The Porcelain God

Wandering the internet looking for a topic for today, I came upon the fact that in 2005, November 19 was designated “World Toilet Day” because of a big conference being held that day on sanitation standards. Last week my husband actually halted his channel surfing to watch a show on the history of toilets (I think on Modern Marvels, History Channel, but I’m not sure) so it seemed the Universe was telling me to talk about toilets.

We probably don’t stop and think about toilets much, about how the development of this ceramic seat and the plumbing system associated with it has contributed more to the eradication of disease than perhaps any other medical discovery. To learn everything you ever wanted to know about this topic go to theplumber.com, which has a dizzying array of articles about the toilet and its place in history.

There are ancient examples of toilets and efforts at sanitation, but one notable inventor, Sir John Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth I, invented a flush toilet in 1596. Even though the Queen used it, the invention did not catch on. An improved flush toilet was patented in 1775 and another version in 1778. Wikepedia says that water closets using this type of toilet were widely used in London by 1815, which surprised me because I thought “our” time period was one that used chamber pots. Almost all the toilet sites–websites–I visited today said that the contents of chamber pots were simply tossed out into the streets. London did not build a sewer system until 1853.

The lack of sanitation as we know it greatly contributed to disease and it took a long time for man to figure out the connection between the two. The Black Plague was caused by flea bites spread by lice that lived on rats and rats, of course, fed on garbage and waste. Napoleon lost thousands of his men to typhus in his Russian campaign. Typhoid fever was the cause of Prince Albert’s death and almost caused the death of his son Edward years later. A cholera epidemic killed thousands in India in 1817. By 1827 it had spread throughout the world. In a London cholera epidemic of 1854, Dr. John Snow charted the course of the disease and discovered that the contaminated water was to blame.

Thomas Crapper, whose name says it all, did not invent the flushing toilet, by the way. He owned a plumbing business that supplied toilets to royalty in the 1860s and he put his name on his product. The company is still in business today.

Some of the most beautiful toilets ever made had to be Victorian ones. Here is a lovely example.

Finally, does anyone find the following hilarious?

The Thesaurus of the Victorian Water Closet (1837-1901) was developed to index the Stooly Collection bequeathed, in 1998, to the Victorian Library of the British National Heritage Trust.

What toilet stories might you have today?

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About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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