View Full Version : Toilets, baths and plumbing in 19th century England

07-26-2006, 07:57 PM
My wip takes place in the mid 1800's in England, and I can't find info on whether or not the average upper middle class home would have indoor flush toilets and hot running water. I do know that cast iron cook stoves had a water reservoir in the back that kept water hot for kitchen use, but was there something similar for bathing?

I've looked thru a book called "What Jane Austen Ate, and Charles Dickens Knew" but it didn't have the info I needed. Searching google gives me titles of books, but no info (perhaps I am not using the right key words) and Wikipedia while having a perfectly fascinating article on the toilet habits of Muslims, and a little known tidbit that Lyndon Johnson would recieve staff while sitting on the "throne," it wasn't helpful.

If anyone knows, or can tell me what else to look under I would be grateful.


07-26-2006, 09:31 PM
Here's a site that might help with the history of flush plumbing


I tend to think that most hot water for bathing would have been carried by servants - mid-1800's seems a little early for geysers to heat bath water but I'm not sure.

07-26-2006, 09:31 PM
Thanks so much Innkeeper and Johnysannie, your help is appreciated.

07-27-2006, 01:59 AM
Upper middle class families living in newly-built houses in London might possibly have had cold running water somewhere other than the kitchen, but if the house was even a couple of decades older then the only water supply would have been piped cold to the kitchen. Hot water would have been fetched upstairs by servants.

07-27-2006, 08:29 PM
Thankyou for your response Waylander. I have a bathtub scene (not pivotal) but I want to use it, so I may have to have a bath off of the kitchen in order to use the water reservoir in the stove - it might just work better if I do that anyway.

Thanks again.

07-27-2006, 11:26 PM
If the family is upper-middle class then they would have a lot of servants so a bath upstairs (in a portable hip bath) would be very possible. Four servants each carrying a big jug of water would only need to make 3/4 trips each from the kitchen to provide enough for a perfectly adequate bath.

07-28-2006, 12:17 AM
I was house sitting at a place that was built as an 18thC hunting lodge a few years ago. The present occupants had kept the old sign that they found in the outside toilet, which reminded the servants that the toilet should be flushed at least once a week! The toilet was late Victorian, so it gives some idea that the lower (servant) classes were still unfamiliar with flush toilets.

07-28-2006, 03:28 AM
The first Water Closets were installed for Elizabeth 1.

Where is your house? London houses had indoor plumbing long before other places.

Exactly what do your people do? How would a Victorian rank them on the social scale?

Once gas was laid on for a house then heating hot water for a bath was done by a geyser sytem, a monstrous, noisy, gurgling gas heater thing that heated the water as it passed through it and into the tap. London had all this much earlier than elsewhere.

07-28-2006, 03:33 AM
It is unlikely unless you mean late in that period and failry wealthy. Of course they can still have a bath. Tin tubs filled with buckets and heated with a kettle. It was good enough for Sherlock Holmes.

07-28-2006, 05:01 AM
Yikes Evaine, that would have been pretty yucky after a week! Sort of reminds me of cottage living, with tempermental septic fields and the signage in bathrooms - "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down!"

Pdr, the heroine (whose social status I would describe as disgraced upper class) is a widow back in England after many years, and living in a large home bequeathed to her by an eccentric relative who had no servants, and consequently lived on the main floor. That's why I thought the stove reservoir would work for this.

I just recalled reading about London's "Great Stink" which was caused by raw sewage in the Thames and Wikipedia says that it occured in 1858 and it was caused by the proliferation of flush toilets several years earlier and the inadequate treatment systems they had. That time frame should work for my wip.

As an interesting aside, I just learned that various civilizations had flush toilets as early as 2600 BC! In addition, the Romans brought the technology to Great Britain, and evidence for this has been found near Hadrians Wall. Amazingly the technology was lost for centuries, which I find astounding since sanitation is so important.

Thanks for all the help!