Monday, April 19, 2010


The first in an occasional series of necessary houses, bogs, WCs, comfort stations, garderobes, gentlemen's powder rooms, heads, johns, ladies' rooms, latrines, lavatories, outhouses, potties, powder rooms, privies, restrooms, thrones, and washrooms.

Each time I lecture on architecture and interiors of ancient Rome and a slide of communal latrinae comes up on screen, a loud and conjoint eeuw goes around the room - as well it might, you may think. Hard as it is for anyone in modern times to imagine sharing one of life's more intimate moments with anyone else, it was apparently not so for our ancestors. Arguably, it is also not so for ourselves given the flimsy partitions separating toilet facilities in many a contemporary building.

This communal lieu begs a question I shall leave you to contemplate.

Photos by Peter Woloszynski from an article authored by Leslie Geddes-Brown in The World of Interiors, March 1994.


  1. this just makes me want to sit in on all of your lectures, knowing that I'd learn (thank God) and be loving it (even more thankful) at the same time

  2. In my youth, suddenly 50 years ago, the seldom-used 18th century house that backed up to my grandparent's house still had it's privies, two stories, a two-holer down, a three holer up, whitewashed, original blue milk paint on the woodwork, still in use for the rare summer visits of the eccentric descendants who owned it. Had almost forgotten it until you posted this. A nice suburban lady bought the house...'restored' it, privies long gone....

  3. Ms Thorne - very appreciative of your comment. Judging by the number of students, male oddly enough, who fall asleep in my evening lecture I'm not sure that many of them would agree with you.

    Dilettante - what a frightening word "restoration" is. I remember, and used, outdoor privies belonging to cousins of my grandfathers. They were located at the end of the back yard (the paved, walled area behind terraced houses) of the old weaver's cottage they lived in. These privies had regular cleansing of sorts when the kitchen sink or the bath were drained and the water flushed the contents of the "long-drop", as the privy was known, out to the town's sewer system.

  4. "The famous row of austerely elegant houses in the Greek revival style, still in part standing on the north side of Washington Square, dates from the 1830's and was the first built in the new neighborhood of Lower Fifth Avenue....The first householders in Washington Square dealt in whale oil, iron, tobacco and sugar....The lots on which they stood were ninety feet deep, and the spaces behind the houses extending to Eighth Street were gardens with flowerbeds and trellises. These trellises figure in many books and reminiscences of the time, which usually dwell on their flowery and attractive appearance. Delicacy prevented the authors from saying that they masked the path to the outdoor privies, which even such first-class dwellings still depended on, and provided protection for necessary trips in bad weather."

    (From Fifth Avenue: The Best Address by Jerry E. Patterson)

  5. Ancient, marvellous quote - thank you. I shall find the book.