How to Pee In Regency England

Francois Boucher "La Toilette"

Francois Boucher “La Toilette”

There is nothing that demonstrates the change in etiquette over time like the etiquette around bodily functions. To a great extent, this is because of practicality. It is only the technology that allows us to distance ourselves from our excretions that allows us to be squeamish about them, in the past they were a fact of daily life that people had to see up close.

For example: during a dinner party, once the men and women had separated, a man might pull out a chamberpot and use it without even breaking the flow of conversation.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

What did people use?

There was actually quite a variety of privies (what toilets were called). Some London houses had a kind of toilet like we have today, with water that flushes the waste. However, they didn’t have the technology to trap the smells, so they could be a bit unpleasant. Some homes had ‘earth closets’ which used a fine dirt to contain smells.

Most common people used a privy/outhouse, a hole in the ground with some kind of seat over it. These emptied into cesspools, which were ideally emptied regularly by “night soil men,” but in poorer areas, they were allowed to overflow and were a large contributing factor to disease.

Of course, at night, you wouldn’t want to go too far from your warm bed, so people would use a chamberpot. A chamberpot is a bowl or container (as plain or fancy as your circumstances would allow) that is kept under the bed (or sometimes in a special stool to conceal it and provide a seat) to be used during the night. You (or your maid) would empty it in the morning.

But what about when you were out and about? Many places didn’t have public toilets back then, so a well of lady would travel with a bourdaloue, a very small chamberpot that she could discreetly put under her skirts and then hand to a maid for disposal. Of course, men could always use a handy wall or alley.

Bourdaloue (don't mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

Bourdaloue (don’t mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

How did they go?

If you’ve ever helped a bride to the bathroom, you know that it can be difficult to maneuver when you are wearing a fancy dress. However, we have difficulties because we don’t do it every day! Women in the Regency period didn’t wear underwear (well, they didn’t wear confining underwear like we do), so they didn’t have to futz around under their skirts. And with a chamberpot, you could just move it under you rather than trying to fit yourself around a stationary toilet.

For wiping, there might be scrap fabric, moss, or straw. That one ply toilet paper in public restrooms doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?

Let It Mellow?

It could be worse! [Via Wikimedia Commons]

It could be worse! [Via Wikimedia Commons]

We recently saw a discussion on Twitter about whether, given the terrible drought in California, is it okay to follow the “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” policy in public restrooms as well as at home. We were asked to weigh in, so here is our take:

Victoria: I’ve been thinking about it all week and I really do not know
 Jaya:  I think it’s responsible citizenship. It may seem gross, but that’s just because of our hyper-vigilant ideas about cleanliness.
Victoria:  That’s the way I was leaning. Like, it really does not bother me to pee on someone elses pee in a restroom.
 Jaya:  However, I would like to point out that solutions cannot come on the individual level like this. We need structural change. taking shorter showers is not going to make the dent we need.
 Victoria: Yeah, for sure. But every bit counts as well, not to mention it helps set everyones mindset to conservation rather than, “well it doesn’t matter for something so small”
 Jaya:  Oh absolutely. But yeah there is this trend of like “if everyone just doesn’t eat almonds and washes their hair every other day then it’ll be solved” and like, no.
 Victoria:  Oh! Though, I think if you notice that its starting to smell, you should probably flush after you go.
 Jaya:  Yes, definitely. And yeah, this is sort of in between individual and structural. like, the government is encouraging people to do this. So you should do it and maybe quit being so squeamish. I mean people drink urine, it’s not the worst thing to ever happen to you.
Victoria: Although, I do wonder about toilet paper clogs- like if its the 5th “let it mellow” happening then, thats a lot of TP in the bowl that now has to get down the pipe.
 Jaya:  That’s a good point. If you see it’s getting to that point then flush.
Victoria:  Definitely. Too smelly, too full of TP, flush it down.
 Jaya:  I just feel like this isn’t rocket science? If it looks like it really needs a flush, do it, and if you can avoid it, avoid it.
Victoria:  Hahahaha yeah, exactly. Plus! It can make you less annoyed at people! Like in non-drought conditions, you see an unflushed bowl and you are like, “ugh, what a jerk.” When its a drought, its like, “what a good citizen!”
 Jaya:  yeah!


Do I Really Have to Touch the Toilet in a Disgusting Bar Bathroom?

Jaya has actually used this bathroom [Via Flickr user gnta]

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

From a young age, my mother instilled in me the politeness attached to putting the seat back down after using the toilet. This was a universal lesson that was to follow me beyond the two-males-to-one ratio inside my childhood home. As an adult, I traverse unisex bathrooms in bars and find the water inside the toilet bowl to be merely a suggestion for urine, as the entire bowl itself is some sort of blank canvas for avant-garde piss art. With this in mind, is it actually impolite to leave the toilet seat down in a unisex bathroom out in the shared world?


Curious About Covers


I adore questions that have me searching the Emily Post Institute for the term toilet lids. They are silent on the subject. Miss Manners has discussed it in terms of asking guests to put the seat down (you are not supposed to mention it). In fact, Miss Manners prefers to think that toilets don’t exist, so not much help there. Fortunately for you, we are happy to acknowledge their existence and tell you our thoughts.


Jaya: So my idea is that 3/4 things anyone does in the bathroom require the seat to be down. So on statistics alone you should leave the seat down, always.

Victoria: And REALLY, everyone should be putting both the seat and the lid down to prevent germs flying around. I don’t, but it’s something to work towards. Plus, dudes can take one for the team in being the ones to touch the thing.

Jaya: Totally. And I think this is still the case if the seat is down BUT someone had been in there and peed all over the seat. I mean, at some point everyone realizes they’re in a public bathroom, and things aren’t going to be the best.

Victoria: Wait, what’s still the case? They still have to lift the seat up?

Jaya: Yeah? Or, I don’t know, if you see pee all over the seat, no matter what sex you are, take one for the public bathroom team and wipe it off.

Victoria: Oooh yes, totally. Why doesn’t Lysol or whoever make little purse-sized sprays? Then you could spray and wipe before you sit. They could make a million dollars.

Jaya: THEY DO!

Victoria: They do!??!?!?!

Jaya: Bonus cat!

Victoria: Anyway, in conclusion, the answer to a gross public restroom is to not make it even more gross.

Jaya: Exactly. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to.