I know, I’m going to have to explain this pretty quick before every reader stops or carries on with mounting interest. So, I see you are one of the latter and it will be worth your while because what I’m about to tell you is pretty amazing and if you think about it, quite understandable.
Today, there has been much discussion about the closing down of public lavatories. The old Victorian ones with their marble fittings are becoming a rare sight as councils and governments try to save money. Britain used to have many such toilets and the reason was quite obvious. What’s more, they had history to prove how important they were to health and convenience. Yes, the pun was intentional.
You see, in those years before the introduction of public loos, people would go where they wanted. In houses, a bucket was often used for both number all evacuations. However, the practice was then to throw the contents out of the window. Walking down the street could be quite hazardous. The other method was to throw the contents into the nearest river. And this is why London’s feeder rivers like the Fleet, soon became clogged up.
However, it would be the act of going in the street which caused most consternation, especially from women who demanded something be done about it. The answer was the introduction of human toilets. Let me explain.
If you felt the need to relieve yourself in any of the ways, you looked for a man with a big billowing cloak, under which was a bucket. You then approached him and upon giving him a farthing which was a quarter of an old penny and then you did your business in the bucket whilst he wrapped his cloak around you. In a way, he became a tentpole covering a portable toilet. What happened to the contents? They still ended up being dumped into rivers or anywhere they fancied.
The old saying “spend a penny” leads us to knowing the name of the only such human toilet. And we know it because he was fined in court for overcharging. I suppose when you have to go, you have to go and are prepared to pay over the odds. However, one Thomas Butcher of Cheapside paid the price in court.