One of the plainest items we have in our handling collection is our chamber pot. But chamber pots served an important function of everyday life.
Chamber pots were used so that people did not have to go out to a privy (outhouse) to relieve themselves, especially at night. If you were lucky enough to have servants, part of the chamber maid’s morning duties would be to empty up your chamber pot. If you did not have servants, someone in your household would take it out. The contents would be dumped on a common dung heap or in a cesspool, and then rinsed out and brought back inside. Sometimes the urine from the chamber pot was saved for laundry where it functioned as a bleach, or for certain industrial uses like in leather working.
Needless to say, the cesspools created issues with smell and sanitation in cities. Another problem was the fact that some people chose to empty their chamber pots by dumping them out the window into the streets below. To warn those passing by below, the person emptying their chamber pot would often yell ”gardyloo” a corruption of “garde a l’eau” or beware of water.
At Agecroft we have a recreation of a garderobe. This room in the house would function like a toilet, but without the flushing. The word garderobe originally referred to a room in which valuables were stored.
Although chamber pot might seem like an artifact from the past, we still have forms of it that are commonly. Bedpans aid people in the hospital or those with disabilities to do their bathroom functions. And young children who are toilet training will often use a smaller version of a toilet or potty which is then emptied into the regular toilet and then rinsed out.
The chamber pot is the first item in the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust’s “Shakespeare in 100 objects” online series