May I be excused?

Have you ever wondered why none of your people in Stronghold goes to the toilet or washes? There’s probably a very good reason in that there are more important things for them to do be doing like defending their castle from hordes of invaders. But there could be other reasons …

It is probable that people in castles weren’t quite as smelly as is assumed nowadays. They took baths in wooden tubs. If they were lucky they could even have a little privacy for their ablutions provided by a canopy or tent. In summer, baths were generally taken outside in the garden and in winter by the fire. A lord would have a bathman to bath him and a bath mat to protect his feet from the cold stone. Some castles even had built-in bathrooms with baths filled from the moat or, in a very rich castle, piped hot and cold water.

There were stone basins built into the walls known as lavabos, fed by an overhead refillable tank with taps. They were often used for washing hands before and after meals and the waste water was carried away down lead pipes into the moat.

Medieval toilets had all kinds of names such as privy, gong or necessarium. They had a stone or wooden seat over a chute which emptied into the moat or a pit
(the ancestor of the present day cess-pit). In time, the bottom of this chute was shut off by iron bars to prevent invaders climbing the chute into the castle. Gong farmers had the job of emptying the pit and cleaning the toilets. Not a job I would fancy. Toilet paper didn’t exist – a strip of cloth or handful of hay was the best that could be offered.

In the keep, there were usually one or two garderobes – a small room with the toilet seat jutting out from the wall, usually in a buttress, in or very close to the sleeping area and lit by torches. The lord would have a chamber pot in his sleeping area as well.

Some castles had a latrine tower with toilets for the guards all together and a pit in the basement so that they wouldn’t have to leave the walls for long to answer a call of nature.

In towns, life was a lot more smelly. There were public conveniences built over rivers just a wooden slat over the river … quite a perilous time to be a boatman. Some houses built their toilets as projecting extensions to the upper floor, open to the road beneath. Peasants collected urine to use with the laundry – if kept a while it acted as bleach. I wouldn’t like to get too near the clothes though.

Written and researched by GillB
Picture of the garderobe courtesy of Le Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg: notre Demarche and of the latrine tower courtesy of Olaf Kaiser at Burgenwelt

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