- London Hotels, 1800s
- Pissoir, 1841
- Prince Albert, 1844
- Henry Doulton, 1846
- William Henson, 1847
- First English sanitation law, 1848
- Clothes wringer, 1850
- Running water, 1850s
- Josiah ‘George’ Jennings, 1850s
- Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
- Toilet definition #9, 1853
- Dr John Snow, 1854
- Drying and bleaching, mid-1850s
- Flushermen, toshers and mudlarks, mid-1850s
- First tootbrush patent, 1857
- USA toilet paper, 1857
- Toilet definition #10, 1858
- First American toilet patent, 1857
- The Great Stink, 1858
- Norway, 1859
London Hotels, 1800s
This century saw developments around the world in the hotel trade. In London well-off country dwellers would either but a town house or rent a house. Otherwise there were gentlemen’s clubs, lodging houses and coaching inns that could be used.
At the beginning of the 1800s the Royal Hotel was built in London on the Victoria Embankment and in 1812 Mivarts opened, it was later replaced by Claridges (1854).
One analysis shows that by 1837 there was 396 London inns, hotels and taverns in total (but not including pubs that offered overnight accommodation). Hotels considered of a high standard were termed ‘Palace Inns’ and numbered around thirty.
These were all located around what today we call the West End. Among the notable hotels were the Durrants (established 1789), Burlington (1819), Browns (1837), Clarendon (1851), Grosvenor House (1860) and Limmers (1889). For reference, in 2000 English Tourism was reporting there were 1170 hotels and B&Bs in London.
The Warrens Hotel (1854) was the first to be purpose built as a hotel. The Westminster Palace Hotel (1858) opened near the Houses of Parliament, when the Langham Hotel (1865) opened it was the then largest hotel in London. The Savoy Hotel opened in 1889 as the first London hotel with en-suite bathrooms in every room.
The coming of railways meant there was massive growth in short-term travel to the city and from the mid-century large railway hotels were opened – Great Western at Paddington and Great Northern at King’s Cross both opened in 1854. Charing Cross hotel opened in 1865, the Midland Grand opened at St Pancras in 1873 and the Great Eastern in 1884 at Liverpool Street.
A pissoir, or vespasienne, is a structure that provides support and screening of urinals in public spaces. It was a French invention that became common throughout Europe because it allowed urination in public without the need for a toilet building. A ready availability of a pissoir reduced the likelihood of urination onto buildings, sidewalks, or streets.
Pissoirs were first introduced in Paris in 1841 by Claude-Philibert Barthelot, comte de Rambuteau, who was then Préfet of the former Départment of the Seine. Initially having a simple cylindrical shape, they were thus also called colonnes Rambuteau.
In 1877 they were replaced by multi-compartmented structures. At the peak of their use in the 1930s there were 1,230 pissoirs in Paris, by 1966 this had decreased to 329. By 2006 only one remained, on Boulevard Arago. From 1981 they had been replaced systematically with new technology, the ‘Sanisette’.
In Berlin the first pissoirs were erected in 1863. In order to distinguish them from those of other cities, several architectural design competitions were organised in 1847, 1865 and 1877. One of the most successful types was an octagonal structure with seven stalls, first built in 1879. Their number increased to 142 by 1920.
Prince Albert, 1844
Henry Doulton, 1846
Henry Doulton invented a modern form of ceramic candle sanitary water filter back in 1827. These were an inexpensive and effective type of water filter, that rely on the small pore size of ceramic material to filter out any dirt, debris, and bacteria.
In 1835, Queen Victoria commissioned him to produce such a device for her personal use and by 1846, Doulton ceramics were widely recognized as a premier manufacturer of an effective prevention device for treating infected water.
In 1887, Doulton was knighted, in part for his work with water filters. Louis Pasteur’s subsequent research concerning bacteria provided a demonstrable reason for the filters’ effect. Doulton’s original organisation for water filters remains in existence, although it has been sold and renamed several times. ‘Doulton’ was most recently the registered trademark of WWRD Holdings Limited (Waterford Crystal, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton), based in Barlaston near Stoke-on-Trent.
