, the following bath will be found useful, viz., an ounce of ammonia to a bucket of water. In a bath of this kind the flesh becomes as firm and smooth as marble, and the skin is purified in the most perfect way. It would be unkind to finish this section on baths without remembering those who suffer from rheumatism, to whom I can recommend the following bath as likely to ease them from their pain. A concentrated emulsion should be made with 200 grammes of soft soap and 200 grammes of essence of turpentine; it should be well shaken together, until the mixture is in a lather. For a bath, take half this emulsion, which has an agreeable smell of pine when mixed with the water. After five minutes' immersion in a warm bath thus prepared, the patient is aware of a distinct diminution of pain, and a pleasant warmth spreads all over the body. At the end of a quarter of an hour he feels a slight pricking sensation, which is not at all unpleasant; and he should then leave the bath, and get straight into bed, where lie will at once fall asleep; on waking in the morning he will find his pain greatly alleviated.

The Victorian Dictionary
compiled by
Lee Jackson

1860s Victorian House: Privy

An earth-closet is a lavatory in which dry earth is used to cover excreta. Until Victorian times, the traditional `place of easement' for people living in the country was either a privy with a cesspit, or an earth-closet. Queen Victoria used an earth-closet at Windsor Castle, although many types of water-closet were available. For many years, the earth- and water- closets were rival systems with champions and detractors on both sides.

From "Thunder, Flush and Thomas Crapper"

3 ft. 3 in. high, 1 ft. 11 in. wide, 2 ft. 2 in. deep.

a,   is the opening in the seat
b,   is the pan
c,   the pail for receiving the deposit
d,   the hopper for containing the earth supply;
e,   the box by which the earth is measured, and by which it is
     thrown into the pail when moved to the position e, by the
     operation of the pull-up; 
f,   a door by which the pail is shut in; 
g,   the cover of the seat;
h,   the cover of the hopper;
i,   a platform which prevents the escape of earth from e.

Things to be observed:

The Earth must be dry and sifted.

Sand must not be used.

Rise from the seat QUICKLY!

No "slops" must be thrown down.

Before using, let one fall of earth be in the pail.


Earth closet pictures and information from

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Musings of a Privy Digger

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Thunder, Flush and Who?

Lovely Victorian Sinks



Early 20th Century Bathroom: LC# GT 2400. H 5713 1987 v.4
                Perrot, Michelle (ed) A History of Private Life: IV  From the Fires of Revolution to the Great War.
                        Belknap Press, Cambridge: 1990

The ubiquitous American Privy

Fully dimensioned sculptured night light art piece by Shaker Works West

Which would you choose .... today's or yesterday's?