Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Chamber Pots by Gini Rifkin

Ahh the good old days,
well maybe if you were part of the upper class.

As romantic as the Victorian era may sound, I have a feeling it was pretty rough in the trenches….especially the trenches running through town filled with the byproducts of the Industrial Revolution.

By the mid-1800s, the consequence of the 3 million people crowded into London was flowering, mixing, and foaming merrily along. All sewers led to the Thames, pouring through bulkheads along the shores. (I always thought punting on the Thames sounded so nice, probably not.)

The abominable odors of the Fleet River, complained the monks of the White Friars, "have overcome the frankincense burnt at the altar". They claimed the fumes caused the deaths of several brethren. And for a number of sultry days in 1859, the Thames seethed, seeped, and nearly boiled under the burning sun of an unusually hot season. Parliament was suspended as window blinds saturated with lime chloride and other disinfectants failed to subdue the odor and revulsion. It was so revolting that one foreign newspaper bannered twin headlines to catch the calamities of the day: "India Is In Revolt, and The Thames Stinks."

The cess-pit which existed in London for many centuries, from medieval times onwards was a chamber in which sewage from each individual house was 'stored' until it was emptied. This dubious task was assigned to the 'night-soil men'. And nothing was sacred not even privy privacy. Saltpetre men extracted nitrates from excrement, so it could be used to make gunpowder. Saltpetre men also had a license from the king to enter into anyone's house at any time and remove the sewage-ridden earth from the cess-pit.

By 1858, George Jennings had popularized public lavatories. He first introduced the novelties by installing them in the Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851; over 827,000 people paid to use the "necessary convenience."

Still the chamber pot, our topic of today, remained in demand for many years due to the fact that converting one’s home was expensive, and on occasion not logistically sound. Chamber pots are known by a variety of names including: •Po •Pot •Pot de chambre •John •Jordan •Potty •Thunder pot •Thunder mug •Bourdalous

The chamber pots of the working class were usually made of copper, although later ones might be of crockery. The chamber pots for the rich and royalty were solid silver, the kings' very ornate and pretentious. James I had a portable "potty," which he used for traveling. During the 1500s, poor families would urinate in a pot and at the end of the day this urine would be sold at the local tannery to tan animal hides. Some families were so poor they "didn't have a pot to piss in" thus the term.

Going even further back in history, injuries caused by the far-flung contents of the chamber pots, or "missiles of mirth" as one ancient Greek dramatist called them, persisted through the ages. Early Roman law included the Dejecti Effusive Act, which fined a person who threw or poured anything out of an open window and hit someone. The law awarded damages to the injured party. Strangely, the statute applied only during daytime hours. King Richard II followed suit with his writ of Statuto quo nut ject dung "A writ that no one is to dump dung."

Proper manners would prescribe warning unwary pedestrians that a shower was on its way. Thus the cry of "Garden l'eau" (pronounced Gardy-loo, and meaning "Watch out for the water!") would echo up and down the streets. Over time it evolved into English slang for the toilet or loo.

If you were a family of means, you had a chamber maid to empty the chamber pot. With some variation, the hierarchy of maids in large households ran thusly. Housekeeper, Lady’s Maid, House Maids divided into Parlour Maid, Chamber Maid, Laundry Maid, and servants.

The Chamber Maid was responsible for taking care of the 'chambers' in the home. Normally this meant the bedrooms and dressing rooms. They would make the beds, dust, clean up the clothes and floors. They would also take care of the 'facilities' such as chamber pots or bathrooms.

There are still occasions when chamber pots seem practical, envision a two story house with only a main floor bathroom, primitive camping trips, and long car rides.

Anyway, the next time you use your lovely nice smelling facility gleaming with porcelain, chrome, and travertine tile, do offer a moment of gratitude for the advancements we’ve made.

For which modern day convenience or invention are you most thankful?

About Gini Rifkin
Gini lives and plays in Colorado where the moon rises over the prairie and the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains. When she’s not reading or writing, she’s caring for her Noah’s Ark of rescued animals. At present, they are a chaotic but happy family of ducks, geese, goats, donkeys and cats. If you see her in a crowd she’s probably be the one wearing a hat.  “It’s not quite a fetish but I’m working on it.”

Solace Goodeve, one of Mother Nature’s favorite Fae Warriors, is assigned to Earth to help save the planet. Reptile invaders, disguising themselves as humans, are waging a takeover—and Mother is mad enough to eat asteroids. Solace is ready to prove herself as a warrior, but having a human for a partner is not in her battle plan—even if the man is rugged, ripped, and ready for action.

Army Ranger, Tanner Jackson, has seen his share of black op missions. The last one took a toll on both body and soul. Tanner isn’t looking for love, even though his new partner is six-foot-tall and drop dead gorgeous. However, after Solace shows him a new meaning to working undercover, he may have to reconsider that possibility. As the Reps plan to sabotage NOAA, Tanner and Solace must learn to trust one another. But as they're trying to save the world, Solace and Tanner might just lose their hearts—and that takes the most courage of all.

The Wild Rose Press:


  1. Great post, Gini! I'm not even a fan of port-a-potties, so the modern day flushing-toilet is the convenience I'll take.

  2. I agree, indoor plumbing gets my vote too.

  3. Great post Gini. I could really picture London at its smelliest.