Tag Archives: medieval history


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Amy Commander
Reconstruction of the toilets at Housesteads Roman Fort by Philip Corke

It’s not glamorous, but everybody needs to do it. From Romans gossiping on the loo to medieval royal bottom-wiping, to the invention of our modern flushing toilet, here are 2,000 years of toilet history!

1. Housesteads Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall: All together now…

The best preserved Roman loos in Britain are at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. At its height, the fort was garrisoned by 800 men, who would use the loo block you can still see today. There weren’t any cubicles, so men sat side by side, free to gossip on the events of the day. They didn’t have loo roll either, so many used a sponge on a stick, washed and shared by many people – lovely!

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Roman toilets at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall

2. Old Sarum, Wiltshire: Luxury facilities, until you have to clean them…

These deep cesspits sat beneath the Norman castle at Old Sarum, probably underneath rooms reached from the main range, like private bathrooms. In the medieval period luxury castles were built with indoor toilets known as ‘garderobes’, and the waste dropped into a pit below. It was the job of the ‘Gongfarmer’ to remove it – one of the smelliest jobs in history? At Old Sarum the Gongfarmer was dangled from a rope tied around his waist, while he emptied the two 5m pits.

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The garderobe pits at Old Sarum

3. Dover Castle, Kent: The royal wee

Henry II made sure that Dover Castle was well provided with garderobes. He had his own en-suite facilities off the principal bed-chamber. As with many castles of the era, chutes beneath the garderobes were built so that the waste fell into a pit which could be emptied from outside the building.

Medieval nobility would likely have a ‘groom of the stool’ – an important servant within the household responsible for making the experience comfortable for his employer, and bottom wiping!

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Henry II's bedchamber at Dover Castle

4. Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire: The toilet tower

At Goodrich Castle there’s a whole tower dedicated to doing your business. The garderobe tower was built in the later Middle Ages to replace a small single latrine, and the survival of such as large example is extremely rare in England in Wales. The loos could be accessed from the courtyard from one of three doors, leading to the ‘cubicles’. There might have been more than one seat in each chamber.

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Garderobe Tower at Goodrich Castle - the middle tower

5. Orford Castle, Suffolk: A Norman urinal

Garderobes are quite common in medieval castles, but urinals are a little more unusual. Henry II’s Orford Castlewas built as a show of royal power, and to guard the busy port of Orford. The constable – a senior royal official in charge of the castle – had his own private room, which has a urinal built into the thick castle wall.

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Norman urinal at Orford Castle

6. Muchelney Abbey, Somerset: Thatched loo for monks

Many medieval abbey ruins across the country include the remains of the latrines, or ‘reredorter’ (meaning literally ‘at the back of the dormitory’), including Muchelney Abbey, Castle Acre Priory and Battle Abbey. At Muchelney the building survives with a thatched roof, making it the only one of its kind in Britain. The monks would enter the loo block via their dormitory and take their place in a cubicle – you can still see the fixings for the bench and partitions between each seat.

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The thatched monks' latrines at Muchelney Abbey

7. Jewel Tower, London: The Privy Palace

A precious survival from the medieval Palace of Westminster, Jewel Tower was part of the ‘Privy Palace’, the residence of the medieval kings and their families from 11th to 16th century. It was well supplied with garderobes, with one on each of the three floors. As the tower housed the royal treasure, while sitting on the loo you might have enjoyed the richest view in the kingdom!

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Door at Jewel Tower

8. Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire: ‘A new discourse of a stale subject’

The forerunner to our modern flushing toilet was invented at Old Wardour Castle. The inventor Sir John Harington met with five others at the castle to discuss his idea for the first time in 1592. Sir John might have been influenced by the plumbing situation at Old Wardour – in the 14th century the castle was built with luxurious ‘en-suites’ for many of the important chambers, but by the end of the century it was more likely to just cause a big stink as both shafts and drains frequently blocked up.

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Old Wardour Castle

9. Audley End House, Essex: Feeling flush

Along with many other technological advancements, Audley End was one of the first country houses in England to have flushing toilets. The first of Joseph Bramah’s new hinged-value water closets was purchased in 1775, and a further 4 were bought in 1785 at a cost equivalent to the wages of two servants for a whole year! Although none of the Bramah toilets survive, there are two other early loos from the 1870s, one next to the chapel and another in the Coal Gallery.

