We largely tend to take the lavatory for granted nowadays, but in pre-Victorian times, the average person’s daily constitutional would have likely involved varying levels of discomfort, draughts and conspicuousness in the open landscape. If one had the means, one might have undertaken a potentially hazardous journey, through rows of artichokes and Brussels sprouts, to arrive at some form of latrine at the bottom of the garden; or perhaps enjoyed the relative, but still atmospheric opulence of a garderobe (fig. 1). Both types of convenience would have been built above a cesspit that required periodic emptying by some unenviable serf.
Urban dwellers, of average or below average means, would have insulted a pottery receptacle or ‘pot’ and then either hurled its contents into an open drain running down the street, or emptied it into a cesspit below stairs for later collection and disposal by a gong farmer or night soil collector.
Not wanting to miss a moment of excessive conviviality, Georgian diners didn’t remove themselves from the dining room to relieve their bladders: Gentlemen would request a small chamber pot or ‘piss pot’ (fig. 3) from the cupboard in the sideboard and unabashedly drain themselves as the other guests continued unabated.
Women, similarly caught short, would either scurry behind the curtains or a folding screen, pot-in-hand, or their maid would fetch an ergonomically-shaped bourdaloue which they would immodestly thrust beneath their petticoats (fig. 5).
Known also as ‘necessary stools’ and ‘night stools’, these amenities were the preserve of those who could afford such singularly indulgent furniture. Close stools invariably have a hinged lid concealing a seat that either supports a handle-less earthenware pot or, beneath a hole in which, a handled pot is placed and accessed by removing the seat, or via a door in the front of the stool (figs. 7 & 8).
Some noted close stools were equipped with locks which, one might surmise, were to prevent vassals from covertly partaking of their masters’ extravagance, but in the case of the Hampton Court close stool, the lock was essential to deter miscreants from stealing William’s faeces. When dried, the King’s ordure was highly sought after by gasconading souvenir hunters of the day.
More recently, an authenticated portion of Henry VIII’s dried faeces sold at auction in New York in 1996 for the sphincter-puckering sum of $1,650.
A common feature of Georgian bedchamber privy furniture were the aprons which, identifiably shaped like the human posterior (figs. 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13), left those who felt a deep nocturnal or auroral urge in absolutely no doubt as to the purpose of the contraption.
The Georgians were fond of their lavatorial humour: Chamber pots often contained amusing verses and the occasional ferly addition (figs. 14, 15 & 16).
One occasionally sees pots containing effigies of individuals of widely held derision such as Napoleon Bonaparte (fig. 17). Their disparagers could glean some satisfaction from urinating and defecating on the subject’s head.
Thankfully a close stool has not yet appeared in the Proposed Furniture Program, but with advancing years and increased frailty, that could all too easily change. I estimate I still have a few years before deciding on whose noggin I would like in my potty.
 An anatomically shaped female urinal purportedly named after the French preacher, Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), renowned for his bible-bitingly lengthy sermons.