Based on childhood recollections
of working class family life in north London in Edwardian times.
In the Victorian style terraces
where I grew up in the early 1900s, the red and blue tiled path that led from
the scullery round the back of the house also
led to the outside lavatory. This lavatory was the only one for the house.
The lavatory building and location
The lavatory door consisted of tongue and groove lengths of wood about four
inches wide. There was a space 6-8 inches top and bottom which meant that
the room was open to the elements and thus well ventilated. The door opened
and closed with a farmhouse-style up-down latch with an slide bolt inside
Cliff Raven, resident of the same estate
The lavatory was a brick with a slate roof construction, built onto the back
of the kitchen, but only accessible from outside
in the yard. Fortunately my father's lean-to shed provided some protection when
going out to it in bad weather.
The lavatory flush
The white flush pan was fed by a water cistern made
of cast iron which was attached to the wall and supported by iron angle
brackets situated about eight feet from ground. Its water was fed to the
flush pan through a lead pipe about 2½ inches in diameter. It was efficient
in operation and the only repairs needed would have been new chain pulls,
ball valves and water feed washers.
resident of the same estate
In an un-modernised house in the oldest
road of houses on the estate, the loo basin was a steep
conical shape. There must have been a U-trap somewhere just underground
because there was no smell. The main sewer ran along the length of the whole
road, along the backs of the houses in line with the loo outlets. There
was the occasional manhole along that line.
The lavatory was a small cubicle of a place, not unlike the old
outdoor privies, except that it was built
into the house.
The main cold water tank was
in its roof and was boarded in. The small tank which served the lavatory
was wall mounted high above the lavatory bowl but beneath and separate from
the mains tank. The flush was chain operated. There was no lift up seat or lid.
The lavatory seat
Inside the lavatory of an everyday Victorian/Edwardian terraced house.
Photographed inside a private house. There were various shaped bowls and
with pull-chain flushes, the front would have been boxed in.
The bowl of the lavatory was set into a box-like container which went the width
of the cubicle. The lavatory seat consisted of planks of white wood across the
whole width of the lavatory which my mother scrubbed every weekend.
Squares of newspaper on a string, to serve as toilet paper, photographed
in Fagans Museum of Welsh Life. In practice, the old newspapers would
not have had any colour, being solely black print on white.
There was no toilet paper as such. I don't think it existed, as I never saw
any. We used newspaper cut into approximately six inches squares, pierced though
with a meat skewer, threaded with string and hung on a hook. It was accepted
common practice to read from these pieces while sitting in the lavatory. No-one
thought about germs.
This all may sound crude but we never expected anything
different. To us, what we had was the height of sophistication. My mother's
mother, like many other families of the time, still used an outside
privy lavatory and
chamber pots. We too used chamber pots when the weather was bad and during the night.
This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in early to mid 20th century Britain, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times. It is © Pat Cryer.