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Toilet at Audley End (structure on right)

10. Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire: Thunderboxes

Inside the elegant Victorian country house of Brodsworth Hall almost everything has been left exactly as it was when it was still a family home. So as well as the grand furniture, there’s also everything from the commodes of the 1840s to a modern pink bathroom from the 1960s/70s. A highlight has to be the flush thunderboxes – essentially mahogany boxes with a hole, and a brass handle for flushing – part of the original sanitary arrangements in the 1860s.

Visit Brodsworth Hall

Thunderbox at Brodsworth Hall

Uncover More Stories

If you fancy flushing out more toilet tales at historic sites around the country, choose from hundreds of castles, abbeys and ruins here. Don’t forget that English Heritage membership offers free access to over 400 historic sites, free or reduced price entry to hundreds of events and loads of other benefits.

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Lost medieval mansion found at UK construction site

Lost medieval mansion found at UK construction site

By Sasha Bogursky

Published July 25, 2013

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    British archaeologists have uncovered the remains of stone foundations in a pattern which suggests that there may have been a series of medieval buildings on a modern construction site. The mystery lies in exactly what the buildings were once used for. (Wessex Archaeology)

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    These medieval decorated floor tiles suggest that these were substantial buildings of high status. (Wessex Archaeology)

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    Somerset locals visit the site on July 13th to learn more about the mysterious medieval structure at Longforth Farm on Archaeology Day; hosted by Bloor Homes. (Rob Perrett/Wessex Archaeology)

It sounds like a case for Sherlock Holmes: a 900-year-old medieval manor mysteriously vanishes, only to be uncovered later by British archaeologists.

The ancient site has been stripped of its materials except for the foundation — and there is no record of it ever existing.

Got chills? So do the archaeologists who discovered it.

“This is a significant find and therefore very exciting, particularly as there are no documentary records that such a site ever existed here,” said Wessex Archaeology’s senior buildings archaeologist Bob Davis, who participated in the excavation.

Excavators from the company arrived on April 8 at the site in Longforth Farm in Wellington, Somerset, a small agricultural county in southwest England. They planned to perform an archaeological dig prior to the construction of a housing development by Bloor Homes, as required by the Somerset Country Council.

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They had no way of knowing their routine excavation would reveal a hidden series of buildings dating to the 12th through 14th century.

“Such things are as rare as hen’s teeth.”

– Bob Davis of Wessex Archaeology 

“This sort of thing turning up — a large medieval building of such high status without any surviving historical records — it’s exceptionally mysterious and strange,” senior historic environment officer for the Somerset Country Council Steve Membery told ThisIsCornwall.co.uk.

“It looks as if it’s a previously unrecorded, undocumented, high-status, ecclesiastical manor house,” Davis told the British paper. “Such things are as rare as hen’s teeth.”

All that remains from what appears to have been an impressive, affluent mansion is the stone foundation and a few leftover artifacts. It is expected that antiquities thieves would steal valuables from the site, but archaeologists are literally picking at scraps to find out what happened to the doors, windows, stones and other materials that are to be found in a large manor.

They were able to uncover stunningly glazed ceramic roof tiles and carefully decorated floor tiles, however, suggesting the buildings were of high status, perhaps used for religious services.

But much like the American colony of Roanoke, N.C., whomever used the buildings left no trace or record of their existence; they appear to have simply vanished.

“We do not yet know who owned or used the buildings,” community and education officer for Wessex Archaeology Laura Joyner told FoxNews.com. “They appear to form a distinct complex of buildings.”

The most recent discovery has helped shed some light on the use for some of the structures.

According to Wessex Archaeology, the two tiles pictured below confirm the existence of private chambers and a possible chapel at the Longforth Farm site.

Milford Sound in New Zealand

The tile on the left includes a checkered agent or shield motif, which possibly relates to the family name of St. Barbe, a medieval aristocratic British family. Centuries later, Ursula St. Barbe, the daughter of Henry St. Barbe from Somerset with the same last name, was a lady in the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England in the late 1500s.