Today, NGOs are supporting the expansion of the use of ceramic filters in drinking water development initiatives; most commonly, in the form of clay pot filters.These are very effective at eliminating bacteria and other pathogens, but most importantly are culturally accepted.
William Henson, 1847
William Henson was from Nottingham, where he created the first T-shape or hoe razor which placed the blade perpendicular to its handle, just like the garden tool. This provided more control and was an overnight success. By the late 1800s Victorian men use shaving soaps and after-shave lotions, very often home-made. The Hensons later moved to Newark NJ (1849).
Frederic and Otto Kampfe of Brooklyn NY received a patent in 1880 for the first ‘safety razor’. This differed from the Henson design by distancing the blade from the handle, interposing, ‘a hollow metallic blade-holder having a preferably removable handle and a flat plate in front, to which the blade is attached by clips and a pivoted catch, said plate having bars or teeth at its lower edge, and the lower plate having an opening, for the purpose set forth’, which is, to ‘insure a smooth bearing for the plate upon the skin, while the teeth or bars will yield sufficiently to allow the razor to sever the hair without danger of cutting the skin.’ They went on to improve the design, selling their products as the ‘Star Safety Razor’.
First English sanitation law, 1848
The 1848 Public Health Act was spearheaded by Edwin Chadwick, a social reformer who had also been an architect of the 1834 Poor Law.
First in 1842 he published ‘The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain’, paying the costs of publication himself. He was convinced that if the health of the poor were improved, it would mean fewer people seeking poor relief. Money spent on improving public health was therefore cost effective, as it would save money in the long term.
Clothes wringer, 1850
In the 19th century most homes had a scullery and most contained a metal container that heated water for washing clothes. It was termed a ‘copper’ which was filled with water and soap powder to wash the clothes, which were turned with a wooden tool called a dolly. Or a metal plunger with holes in it was used to push clothes up and down.
John E Turnbull of Saint John, New Brunswick in east Canada patented a ‘Clothes Washer With Wringer Rolls’ in 1843. This was a hand-cranked mangle set atop the ‘copper’.
Running water, 1850s
Millions learned the joys of running water between 1850 and 1920, as towns throughout Europe and North America received new water supply services and added indoor plumbing, toilets and bathtubs. But with the benefits of running water came running waste and human excrement was no longer deposited discreetly into dry ground. Now new flush toilets discharged streams of polluted water and waste directly into the streets.
Town authorities sought to resolve this by building expensive networks of sewers to replace the cesspools. But this invariably routed waste to the most convenient nearby body of water. Essentially the towns moved the torrent of waste away from gardens and streets and despoiled instead water used for agriculture, fishing and swimming locations and coastlines. The seas were considered a vast and the waste appeared insignificant enough to dissipate, but the sewage inevitably washed back onto the land.
Josiah ‘George’ Jennings – 1850s
Josiah George Jennings was an unlikely water closet designer, he was born near the New Forest in southern England, so enjoyed the perfect location for defecating nearby. It wsn’t just bears that s— in the woods.
He was first apprenticed to his grandfather’s glass and lead business, but then moved to work with an uncle in Southampton in the plumbing business and from there to London. Receiving an inheritance from his grandmother he set up his own business in Lambeth and later Blackfriars.
His business enjoyed success and George Jennings, as he became known, won an award in 1847 for India-rubber plumbing accessories, awarded to him personally by Prince Albert. He went on to claim patents for a number of water closet developments.
He installed his closets in the Retiring Rooms of the Crystal Palace at the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. He proselytised that,
‘the civilisation of a people can be measured by their domestic and sanitary appliances’, his detractors complained ‘visitors are not coming to the Exhibition merely to wash!’
At the Great Exhibition there was a one penny (1d) charge, users were also assured that their seat had been cleaned, there was a towel provided, plus a shoeshine and a comb. This event is suggested as the origin of the popular term ‘to spend a penny’. A total of 827,280 visitors happily subscribed their pennies – £3,447 doesn’t seem like a great return from all those people, but it is the equivalent of c £336,000 today!
