Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Question from George - Toilet facilities for crowds in Tudor times

When large crowds gathered in Tudor times, whether for the theater, parades, church services, or court occasions, what were the toilet facilities? One presumes chamber pots for some occasions, but that's a lot of chamber pots, and they would need to be serviced. For large crowds, what did they use to clean, comparable to today's toilet paper, if anything?

Today when people go to popular public events, men and women queue up for the men's and women's toilets. I work at a historic site, and this question was asked. Thus, the question.


  1. Well, that's a very interesting question. I don't have an answer! I've lived in lots of countries that don't have official toilet facilities: people go where they can. The Romans used sponges on sticks for loo paper: I have no idea what Elizabethans used, but it may have included moss. I think it is noted that in many of the grand European edifices men just peed in fireplaces or hallways: the stench was said to be horrific. I was fascinated to see that women in remote parts of Mexico today just pee directly on the ground beneath the cover of their dress. I would imagine for mass events some version of the old Roman communal version was used. Good luck with your researches!

  2. Ian Mortimer’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England’ makes several mentions of various sanitary arrangements – too many to mention here – that will answer some of your questions. Also, Liza Picard in her ‘Elizabeth’s London’ mentions public lavatories hanging over rivers and watercourses, and Richard (Dick) Whittington’s famous longhouse, that could accommodate 64 persons at one sitting, and which was still in use in Tudor times.

    A few years ago Tony Robinson covered the subject in one of his ‘Worst Jobs in History’ programmes where Jonathan Foyle played the part of a groom of the stool to Henry VIII. I think Dan Snow has done something similar more recently.

    This is from an old article in the Independent that is still available online:

    While the lower courtiers had to use the malodorous communal facilities of the Great House of Easement [at Hampton Court] when they answered a call of nature, Henry VIII had the use of a specially designed box tucked away in a private room off the state bedchamber.
    This "close-stool" was lavishly covered in black velvet and its lid opened to reveal a padded and beribboned interior covered in the same material. It had a hole in the centre with a pewter bowl placed underneath. .. it was a privilege to be the Groom of the Stool with the duty of attending the King when he relieved himself, and the position often went to a high-ranking courtier.

    In 1539, one groom recorded how Henry VIII had taken laxative pills and an enema, sleeping until 2am "when His Grace rose to go upon his stool which, with the working of the pills and the enema, His Highness had taken before, had a very fair siege".

  3. I had looked very quickly at your post, but I see now it is facilities for crowds you are asking about rather than individuals.


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