While chinwagging with Valerie Poore about this very subject – and praising Diamonds and Dust by Carol Hedges for its historical accuracy as well being a rollicking adventure of a read – we stumbled onto the topic of ablutions. It occurred to us that while we have both read our fair share of both classic and contemporary tales set in differing periods of English history, we have never been privy (yes, intended) to just how all those ladies with their mountains of frothy petticoats and bustles and hoops and stays managed to relieve themselves when nature called.
As it turns out, the answer is not exactly easy to come by. A little online research took me to a very old forum thread where members of the silver surfer association gave tantalising hints as to how it may have been accomplished by their own parents and grandparents (bloomers and drawers did not have a middle seam and chamber pots had handles – you do the maths), but no attested answers can be had.
Personal hygiene was of course rather different than it is today. While hands, arms and faces were washed daily, the rest of the body rarely saw the light of day, let alone a regular slooshing down with water.
By the Victorian era many well-to-do houses had indoor plumbing and weekly bathing was quite common (and how marvellous those bathrooms must have been!). WC’s had also made quite a bit of progress, but indoor toilets were not in general usage in England until as late as the 1960’s.
One thing that did make me chuckle was the name of the event that eventually lead to London installing a sewage system – The Great Stink of 1858.
It’s results, however, were extremely necessary as outbreaks of cholera and other nasty illnesses had London in their thrall.
So, it would seem that the rituals of the WC are as shrouded in secrecy as ladies actual waist measurements.
For further interesting facts on this and other WC related trivia, I highly recommend the
The Virtual Toilet Paper Museum for a light hearted trip down the garderobe lane.