The power was out today. According to the electric company, it was out for 30,000 people. My daughter, a high school sophomore, was delighted to get out of school early. I don’t know how the other 29,998 people felt about it, but I took the opportunity to ponder life before internet, electric lights and flush toilets.
The internet part would be sort of easy to deal with, at least in the short term, unless you’re trying to book reservations at the new restaurant downtown. Or if you’re waiting to hear from a potential agent about whether or not they liked your proposal. Or if that acquaintance you haven’t heard from in a gazillion years might happen to pick that moment to post an update to Facebook.
I like to camp, so we own a broad assortment of flashlights and propane lanterns. I think we even have at least one Harry Potter wand with a light-up tip, so I could probably go a fairly long time without electric lights.
Flush toilets, though, that’s a tough one. We live in the country and our water comes out of a well in the yard, just like in the old times. Except that in modern times you can’t get water out of it without an electric pump. Hence, no electric means no handy-dandy toity. Even us regular campers have our limits…having to do my business
in the forest would be just on the other side of mine.
So when I began musing about medieval versions of potties, I remembered a photo I took on a visit to Dover Castle this past June. Those large structures bumping out on the sides of the donjon tower walls aren’t there for architectural flair – they’re the castle version of poop chutes. (Notice that little hole at the bottom in the photo below? More on that later.)
Inside these little “privies” (also known as garderobes or wardrobes) is a bench with a hole in the center. No need to explain how they work. But it seems that at one time these little alcoves might serve not only as a place to relieve one’s self, but also to store one’s valuables. After all, if someone wanted your jewels, where else would you keep them?
It was also common to store cloaks and tights in the garderobe. Apparently they thought the often-strong odors emanating from the hole in the seat would keep fleas and moths out of their clothing. It would keep me out of them, too.
Now back to that little hole at the bottom of the architectural flair. You might have noticed that it doesn’t lead into any plumbing. (They didn’t have plumbing.) Yep – it just went right into the moat, or perhaps a little cesspit right next to the moat. Either way, there was usually a well in the center of the castle grounds and….
Well, I’ll leave the rest of that thought for you to finish.