Saturday, January 22, 2011

From Chamber Pot to Porta Potty

The Chamber Pot  Photo by James Birket /

When I was a kid we lived in a house where the inside toilet was a small pot under the bed, the famous Chamber Pot. This required  a lot of skill when used in the darkness of night, especially in the blackouts during the war. Actually I think use of the pot needed more luck than skill!

Then there was the disposal the morning after, the ultimate chore, needing a steady hand and an insensitive nose.

We did have an  outside toilet, it had  a wooden seat, paper made from the Radio Times and  a long chain for the  flush. It didn’t need an exhaust fan, the gap over and under the door sufficed. No sink though, I don’t think I washed my hands till I was 12!

The domes building is an Outside Urinal in Preston
 photo by Preston Digital archives
Public toilets were readily available in Preston, Lancashire  were I was born. Throughout town there were several Urinals standing in the middle of the road, these were built out of elaborately scrolled wrought iron, the Victorians made everything with style. They were circular in design and you entered as if into a maze. The inside of the outer wall was tiled and had a lovely trough at the bottom which drained away the waste. The place was well ventilated.
Again no hand washing facility.

In the centre of Preston
Photo be Tony Worrall
In the center town  was a magnificent “Loo”, again Victorian, wrought iron, but this one had stairs  going down,  one for “Men” and one for “Ladies“. The “Mens” had the typical urinal,  a sink for hand washing, and cubicles with doors for privacy.

It is from these cubicles that the term “Spend a Penny” came from because you had to push a penny into a slot to unlock the door, nothing for free in those days.

I have heard many a genteel lady arise from her comfy sofa saying “Excuse me, I must spend a penny”, much more dignified than “I need the Loo! Or WC or Bog.

Nowadays things have improved for the better, no fumbling for the pot under the bed, now we can breeze into the on-suite and after wash our hands in warm water and soft soap.

There are very few public toilets nowadays, but  we do have the wonderful Porta Potties, which I’m pleased to see are now offering hand washing facilities, and ,  in an emergency, one can always nip into a Fast food stop!

I’ll talk about bathing another time!



  1. Another excellent piece of writing making me think of earlier times and smelly memories. Amazing isn't it now that those"chamber pots" fetch good money.

  2. Oh, this is a delight to read. My mother was born in 1907 and she always referred to them as "thunder mugs". Not quite as genteel as chamber pot.