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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > June 2018 > The A-Z History of Toilets

The A-Z History of Toilets

Though our basic needs remain the same, our toilet habits have certainly changed – and thankfully, for the better
Turn to ‘X’ to find out what these Romans are holding – and what they used them for
ALAMY X2, GETTY X4, JULIAN HUMPHRYS X2

A ... This for AJAX

Although Elizabethan writer and courtier John Harrington wasn’t the first person to design a flushing toilet – Londoner omas Brightfield had done so in 1449 – he was the first to provide a written specification for one. In 1596, he penned his Metamorphosis of Ajax (a pun on ‘jakes’, a slang word for a privy) in which he described a remarkably modern-sounding device that he’d installed in his house. This incorporated a pan with a seat and a cistern filled with water. When a handle was turned, the water washed the contents of the pan into a cesspool. Although Harrington installed one for Queen Elizabeth in Richmond Palace, cost, problems of water supply, and lack of sewers meant that the idea wouldn’t catch on for centuries.

B ... This for BAZALGETTE

By the 1850s, London’s growing population was producing unmanageable amounts of sewage. Cesspools leaked and overflowed, contaminating water supplies, and matters weren’t helped by the outpourings of the increasingly popular water closet. London’s Commission of Sewers had ordered that cesspools and house drains should be connected to sewers, but these fed directly into an increasingly noisome River ames. Following the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, when the smell from the river was so bad that MPs even considered abandoning Westminster, the Metropolitan Board of Works was tasked with overhauling London’s sewerage system. Civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette 1819 1891 was put in charge of operations. His 16-year project included embanking parts of the ames, constructing 1,100 miles of street sewers, 82 miles of main interceptor sewers and building four monumental pumping stations, all designed to take the sewage eastwards to be discharged into the river away from heavilypopulated areas.

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About History Revealed

In this month's issue… Hitler's rise to power How a failed painter on the fringes of local politics managed to hoodwink a nation and become - against all likelihood - the Fürher. Plus: 250 years of the circus; the Kingmaker's comeuppance in the War of the Roses battle of Barnet; famous folk who died broke in spite of their achievements; women who fought against the suffragette movement; and the strangely enthralling history of the toilet. Watch out for X.