Long 19th century – 1860-1880

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Ehrenburg, 1860

Cattelan’s gold toilet
Image source: Luxurylaunches.com

Apparently, a toilet for Queen Victoria was produced in 1859 that was decorated with gold. Which immediately draws comparison with the solid-gold toilet designed by Maurizio Cattelan which was stolen from Blenheim Palace, a World Heritage Site, in September 2019 The toilet, said to be worth £4.8m, was stolen just days after it had been put on display.

Ehrenberg Palace with Prince Albert’s statue
Image source: telegraph.co.uk

One of the earliest waterclosets was installed on the European continent in 1860, it was imported from England. It was installed in the rooms of Queen Victoria in Ehrenburg Palace (Coburg, Germany). She was the only one who was allowed to use it.

Thunderbox 1860s

Installed in the 1860s, a flushed ‘thunderbox’ is still on view today at Brodsworth Hall in South Yorkshire. It is a mahogany box with a hole for the sanitaryware. A brass handle flushed the contrivance. The Hall is worth a visit because it also sports commodes from even earlier and a 1960s/70s pink bathroom.

Thunderbox WC at Brodsworth Hall
Image source: www.blog.english-heritage.org.uk

American Civil War. 1861-5

US Sanitary Commission officers and nurses at Fredricksburg Virginia
Image source: thoughtco.com

In the American Civil War 57,265 Yankee soldiers and 44,558 Union soldiers died of dysentery and diarrhoea, 29,336 died of typhoid fever, and others succumbed to hepatitis. In 1861, the US Sanitary Commission was established to to support sick and wounded soldiers and then set about changing the way medicine was to be practiced in the United States. (Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, p.341)

Dry-earth closets, 1860

Reverend Henry Moule, a C-of-E priest from Dorset. This is misleading to today’s ears, he was a Marlborough and St John’s Cambridge scholar achieving his BA and MA. He published his ‘Barracks Sermons’ at Dorchester.

It was the cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1854, and problems with his family’s cesspit that turned his thinking to sanitary matters. Moule invented a version of the pail closet that he called an earth closet (or composting toilet). This had a storage tank holding dry earth, with a lever that was used to drop a measured amount of this soil to cover up the results and mask the odour. The bucket beneath the seat was removed when full.

The key to is invention was that after a few weeks the resultant material became clean compost within a few weeks and could be returned to the land. This became popular for use in rural areas.

Henry Moule’s earth closet
Image source: oldand interesting.com

In partnership with James Banner, he patented his device (No. 1316, dated 28 May 1860). Among his works bearing on the subject were The Advantages of the Dry Earth System (1868), The Impossibility overcome: or the Inoffensive, Safe, and Economical Disposal of the Refuse of Towns and Villages (1870), The Dry Earth System (1871), Town Refuse, the Remedy for Local Taxation (1872), and National Health and Wealth promoted by the general adoption of the Dry Earth System (1873).

His system was adopted in private houses, in rural districts, in military camps, in many hospitals, and extensively throughout the British Raj. Ultimately, it failed to gain broad public support as the attention focused on water-flushed toilets connected to a sewer system.

Metroclo advert
Image source: sokrates-digital.de

In Germany, a similar dry toilet with a peat dispenser was marketed until after the second World War (it was called ‘Metroclo’ and manufactured by Gefinal of Berlin).

Toilet definition #11, 1862

The OED cites the word toilet moved from the bedroom/anteroom to become a kitchen or abattoir term. As it meant the cleaning of an animal, an object, a place, etc., quoting from 1862, ‘M. Esquiros was struck with the delicate attention… with which the workman performed ‘the toilet’ of these saws and other dreadful implements.’

Le Grand Hôtel Paris, 1862

Grand Hôtel in Paris
Image source: parislegrand,intercontinental.com

The hotel’s inauguration took place on 5 May 1862 in the presence of the Empress Eugénie de Montijo, who exclaimed: ‘This reminds me of home! I feel like I am in Compiègne or Fontainebleau’. The building had been designed by the architect, Alfred Armand, to ‘show the élite of travellers from all over the world the progress made under the Second Empire by the sciences, arts and industry’. It was supported by Emperor Napoleon III and was in part built to welcome visitors to the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition. (link to Exhibitions!)

Café de la Paix
Image source: historichotelsthenandnow.com

Its Café de la Paix became heralded as ‘the favourite meeting-place of Parisians since 1862’.