When the Crystal Palace was dismantled and relocated to Sydenhamsouth London (today’s Crystal Palace) Jennings negotiated for the closets to be retained, making him £1,000 a year.
Personal aside: In the early 20th century my maternal grandfather reputedly had a part-share in the public conveniences installed on The Centre in Bristol, England, where he and another shared the penny proceeds. He must have spent them all, because there was no huge inheritance, certainly nothing came my way.
Jennings’ sanitaryware was manufactured at the Parkstone Pottery, and he set about popularising the flush-WC to the middle-classes, his brand became well-known from his any public conveniences and the Crystal Palace. Jennings designed the first public underground toilet at the Royal Exchange in 1854.
Florence Nightingale complained of poor sanitary conditions during the Crimean War at a barracks hospital in Scutari, in the Üsküdar district on the Asian side of İstanbul. Florence Nightingale requested that Jennings head up the commission that was sent out to investigate and remedy the situation.
Jennings moved in exalted circles supplying a copper bath to the Princess Eugenie of France, an ornate shower cabinet to Tewfik Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, and a water closet for Lord Bute in Cardiff Castle. He installed water closets for more than thirty railway companies in Britain plus others in north America, south America and south Africa. He was responsible for public conveniences in many cities – Berlin, Florence, Paris, Sydney to name just a few.
It sounds vaguely risible, though extremely effective, that in 1884 the Jennings’ Pedestal Vase won a Gold Medal at the International Health Exhibition in London, when his two-gallon flush managed to dispose of ten apples, a flat 4½ ” sponge, plumber’s ‘smudge’ that was coated over the pan and four pieces of paper stuck to the pan.
Jennings died in 1882 but his company traded on until 1967.
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, said she dreamed of a time when there would be one bathroom in an American house for every three or four bedrooms. People of the time considered this as a crazy utopian notion, well over the top, compared to their experience.
Toilet definition #9, 1853
Chillingly toilet was once applied to mean ‘preparation for execution’, quoting from 1853, ‘the toilet of the condemned, preparing the neck for the knife…’ This usage appears to have died out promptly?
Dr John Snow, 1854
In 1853, Dr John Snow established that people using a certain Broad Street pump in London were suffering disproportionately from cholera, people nearby using other wells had far lower death rates. The pump was closed and cholera deaths in the area plummeted. Snow was the first to demonstrate a connection between water tainted by waste and the disease. But in 1855 London set up a Metropolitan Board of Works, with the aim of adding a modern sewer system to London that would enable the city to handle all of its household waste, and this aim was carried out, and in just six years. These notions were met by resistance, including the medical establishment, so there was a third London cholera epidemic in 1865-66 killed 15,000.
Drying and bleaching, Mid-1850s
Cleaning and bleaching of household and personal linen was routinely spread out on grass, then soaked with buckets of lye at intervals, and eventually rinsed and dried. There were variations, like using plain water, the process might last for three days.
When bleaching, before the 19th century arrival of modern chemicals, this was sometimes done by professionals called whitsters. Whitsters travelled around visiting large, prosperous households at intervals to ‘spring-clean theis linen. Some had their own premises.
A mid-19th century French housekeeping book suggested laundry should be sent out to washerwomen. The book described a six-stage process:
- Start by pre-washing the linen to be laundered – everything cold water could remove was achieved at this stage.
- Then the linen should be put in a tub, with the finer things placed at the bottom. This tub should have an outlet low down with a tap. Now pour cold water through the linen in the tub until the water comes out clear at the bottom.
- Leave the linen soaking for 24 hours.
- Then empty the water, and stretch a big ‘bucking-cloth’ on top. Cover it with ashes from new wood, mixed with a little soda or potash. Pour lukewarm water over the bucking-cloth. This first pouring passes through the linen in the tub. Collect the liquid as it comes out through the tap, reheat it and pour it through again. This stage took 15 to 18 hours, because the lye has to be reheated each time, over and over again until it is boiling as it passes through the bucking-cloth.
