logo - Join me in the 1900s early C20th
Florence Cole as a child

Chamber pots: as used in
old houses with no indoor lavatory

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What chamber pots were and why they were used

basic enamel chamber pot for adult use, common in the early 1900s when there were no indoor lavatories.

A basic enamel chamber pot photographed at Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.

basic china chamber pot for adult use, common in the early 1900s when there were no indoor lavatories.

A basic china chamber pot photographed at the Museum of Nottingham Life.

In the Victorian style terraces where I grew up in the early 1900s, we considered ourselves fortunate to have a built-in flush lavatory, even though it meant having to go outside into the back garden to get to it. This was not something we would relish at night or in bad weather.

Many people, my grandmother included, had to use a privy right at the end of the garden!

So it is not surprising that chamber pots - also written as chamberpots - were a part of everyday life for adults as well as babies and children. They were like the babies' potties of today but larger and more substantial, being for adult use. They were made of china or enamel and could be quite decorative.

Chamber pots were normally kept under beds in bedrooms.

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Using and emptying chamber pots

Chamberpots, once used, were sometimes covered with newspaper or with an otherwise discarded piece of cloth - i.e. if they were covered at all. In fact they seldom were covered for urine, only for faeces.

When and how chamberpots were emptied depended upon the routine of each individual household. Sometimes the chamberpots would be collected, emptied, washed and replaced, by the first adult to rise in the morning; perhaps, the man of the house up early for shiftwork. Or the task would fall to the woman of the house either before the children got up or after they had gone to school. In my experience, chamberpots tended not to be emptied in front of children.

Emptying chamber pots was so much a part of ordinary life in times past that no-one thought much about it. When I visit an elderly relative, she brings her chamberpot downstairs in the morning, uncovered and takes it through to the outside lavatory without batting an eyelid. She keeps another chamberpot in the room that visitors use and does not bat an eyelid either when they bring down their pots for emptying.

Darren Kitson

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Chamber pots as part of matching wash sets

Decorative china wash set: matching wash bowl, hot water jug, slop bowl, soap dish, chamber pot and shaving jug as used in and before the early 1900s before there was running hot water.

Decorative china chamber pot as part of an upmarket wash set: wash bowl, hot water jug, slop bowl, soap dish and shaving jug, photographed at Milestones Museum.

There is more on this website about keeping clean in the early 1900s.

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

Pat Cryer

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