The exterior façades with their high arched doors and their Louis XIV windows were in the style required for the surroundings of the Opéra. The first hydraulic lift was installed here, lighting was supplied by 4000 gas jets, heating was provided by eighteen stoves and 354 hot air vents. Each room and suite had a fireplace.

Despite its grandiose intentions, and perhaps reflecting the lack of attention to hygiene in this era, only the most luxurious suites were provided with a bathroom. Other guests had to avail themselves of a communal bath service.

USS Monitor, America, 1862

USS Monitor’s ironclad turret
Image source: nytimes.com

In 1862, and during the American Civil War, the designer of the Union ship, USS Monitor, installed a plunger-type mechanical toilet for the crew.

Liquid soap, 1865

In 1865 William Shepphard patented liquid soap. But his sntry says ‘Improved Liquid Soap’ which implies he was not its inventor. His product adding ‘small quantities of common soap to a large quantity of spirits of ammonia or hartshorn’ to produce a thickened liquid similar in consistency to molasses. Liquid soap was most often used in industry and for institutions.

Portsmouth sewers, 1865

Eastney Pumping Station, pumped sewage from Portsmouth
Image source: hampshire-history.com

Portsmouth Council had a water supply from 1811 provided by a private company. IN 1848-9 over 800 residents died of cholera. The water company was acquired by the Council in 1858, so it was only in 1865 that it began to build a sewer system. In 1872, 514 residents died in a smallpox epidemic. An 1875 Portsmouth byelaw insisted that any house located within 100 feet of any main sewer must be connected to it.

Toilet paper, 1867

Scott company letterhead Image source: genealogy.com

Three brothers, Edward Clarence and Thomas Scott, who had previously sold products from a push-cart, and around 1867 started making and selling toilet paper as well.  They did better than Gayetty because their original toilet paper was much cheaper, by avoiding the aloe coating and moistening. However, the rolls of somewhat soft paper often contained splinters.

It was as the indoor flushable toilet started to become popular, that sales of toilet paper took off. Outdoors, nature provided mosses, grass and leaves for the purpose. Indoors, required a new approach.

Old Farmer’s Almanac, with string for use in the toilet
Image source: kaufmann-mercantile.com

The Old Farmer’s Almanac and other catalogues were often used, but their pages tended to clog up the pipes in indoor plumbing.

Seth Wheeler obtained the earliest U.S. patents for toilet paper in roll form and its dispensers in 1871. The Scott Paper Company was then founded in 1879. The earliest roll paper was essentially the same paper that was used to produce newspapers.

Victorian bathing, 1870s

Public bath houses were used for bathing and laundry. One bath house in London advertised,

‘Baths Hot or Cold with towels and soap 6d; Shower Hot or Cold 6d; 1st Class 1s; Sea salt Hot or Cold 1s ; Colonial Bath Hot with cold shower 1s.’

One in Bayswater additionally offered,

’a private laundry, where persons may have the use of tubs, hot and cold water, steam wringers, drying chambers, irons and mangles at a charge of one and a half pennies per hour.’

Victorian bathroom
Image source: vivaciousvictorian.com

In their homes Victorian men and women washed faces, hands and arms regularly, but progressively bathing and showering became popular. Though some saw it as a form of self-punishment as anything else, for a cold bath or shower was considered good for the soul!

Modern copy of a Victorian bathroom
Image source: thevictorianemporium.com

Imperial soaps, 1870s

Pears’ soap advertsement
Image source: enotes.com

Victorian attitudes were applied to the sale of soap

‘The first step towards lightening The White Man’s Burden
Is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness Pears’ Soap
Is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth
As civilization advances while amongst the cultures of all nations
It holds the highest place – it is the ideal toilet soap.’

Pears advertisement on Sudan
Image source: progress-is-fine.blogspot.com

In another advertisement set in the Sudan:
‘The formula of British conquest!’

Victorian loos, 1870s

Often the first toilet encounter is a potty

Image source: www.slideshare.net/wibkelange/toilet-14646685

During the Victorian era, UK housemaids emptied household chamber pots into a ‘slop sink’ concealed in a housemaid’s cupboard on the upper floor of the house. Often the housemaids’ cupboard also contained a separate sink, made of wood with a lead lining to prevent chipping china chamber pots, for washing the ‘bedroom ware’. Once indoor running water was built into British houses, servants were sometimes given their own lavatory downstairs, separate from the family lavatory.