- Then soap the lye-soaked linen, and use a ‘dolly’ to beat the linen
- The final stage is to rinse with lots of water. Goodness knows how hard the washing-beetles (dolly-sticks) work during the soaping, beating with all their strength on the bundles of linen…
Flushermen, toshers and mudlarks, Mid-1850s
By the mid-1850s there were some 200,000 WCs in use in London.
But these blocked the sewers so that ‘flushermen’ needed to be employed to free the blockages. New occupations emerged, ‘toshers and mudlarks’ who sifted through the muck in sewers and along riverbanks respectively.
Toshers would wade through barely-lit sewers for mile after mile, looking for coins, cutlery and jewellery. Many, of course, never emerged, the sewer becoming their resting place.
The phrase ‘pooper-scooper’ sounds a recent innovation, but it was first used for yet another group, poverty-stricken children of Victorian London, that collected dog droppings for use in tanning leather.
First toothbrush patent, 1857
Ancient civilizations used a chew stick, its frayed ends rubbed around the teeth. A bristle toothbrush was first applied by the Chinese at the end of the 15th century, using hairs from a hog’s back attached to a bamboo stick.
William Addis from Clerkenwell London created the world’s first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780, he also used boar bristles and a carved wooden handle. The idea was born while he was in prison, William died in 1808 a very rich man, his son, William, drove the business forward and later exported the product to the USA from 1880.
USA toilet paper, 1857
In December 1857 Joseph Gayetty, a New Yorker, produced the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States. He intended it as a medical accessory.
Gayetty’s ‘medicated paper for the water-closet’ was sold in packages of flat sheets that were moistened and soaked with aloe and each sheet bore a watermark of his name. It was also promoted as ‘unbleached pearl-colored pure manila hemp paper, a perfectly pure article for the toilet and the prevention of piles (Haemorrhoids)’ or simply as ‘Therapeutic Paper’.
His toilet paper sold for about 50 cents a pack (equivalent of $12 today), with 500 sheets in each package. Despite remaining in production through licensees until the late 1920s, it was deemed a commercial failure, presumably because up to this point most people got their wiping materials from whatever was at hand. The Sears mail-order catalogue became one popular source.
Toilet definition #10, 1858
The OED’s tenth definition of the word toilet had it representing a room rather than table, cloth or act. It was the dressing room (in later use esp. one equipped with washing facilities), quoting from 1858, ‘a dressing-table; an ante-room for dressing.’
First American toilet patent, 1857
An Englishman Samuel Prosser received the UK patent for the invention of the plunger closet in 1777, his device was not well received and overtaken by Bramah.
The first American patent for a toilet, the ‘plunger closet’, was granted to James T Henry and William Campbell. Their device resembled the somewhat discredited earlier UK inventions. They proved unpopular here too, as they were not particularly sasnitary.
The Great Stink, 1858
In 1858 the Thames rebelled, with what was called ‘The Great Stink, a stench
‘so overwhelming that the windows of the House of Commons were draped in curtains soaked in chloride of lime, and members debated whether to move […] There were plans to evacuate the Law Courts […] paddle steamers churned up the sewage-laden river (‘Aqua mortis’) into stinking eddies.’ (London Under London, Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman, pp.66-7)
Dr William Budd commented further on the historic nature of the event:
‘For the first time in the history of man, the sewage of nearly 3 millions of people had been brought to seethe and ferment under a burning sun, in one vast open cloaca lying in their midst […] Stench so foul we may believe had never before ascended to pollute this lower air; never before, at least, had a stink risen to the height of an historic event.’
Although flush toilets first appeared in Britain, they soon spread onto the Continent. The first such examples may have been the three ‘waterclosets’ installed in the new town house of banker Nicolay August Andresen on 6 Kirkegaten in Christiania in January 1859. The toilets were probably imported directly from Britain, as they were referred to by the English term ‘waterclosets’ in an insurance ledger.