To round out a month of what has surely been the vulgarist of vulgar topic themes, this week takes us to the highest of the lows.
In which we learn of the house that chamber pots built,courtesy the head of a lofty windbag.
Piss Pot Hall
A house at Clapton, near Hackney, built by a potter chiefly out of the profits of chamber pots, in the bottom of which the portrait of Dr. Sacheverel (sic) was depicted.
Honestly, when history is this crass yet entertaining, I don’t even mind if it’s anecdotal in part or total.
The story goes that in 1709, the very Tory, very Reverend, Doctor Henry Sacheverell took it upon himself to preach a series of sermons, The Perils of False Brethren, in which he accused Whigs of being entirely too tolerant of religious dissenters. While the Whigs were in power and no less than the Lord Mayor had forbade him speak it, mind you.
To understand the vehemence of his position, one need only remember the English Civil War and subsequent Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell was barely a generation past. So bitterly did the Loyalists despise the ‘king killer’ Cromwell that they took to calling their chamber pots Oliver’s Skulls. He was, after all, a Roundhead, so the moniker was both apropos to the shape of the vessel, and insult to Old Ironsides. Three years after Cromwell’s death, in 1661, the poor chap’s body was dug up so that he could be hanged, tossed into a pit, then beheaded.
Some ingenious entrepreneur should have secured the head so that a privy tour could have be taken with the real, literal Oliver’s Skull but, alas, the head was lost (as beheaded head’s of state heads often are?).
<insert Oliver’s Skull jokes here>
Anyway, fast forward a few decades and tensions are still fraught between Loyalists/Tories and Roundhead/Whigs. Enter Dr. Sacheverell, he of St. Saviour’s in Southwark and the fiery sermons, and we have a new person to commemorate in member mug fashion. Dr. Sacheverell insults the Whigs, and a Whig potter promptly manufactures chamber pots featuring a likeness of the preacher in the bottom.
You may fire when ready, boys.
So many ‘preacher pots’ were sold that the enterprising potter allegedly made a fortune, enough to build himself a mansion at Clapton, near Hackney, which became fittingly known as ‘Piss Pot Hall.’
I feel like it took forever to make it to the meat of the Word of the Week.
It irks me no end that none of the pots with the good doctor’s head inside exist.
It also irks me that I can’t completely verify the house that urine built. It was definitely located somewhere on the map below, if it did, in fact, exist.
It’s also rumored to be known now as the British Home for Deaf and Dumb Women, 26 Clapton Common, London.
But there is more to the story.
Dr. Sacheverell was brought up on impeachment charges of seditious libel in 1710. He was found guilty of said charges.
And like most impeached men, his punishment was sufficiently lenient so that he claimed total victory, as the Tories would by the end of the year, riding high on his oratorical coattails. While Dr. Sacheverell was forbidden to preach for three years, his many supporters took up the cause in his stead. The Rector of Whitechapel even commissioned an altarpiece – that work of art that hangs behind a church’s altar – in which Judas Iscariot bore a remarkable resemblance to one of the good doctor’s most vitriolic critics, the Dean of Peterborough.
One man’s chamber pot is another man’s high church masterpiece.
Lastly, because Dr. Sacheverell was a pontificator extraordinaire, he received his very own slang term. A Sacheverell was the iron door, or blower, to the mouth of a stove: from a divine of that name, who made himself famous for blowing the coals of dissension in the latter end of the reign of Queen Anne.
How can someone not love history?
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- I found many interesting mentions of the life and crimes of Dr. Sacheverell at Through the Lookinge Glasse: or, the Chamber Pot as a Mirror of Its Time, Tawdry Knickers, and Oxford Reference.
- You know you want to read it, the sermon that launched a thousand chamber pots: The Perils of False Brethren. You’re welcome.
- For some light, night reading, consider The Tryal of Dr. Henry Sacheverell Before the House of Peers for High Crimes and Misdemeanours, 1710.