It was only from the mid-19th century, with growing levels of urbanisation and industrial prosperity, that the flush toilet became more widely used. Of necessity this period coincided with a commensurate growth in the sewage system, most especially in London. This made the flush toilet particularly beneficial for health and sanitation.

Designs varied slightly from maker to maker, but all toilets were made up of a bowl, with a C, U, or S-bend which trapped water and prevented the rise of sewer-gas. There was a seat, usually wooden, and there was a cistern for the storage of water for flushing. The flush-toilet was essentially a self-emptying chamber-pot. Victorian toilets were highly decorated with both the exterior and interior of the bowl likely to be covered in blue-glaze paint, depicting flowers, forest-scenes, water-scenes and nature scenes – more akin to dinner plates than a potty.

A Victorian loo in a house today would function just as well as a modern one, it’s the very same technology as a a modern WC, just a little bit fancier.

Water heaters – 1870s

In the USA, the first water heaters were developed in private homes and small buildings in the 1870s. Circulation pipes were installed between water-heating units and hot water storage tanks so as to make pressurized hot water available in volume on demand. Electrical water heaters followed along in 1889.

USA sewage, 1870s

Sewers being dug in Providence RI USA
Image source: The Providence Journal/Andrew Dickerman

The typical American urban dweller in the 1870s still relied on the rural solution of individual well and outhouse (privy) or cesspools. Improvement was slow, and large cities of the East and South depended to the end of the century mainly on drainage through open gutters. Pollution of water supplies by sewage as well as dumping of industrial waste accounted in large measures for the public health records and staggering mortality rates of the period. H L Mencken, essayist and journalist said of 1880s Baltimore that it smelled ‘like a billion polecats’, and a Chicagoan said of his city ‘the stink is enough to knock you down.’

Midland Hotel London, 1873

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras
Image source: en.wikipedia.org

In 1865 the Midland Railway Company ran a competition for a 150-bedded hotel to be sited adjacent to St Pancras. The winner was George Gilbert Scott, who was also responsible for the Albert Memorial) who planned a 300-bedded solution, the original five-floor design was reduced to save costs to just four floors, yet it still cost the equivalent of £300m today This was intended to ensure that it was ‘the most magnificent hotel in the world’. Its first wing was opened on 5 May 1873 and it was completed in 1876.

It provided just four bathrooms for a potential 600 residents! Today this is the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel with 207 rooms and 38 suites all with bathrooms.

One British aristocrat of the period exclaimed that ‘Bathrooms are for servants’. The Duc de Doudeauville, a French soldier and politician, when asked if he would put plumbing into his new home proudly explained that he was ‘not building a hotel’. Whereas, when American William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnate, bought a Welsh castle, St Donal’s, he immediately installed thirty-two bathrooms. A bath installed at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall was so big that a step-ladder was necessary to get in to it. (Bill Bryson At Home pp.449-450)

Venting Theory, 1874

Crown venting
Image source; ncwhomeinspections,com

In 1874 it was found that by connecting a vent pipe to a drain’s trap outlet, the air pressure either side of the trap’s water could be kept at the same level. This also prevented any objectionable odours and sewer gases escaping back into the house. The illustration shows the self-explanatory crown venting approach.

Electrolysis, 1875

Image source: beautyworksspa.com

In 1875, Dr Charles Michel. a field surgeon in the Confederate Army during the American Civil War and proficient in treating wounds. He experimented with electrolysis by placed a metal plate against the patient’s cheek connected to a galvanic cell’s positive electrode and inserted a needle, connected to the negative electrode, into a hair follicle and applied a current. The follicle was destroyed by an electro-chemical reaction. The hair would come away easily with tweezers and the hair would not regrow. He published this in the St Louis Clinical Record.

Public Health Act, 1875

This new Public Health Act set out stringent guidelines to combat filthy living conditions and to control the spread of cholera and typhus. Its regulations related to sewers, drains, water supply and toilets and lent tacit government endorsement to the prominent water closet manufacturers of the day.

Toilet definition #12, 1879

The OED defined toilet to be a term used In surgery, in this usage it means cleaning the area of an operation or wound, quoting from 1879, ‘by his careful toilette of the peritoneum and extraperitoneal treatment of the pellicle, had, by guarding against septic infection, attained the results which astonished the German surgeons.’

Toilet as a term had therefore wandered from its grooming roots to be used with reference to executions, meat preparation and surgery!

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