RELATED: Ancient Graffiti Found in Rome’s Colosseum 

The second tile, similar to one found at Glastonbury Abbey, is a depiction of a helmeted King Richard I (1189-1199) on horseback, charging his enemy. The tile “would originally have had an opposing tile showing Saladin, Sultan of Egypt, also in a symbolic combat pose,” according to Wessex Archaeology. “These two great adversaries were involved in the Third Crusade (1189–1192) and are often depicted together on this type of floor tile.”

Based on the artifacts, the owners of the buildings were wealthy and powerful. So what happened to those medieval VIPs?

The approximately 1,400 locals who flocked to the site when it opened to the public want to know as well.

“Hopefully, this fills in a missing bit of the jigsaw of medieval Somerset,” Davis added.

“Excavation is ongoing, but will come to an end next week,” Joyner confirmed to FoxNews.com. Wessex archaeologists hope to have more answers soon.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/07/25/medieval-mansion-mysteriously-appears/?intcmp=features#ixzz2aHlTvYxA


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Stone coffin to be opened at Richard III grave site

Stone coffin to be opened at Richard III grave site

By Megan Gannon

Published July 24, 2013

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    A stained glass window at Cardiff Castle depicts King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville. (University of Leicester)

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    An intact stone coffin found in the ruins of Grey Friars, the monastery where Richard III was buried. (University of Leicester)

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    Feb. 4 2013: Remains found underneath a parking lot last September at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, which have been declared “beyond reasonable doubt” to be the long lost remains of England’s King Richard III, missing for 500 years. (AP Photo/ University of Leicester)

Archaeologists are set to lift the lid on a stone coffin discovered at the site of the English friary where Richard III’s remains were found.

Excavators suspect the tomb billed as the only intact stone coffin found in Leicester may contain the skeleton of a medieval knight or one of the high-status friars thought to have been buried at the church.

Richard III, the last king of the House of York, ruled England from 1483 to 1485, when was killed in battle during the War of Roses, an English civil war. He received a hasty burial at the Grey Friars monastery in Leicester as his defeater, Henry Tudor, ascended to the throne. Grey Friars was destroyed in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation, and its ruins became somewhat lost to history. [Photos: The Discovery of Richard III]

‘This is the first time we have found a fully intact stone coffin during all our excavations.’

– Mathew Morris, of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services

A dig beneath a parking lot in Leicester last summer revealed the remains of Grey Friars and a battle-ravaged skeleton later confirmed to be that of Richard III. Excavators also found a handful of other graves, including this coffin, which the researchers think was put in the ground more than 100 years before Richard’s burial.

This month, the team from the University of Leicester started a fresh excavation at the site. Now in their final week of digging, the researchers plan to open the coffin in the days ahead.

They think it might contain the remains of the knight Sir William de Moton of Peckleton, who died between 1356 and 1362, or one of two heads of the Grey Friars order in England, Peter Swynsfeld or William of Nottingham.

“Stone coffins are unusual in Leicester and this is the first time we have found a fully intact stone coffin during all our excavations of medieval sites in the city,” site director Mathew Morris, of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), said in a statement. “I am excited that it appears to be intact.”

Morris and his team intend to measure and take photos of the coffin before they lift the lid, which they say they will do out of view of the media.

Meanwhile, Richard’s remains are set to be reinterred next year. Last week, the Leicester Cathedral announced its $1.5 million ($1 million U.S.) plans to rebury the king in a new raised tomb at the church.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/07/24/stone-coffin-to-be-opened-at-richard-iii-site/?intcmp=features#ixzz2a7Tv66R3

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Complete Listing of World Wonders

This is re-posted from StumbleUpon, via wonderclub.com.

It is a very comprehensive and interesting list of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”  Oddly enough, there is not a single list.  The famed “Seven Wonders of the World” has changed over time.  This site has a pretty good listing of the various interpretations, with good links and maps.  Well done, wonderclub.com.  In any case, the list gets your creative juices flowing, which is always good for us fiction authors in particular.


Complete Listing of World Wonders

The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World


The Seven Wonders of the Medieval Mind

The Seven Natural Wonders of the World

The Seven Underwater Wonders of the World

The Seven Wonders of the Modern World

The Seven Forgotten Natural Wonders of the World

The Seven Forgotten Modern Wonders of the World

The Seven Forgotten Wonders of the Medeival Mind

The Forgotten Wonders

Read our World Wonder FAQ by clicking here

 Maps of the World Wonders

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