Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Plumbing, Old Time Ablutions.

Hilary Melton-Butcher, in her recent blog, mentioned singers and the fact that once upon a time they didn’t have microphones and Pomander-therefore had to have very strong voices. Something we don’t often think about. We take mikes for granted. However, having started thinking about it, I carried it quite a bit further. I love to read Regency stories, but most writers gloss over the conditions in which they lived. If you were rich enough and had servants you could get them to fill a bath for you in your room, but this didn’t happen very often even for the richest people, as for ridding themselves of bodily wastes, in their bedrooms they used chamber pots at night, I am not quite sure what they did during the day. Water closets were popularised by Thomas Crapper, whom many people believe invented the flushing toilet, I know I did until I started researching. They began to appear in the better homes at the end of the Regency period. The poorer classes would have had little or no access to baths or toilets so their smell necessitated the use of pomanders among the richer classes, the smells must have been atrocious although the poor obviously were inured to it. Pomanders were often made of oranges stuck with cloves. They were also believed to be a ward against disease.

In earlier times, such as Elizabethan, the time of Elizabethan housesQueen Elizabeth I, slops of all kinds were flung out of bedroom windows into the streets which were not, of course, paved. In order to protect passers by, they built houses where the upper stories projected into the street and foot traffic could walk underneath. Reading about flush toilets, it appears that they had been available from quite early times, not as we know them of course. I quote from Wikipedia circa 31st century BC: Britain's oldest neolithic village, Skara Brae, Orkney, used neolithic hydraulic technology. The village's design used a river and connecting drainage system to wash waste away. So it seems the Scots were ahead in terms of sewage disposal.

Even when I was a kid, most people didn’t bathe every day and not outhouseall homes had a toilet inside their houses. Some had flushable toilets which were added on at a later date perhaps and which, to use, necessitated braving the snow and ice in the winter. Sticking to the seat was not unheard of. In Canada, many country homes, particularly farms, had outhouses without flushable toilets until quite recent times. These are all things we don’t think about and tend to take for granted the facilities that are available to us nowadays. I have stayed in places with outhouses and wouldn’t use them at night unless Matt came with me, I was afraid of bears for a start and I always figured there could be snakes too. Just my imagination I think (hope). Last time I came across such things was in the Dominican but I have no doubt there are still lots of places in Canada without indoor plumbing.

The following is a recipe from Kevin at Closet Cooking. I thought the picture looked mouthwatering.

Grilled Jerk Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers 
from ClosetCooking.com
Servings: 4

Grilled Jerk Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers 500w 7781
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Marinate Time: 20 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
1 pound (16-20) shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup jerk marinade (see below)
2 slices pineapple, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  1. Marinate the shrimp in the the jerk marinade for at least 20 minutes and up to over night, skewer the shrimp and pineapple and grill over medium-high heat until cooked, about 1-3 minutes per side.
Jerk Marinade
A quick and easy homemade jerk marinade that is packed with flavour and spicy heat!
Servings: make 1 cup
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
  • 1+ scotch bonnet pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, grated
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark rum
  • 1/2 orange, juice and zest
  • 1 lime, juice and zest
  1. Purée everything in a food processor.
Have a great day


  1. I for one am very grateful for indoor plumbing.
    I know some say they would've liked to live during the Middle Ages, but not a chance. Not only did everyone stink, it was dangerous.

    1. You and me both Alex, especially having encountered outside facilites of various kinds.

      I picked the Regency period for a time I would have liked to live in, but when you think of disease and illnesses, I guess I am happy with the 21st century.

  2. Although I grew up with indoor plumbing - well almost indoor. It was stuck at the end of a veranda - we used to go to stay with farming relations who had "dunnies" ( as outhouses with removable pans were called in Australia) quite frequently. Not a pleasant experience. Even so I was quite shocked to learn from a friend who went to a country boarding school in the late 40s that the toilets were pan ones. Her graphic descriptions of smell and flies made my experiences seem quite tame.

    1. Being from a tiny island, where sewage could be dealt with easily because of the lack of distances, I don't remember not having indoor plumbing, but I was probably one of the lucky ones. I knew two places with outdoor toilets at the end of verandas. Can't imagine what it was like at your friend's school. Of course when I lived on boats, our sewage was pumped out into the water. I imagine these days boats are built with storage tanks. Dunno if tanks have been retrofitted to boats built a while back, I hope so.

  3. My first apartment in Alaska, brand new construction, A-frame cabin, did not even have plumbing of any kind. Water was carried in and the outhouse sat in back of the house and across the road. Spent the summer there, moved to a place with indoor plumbing and running water that September!

    1. I cannot imagine having to cross the road at night to go to the loo. I too would have moved pretty quickly.

  4. Hi Jo - thanks for the shout out .. had a few connectivity problems - it seems to happen down here on the coast and I am not on the best system. I remember cold back bathrooms where the washing was done - my mother's first husband's parents had a longdrop in the their Lake District home .. and in and around Africa and Europe I've used various sorts ... ice-stick is something I've not had to endure I'm pleased to say!!

    Interesting about Skara Brae, Orkney .. I hadn't picked that up - the Romans had lead pipes .. still visible today ... and the men used lines of loos ... no wonder we take books in with us - the habit has been going on for thousands of years!!

    Cheers Hilary

    1. It's amazing what you can find out once you start looking isn't it? I'd forgotten some of the systems I had encountered in Europe, quite horrifying in some places. Same in the Dominican, yuk.

  5. Oh yes, the old outhouse, that I remember and not overly fondly either. My paternal grandfather swore there would never be one of "those things" inside his house. I always made sure "I went" before we went to his house, but even advance planning is thwarted by biology.

    1. Funny how some people are against progress.