So last week we looked at examples of pretty potties. Beautiful, even. So dainty that I imagine more than a few chamber pots have been passed down through the generations until their former use was forgotten, having been replaced by new-fangled indoor plumbing, so the potties just became pots. To display in china cabinets. Or for use as soup tureens or casserole dishes.
Or is that just in my family?
A chamber-pot, jordan, looking-glass, or member-mug. CANT.
The romance novelist in me wishes beautiful, somehow always-pristine potties. were placed underneath beds or in designated closets, their use understood but unseen. Alas, the historian in me pokes around books and the interwebs and knows that not to be so. One of my favorite, laugh-out-loud lines comes from Vicky Dreiling’s novel What a Wicked Earl Wants. Said wicked Earl is appalled his friends think to drink, smoke, and urinate simultaneously, as if a jockum gage came after the fifth course in his dining room: “I do not piss where I eat,” Bellingham scolds.
Unfortunately, most did.
Après le dîner, the women separated from the men, moving to a fresh room for conversation, cards, or music. The gentlemen remained at the dining table for port, tobacco, and boast-filled chinwags. After all that wine with dinner, and with the anticipation of more alcohol to come, it was also time to pull out the handy pot in the corner.
It was possible to disguise the location of a jockum gage when located in a public room, such as the dining area, salon, or even study. Commodes were large pieces of furniture basically built around a small chamber pot for the purposes of tasteful concealment. Thieves’ cant used the word ‘commode’ to mean a women’s headdress, because who knew what that giant bonnet or head-swathing turban concealed. Likewise, who knew that innocent-looking bureau in the corner contained a remedy critch?
Some wealthy homes did have primitive versions of toilets, in a separate room and with flushing water. History and Soon relates that even wealthier families had portable flushing toilets. How posh! The portable privies were called ‘thunderboxes.’ How decidedly un-posh. 19th century potty humor.
However, the technology to flush smells was not around yet, so the area might be private, but the odors were not. According to Uncommon Courtesy, later versions of privies, called “earth closets,” used a fine dirt to help improve air quality. That name sounded much more wholesome and organic than ‘wooden seat atop dirt-filled bucket.’ And those lucky maids found it their job to ladle peat over the waste to promote decomposition and help with the smell.
Modern, better-smelling waste disposal was still in its infancy, but it was moving in the right direction. That is to say, out of the house via a sealed containment system.
Next week, how to go when you were on the go.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Learn all about personal waste removal from How to Pee in Regency England at Uncommon Courtesy.
- Take a trip down memory line with Toilets Through Time.
- Get the nitty gritty – with an emphasis on gritty – in Personal Hygiene in Jane Austen’s Day at Jane Austen Today.