Some subjects are simply off limits in romanticized historical fiction. One of them happens to be the call of nature. Sometimes we see a heroine’s motivation for arising in the middle of the night to heat some milk to help her sleep…but it’s rare to read about one whose bladder keeps her awake. And certainly never the need to… um, well, {whispered} “Number Two”.

USE OF CHAMBER POTS

In my most recent post about “the necessary” (a.k.a. outhouse), I referenced the bitter elements of winter that would make accessing the facility uncomfortable if not impossible occasionally during the worst of the weather. Yet there were plenty of additional reasons to keep a chamber pot on hand: middle of the night needs, little children, the elderly, a simple convenience, a mother’s inability to leave the children (near a hot stove or fireplace), and so much more. If you’ve every toured an historic house open as a museum, you’ve no doubt seen covered (or not) chamber pots on display near the bed. In actual historic practice, the chamber pots were tucked away out of sight beneath the bed or in the lower cupboard of a wash stand.

Chamber pot at foot of bed. In actual practice, these unsightly objects were usually tucked beneath the bed or otherwise out of sight.

Chamber pot at foot of bed. In actual practice, these unsightly objects were usually tucked beneath the bed or otherwise out of sight.

IT’S A TOUGH JOB, BUT SOMEONE’S GOT TO DO IT

Chamber pots were used essentially when visiting the necessary wasn’t possible: emergencies, illness, advanced age, weather, etc. But I can imagine the well-to-do with servants availing themselves of the inside convenience of a chamber pot and leaving the dirty work to the hired help.

When I visited historical homes open as museums, I’ve heard interpreters (museum guides) speak of the young boys’ (age 7 to 10 or so) job of emptying chamber pots. In my lifetime of ease and indoor plumbing, I don’t want to contemplate the yuck-factor of that job. But it was a part of every-day Victorian life–especially in the Old West where indoor plumbing had yet to reach. Much more about indoor plumbing in my next blog post: Indoor Plumbing in Victorian America, scheduled in three days.

Victorian-era wash stand. Note the covered chamber pot kept in the cabinet beneath.

FANCY POTS

Odorless commode and slop bucket combined, as advertised in the 1897 Sears catalog (no. 104)

Odorless commode and slop bucket combined, as advertised in the 1897 Sears Roebuck & Co. catalog (no. 104). The advertisement itself emphasizes the use of chamber pots (by end of the century) were for invalids, sick rooms, and rare occasions (weather).

Very fancy chamber pot, as seen on Pinterest

Very fancy chamber pot, as seen on Pinterest.

Japanned ware chamber pot, from the 1897 Sears Roebuck & co. catalog (no. 104) pp 150.

Japanned ware chamber pot, from the 1897 Sears Roebuck & co. catalog (no. 104) pp 150.

A decorative chamber pot

Up next!

Indoor Plumbing in the Victorian Era

Indoor Plumbing in Victorian America

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Indoor Plumbing in Victorian America The Necessary (a.k.a. the outhouse) Old West Bath Tubs Top 5 Reasons READERS of Western Historical Romance Benefit From Visiting Historical Museum Residences Top 5 Reasons AUTHORS of Western Historical Romance Benefit From Visiting Historical Museum Residences Mail-Order Catalogs in the Old West

Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC

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