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Florence Cole as a child

Lavatories in working class
Victorian/Edwardian houses

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Inside the lavatory of an everyday Victorian/Edwardian terraced house

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.

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.

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The lavatory building and location

The lavatory door

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 for privacy.

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.

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The lavatory flush

The lavatory was a small cubicle of a place, not unlike the old outdoor privies, except that it was built into the main building of the house.

The lavatory basin and the sewer

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.

John Cole

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 water for the 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.

Cliff Raven,
resident of the same estate

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The lavatory seat

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.

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Toilet paper

Squares of newspaper on a string, to serve as toilet paper in the early 1900s and before

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.

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Absolute sophistication

These lavatories 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. Elderly and sick people used commodes.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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