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December 2016 Meeting Report

The Best Seat in the House by Mark Lodziak

The December meeting of the Sawston Village History Society needed a not too serious subject for the talk, and Mark Lodziak certainly provided it. Having spent his working life in sanitary ware, he was well placed to cover the subject.

We probably all think of the smallest room as being a post-industrial revolution invention, but Mark informed us that there were piped sewers in Mesopotamia in 3300 B.C., and in the Indus valley they had facilities upstairs in two storey houses. Of course the Romans also got in on the subject, often as a communal activity, but also in private houses. Their sewers fed into the cloaca maxima, which emptied into the river Tiber.

Many monasteries and castles were provided with facilities on the upper stories which projected over the outer walls. The Normans called these Garde-robes because they were a good place to keep clothes free of moths. Henry III insisted that the Garde-robe be bricked in all the way to the ground as he did not want the common people to know his business.

For them, of course the easiest thing was to throw the contents out of the window, which could be dodgy for anyone out on the street at the time - or afterwards. The proper thing to do was to put the contents out in a suitable container for the night collector. There were strict rules about the time it was put out, and by when the emptied container had to be brought in.

The inventor of the modern type of flush loo in the time of Elizabeth the first was not who you might think, but Sir John Harrington, who is still remembered in America where they go to the john, not to the loo as we do. There are a number of names remembered by those in sanitary ware: Joseph Bramah was an early manufacturer who sold 1600 flush loos, George Jennings was the man who insisted that there should be 12 flush toilets at the Great Exhibition, and Edward Chadwick was responsible for the 1872 Metropolitan Act which brought uniformity to systems which had developed individually. Unfortunately there is no record of the man who explained to Queen Victoria that the pieces of paper she was seeing floating down the River Cam were notices prohibiting swimming in the river. The name you have been waiting for is Thomas Crapper. No he did not invent the flush loo, but he did have the first showroom of bathroom furniture which is why he is remembered here, as Sir John is remembered in America.

The twenty-first century has seen a couple of innovations in the soft close seat, which reduces the noise gentlemen make in the loo, and the Jet-flo toilet in Japan, which can warm the seat in cold weather and, like the computer, needs a five year old child to explain all its other mysterious workings.

After the talk, refreshments brought by the members were rapidly consumed, uninhibited by the subject under discussion.

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