Of all the fixtures found in the house, the toilet arguably has the most unglamorous task of all. Oh yes, that pretty freestanding bath is luxurious and all, but the the unglamorous history of the humble toilet is worth sitting down for. So let’s uncover the dirt on some history of our affection for the humble toilet.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably saying, “Does it even matter? It’s just something I sit on when I need to take care of private business! Didn’t Thomas Crapper invent it?” Wrong!
Trust me when I say the toilet is doing a noble job for you and the rest of the family. In fact, just the act of sitting on it is a luxury people long ago didn’t get! It came a long way to give you that comfort, so let’s get into the time machine and discover its long journey.
Toilets of Ancient Times
For centuries there really wasn’t a public solution to the dreaded full bladder so people just did their best, and most folks “went” everywhere. There was no designated location where you could go in privacy, or have all the waste in one place. The concept of draining the waste and smell away from the area began to appear in history as civilisations grew to be more civilised.
The Beginning of Privacy
To start the timeline of toilets, locals at Skara Brae in Scotland built stone huts that had drains with cubicles overhead. These were thought to have been built sometime around 2300 BC for the purpose of draining waste away from the cubicle. This is believed to be the first toilet, although they probably didn’t call it as such at the time. But the fact that it showed a design that promoted some privacy is considered to be unique.
Adding Water into the Equation (Well, Sort Of)
As civilisations progressed and it was discovered that hygiene and health were related, designs went that bit further. It was thought that ancient people began to include water into the mix to dilute the waste and make it easier to dispose of. Back in 2000 BC, Pakistan and Northwest India began building networks of sewers, allowing them to flush their toilets with water. Crete followed suit in 1800 BC as they also created drainage systems, some of which can still be seen today.
Ancient Egyptian Toilets
Fast forward to 1200 BC in Ancient Egypt, however, and their designs show that surprisingly water was left out of the picture. During this famous civilisation, you could really see the division between rich and poor members of society, based on the design of their toilet seats.
The rich had their seats made of limestone, with elaborate carving, while the poor made use of wooden stools. The waste drops down into a container below. The containers were filled with sand, which were emptied by hand!
Roman Toilet Design
In 100 AD, however, things were much more sophisticated with the forward thinking Romans. Famous for conquering many civilisations around the world, they also conquered some sophisticated toilet designs. Their engineers designed and built sewers that disposed of waste and others to collect rainwater and sewage.
The rich had their own personal toilets, while the others had to go to public lavatories that didn’t have any dividers. Still it must have given them relief, so much that they had a goddess of the sewers they called Cloacina. Eat your heart out Juno, there’s a more popular goddess in town.
Toilets During the Middle Ages
With the way our toilet tale is going, you would think we are close to modern times already, right? Wrong. Toileting took a step backward during the Middle Ages.
The Near-Extinction of Sophisticated Plumbing
Sometime in the year 476, the Roman Empire fell, and together with it the sophisticated plumbing was gone for centuries. Sure, people still liked going wherever they could even when the public lavatories were present, but during this era people went back to wooden seats with pits on the ground.
All Waste Goes to the Water
Around the 12th century, toilet technology, if that’s what you call it, was moving forward a bit. Monks at the Portchester Castle created stone chutes that lead to the sea. So, in a manner of speaking, the sea does all the “dirty” work. The same concept can be seen in other castles which usually hosted toilets known as garderobes, which were simply vertical shafts with a stone seat. The waste goes down the moat. Again these pits were cleaned by hand and we don’t envy the person who had to clean these every day.
Meanwhile, the rest of the people still went with their “private businesses” everywhere. This is precisely why commoners were not allowed to go into royal courtyards. Apparently it was such a big nuisance during that time.
Modern Era Toilets
Finally, we step into the early stages of the modern toilet as we know it. Sir John Harrington introduced a flushing toilet in 1596 however the design wasn’t adopted quickly. Unfortunately, most people still preferred cesspits. It wasn’t until Alexander Cumming patented a flushing lavatory in 1775, with the design perfected by Joseph Bramah in 1778 that the people saw the greatness of it.
Considering it was a new invention, it was regarded as a luxury, so much that not all people had it. Earth closets were still popular during 1850, which covers your droppings with granulated clay after you pull a lever. This type of toilet was most prevalent in rural areas as well as in places where the locals weren’t able to cannot afford the expense of flushing toilets.
During the early 19th century, you had to queue up in order to use one of these fancy toilets. In the same century, however, some houses began to have one for their own. Slowly the prices became more affordable and it was not uncommon to have several households share a toilet. It took some time before it became universal to have an indoor toilet in each house, and fast forward, here we are.
So you see, the toilet deserves our respect as its come a long way! That’s why you should take care of it and prevent it from having clogged pipes and whatnot, or else Cloacina may come and smite you with her goddess-like powers from the sewers!
But seriously, if you get any toilet troubles, call Sky Blue Plumbing. We can help you in no time.