Friday, 24 August 2012

Toilet talk

courtesy wikipedia
8th century BC toilet found in Jerusalem
courtesy wikipedia
Roman communal latrines at Ostia Antica, Rome
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has challenged scientists to develop waterless toilets for the 2.5 billion people around the world without access to modern sanitation. About 1.5 million children under 5 years old die every year - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia because of sanitation problems. The modern flushable toilets are not the answer for them as they need a complex sewerage system and use too much water.
This set me thinking about the design of toilets and how little they have changed over many hundreds of years. 
In Europe early toilets were known as garderobe as they were mainly situated where the clothes were stored. It was believed that ammonia would protect coats and cloaks from fleas. A garderobe was usually a simple hole discharging to the outside of a castle down a chute leading to the moat or cesspit, and many can still be seen in Norman and medieval castles today.
courtesy wikipedia
A garderobe at Peveril Castle, Derbyshire.
courtesy wikipedia
Inside Ch√Ęteau de Chillon, Switzerland showing the garderobe chute to the outside.
courtesy Katherine Nader
King William III's toilet at Hampton Court - this is considered to be where the term 'using the throne' comes from
Today the modern convenience can be a minefield for the unwary, and I am sure many of you have lavatory/ toilet/ loo stories. Should you not place the palm of your hand in the right spot then the toilet will not flush, seats that rise and fall automatically, and the deodoriser that fires into the cubicle as you leave, if you are not careful you can emerge smelling of 'eau de toilette'.
In the early 80's H and I visited China. I opened a door to a public toilet only to find myself confronted with an enormous room filled with dozens of holes in the ground, and already busily occupied. Needless to say I quickly withdrew closing the door quietly as I left. When I was a young child I remember my parents calling in at a restaurant as we were en route through rural Norfolk. The toilets turned out to be in one continuous row all linked by a long wooden top with several holes in it. I thought that it was hilarious sitting there with my mother, however, she was definitely not amused.
Recently we came across this toilet in Norway which has similarities to the one I saw as a child. It was scrupulously clean but where was the flushing devise? It turned out that the toilet had been cleverly built over rocks that were automatically flushed by a fast running mountain stream, but I do wonder what happens at the other end? I am sure many of you have come across those individual toilets in France and Italy that consist of a porcelain hole in the ground with indentations for your feet on either side. Very inconvenient conveniences particularly when wearing tights!!!
It is often thought that the Victorian plumber, Thomas Crapper, invented the flushing toilet, but that was actually invented as long ago as 1596 by John Harrington. However, Thomas Crapper's advertisements did imply the siphonic flush was his invention. Crapper did do much to increase the popularity of the toilet, and developed some important related inventions, such as the ballcock. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several royal warrants. He owned the world's first bath, toilet and sink showroom, on the King's Road, London.
Crapper's Valveless waste Preventer
his branding on one of his toilets
both images courtesy of wikipedia
Contemporary plumbing facilities in the holiday barn we stayed at in Cumbria.
H points out that the real challenge Bill Gates should have set concerns the method of treatment of sewage in developing countries, not waterless toilets. This problem has in fact already been solved by the use of small bio-digesters which generate gas that can then be used for cooking and lighting. In H's opinion promotion of the widespread use of this way of treating sewage by such simply technology is a far more important objective than finding an alternative to flushing toilets.
some facts and information via wikepedia

24 comments:

  1. Interesting historical background about the toilets. The end result is all over the world to existing health conditions. But I laughed when you mentioned the old toilet and when wearing tights..
    Have a nice day
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - glad this gave you a bit of a laugh - good to start the day with a smile.

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  2. Very interesting! I never thought before about why early toilets were called garderobe - it's in the name, of course. A friend visited China last year and, in hotels outside big cities, was dismayed to find that used toilet paper had to be put in a little basket rather than flushed away because the sewage system could not cope with it. How quickly we become used to modern conveniences!

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    1. You see some unusual things in China - it is of course a long time since we visited. In the evening men cycled around Beijing with big containers either side of their bike collecting 'night-soil', where it ended up, I have no idea. I do not imagine for a moment that happens in Beijing now, but probably still does in the countryside. Also every room has a spittoon bowl, not the most choice of things to come across, but that is their custom.

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  3. Please , I answered to your question . If you want read again in your comment to my blog . And i want to know you that I am a person which always have a smile for everybody and everything beautiful and simple .
    Olympia

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    1. I shall pop over and have a look Olympia - I can tell you are a very happy person and that is why we all like you.

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  4. Dear Rosemary,
    I can sure relate to the porcelain latrines in the ground . I had used the outside "bush" toilet many times, and hated them, flies all over the place. When i saw these contraptions in France I was blown away, I would never have thought that those kind of toilets existed. There I was pulling my k....s down and trying to fit my feet into the feet slots.
    Most unhealthy, I recall Nina and myself laughing our heads off,never again we said.
    I have seen the roman latrines here in some of our Roman ruins.. especially "Conimbriga"..
    another great post .. notice the abscence of toilet paper! ): wonder what they used !
    super photos ..
    val






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    1. Funny you should mention that Val. Last year I visited the Roman ruins near here at Chedworth. They have a latrine there of a typical Roman design like the one I showed at the top of the post. You can see a channel on the floor running in front of the seat and this was used for rinsing out sponges on sticks used instead of toilet paper. The cleaning sponges were kept in a pot of salt water. They are not sure whether everybody had their own sponge or whether they were shared!!!

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    2. Oh my gosh. I was wondering and imagining how they could possibly clean themselves.
      The Romans thought of everything. How ingenious. I myself would like to think they all had their own.
      Were the latrines only used by nobles! or not! Somehow, i feel that the general population had no sanitation at all.
      thanks Rosemary.

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    3. Dear Val - Roman toilets and bathing facilities were for the use of the whole community. Can you imagine sitting in a room with may be 20 people!!! It would be nice to think that they all had their own little stick with a sponge on the end, but I myself think it more likely that they were left in the pot for all to use. If you lived then, you would not know any other way of doing things so would just accept it. The Romans were lucky of course they were far more advanced than any other societies at that time.

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  5. I forgotten something . I gave to you with all my heart an award , in my post at Thursday. Please if you want copy and paste this .
    Olympia

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    1. Dear Olympia - you are so kind, I will do so immediately.

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  6. Dear Rosemary, I have lived long enough to have experienced almost all of the above cited examples. My latest experience was on the road to the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The carpet vendor sent us to his toilette. If the stick was across the bushes, it was occupied. But the view was spectacular.
    Now I know where the word "crapper" came from. Thanks for the history lesson. I enjoyed it thoroughly. ox, Gina

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    1. Dear Gina - H said whatever are you writing about toilets for? However, most subjects have some amusing angles to them.
      I too have experienced toilets in Morocco, but do not recall one quite so primitive as the one you visited.
      Yes, Thomas was responsible for that expression!!!

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  7. Dear Rosemary, in the rural mountains where my mother is from in North Carolina they had out houses. Small free standing wood shacks without plumbing. I encountered them as late as the mid 1970's. After that I noticed that some wanted to decorated their yards with vintage out houses, a practice I find gross. This post is fascinating and is there no end to your knowledge? Olive

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    1. That is very interesting Olive - I remember my granny had a loo outside as well - very cold and lots of spiders. Glad you enjoyed the post - I have one of those butterfly minds that flits in and out of all kinds of things that I find interesting.

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  8. Hello Rosemary, I once rented a house that in addition to two indoor bathrooms, also had an outhouse that the owner said worked perfectly, and was useful if you were having a barbecue and invited people you didn't want to let into the house. Since I never invite people unworthy of the honor of using indoor facilities, this problem never came up.
    --Road to Parnassus

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    1. I wonder if there are still houses with outside facilities in the western world? and now I think about it, I wonder why they put them outside?

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    2. Hi again, I neglected to mention that this was in Kirtland, Ohio (near Cleveland). There are quite a few outhouses still in operation in America, although usually off the beaten path. Of course, they were built when houses had no running water or sewer lines, so the smell, flies, etc. would have been abhorrent. They also had to be positioned so that the effluent would not contaminate wells or springs.

      In Taiwan, most public toilets are of the "squat" type--I've been told that many consider them more sanitary because you do not sit on them. I have yet to see one in any private home or apartment, no matter how old.

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    3. Thanks Parnassus for that extra information.
      The squat type of toilet is like the ones I saw in China. I think that squatting is something you need to grow up with. The Chinese squat to do all kinds of job, sifting grain etc, and it is something that is readily within their capabilities because they have done it from being young. For westerners squatting is incredibly difficult, and especially so as you get older.

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  9. how informative, thanks for these stories and accompanying pics...happy weekend from me and hanks a lot for your visits+comments:))

    btw, I agree about the Taiwan "squat type ot toilets" comment, we call them in Bulgaria the Turkish toilet and I found them personally more convenient as public toilets; the position also really facilitate the acivity;

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    1. That is very amusing Jana - however, the position is OK if you are young and fit, not so good if you are older!!!

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  10. I love that I always leave your posts a little (and sometimes a lot) wiser :) What a fascinating subject and I completely agree with your husband that treating the sewage should be the primary focus in developing countries. As a spoiled North American, I have heard horror stories about the hole in the floor toilets and am happy to have never had to use one.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - glad you found it fascinating, you can thank the prompt from Bill Gates for that. I have come across the floor toilets in Europe twice, and skiddaled quickly.

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