Gas Lamps

Ben Lemmon

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Could you carry a gas lamp around in 1912, or was it pretty much a stationary object? If it was stationary, what light source did they use to go to the bathroom at night, or maybe to get a drink?
 

Bob Godfrey

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Gas lights were fixtures, usually mounted on the wall rather than a high ceiling as they had to be accessible. They were connected to a piped supply of gas, so obviously not portable. If you needed to find the toilet (if that's what you mean by bathroom) at night you could use a candle, but a chamber pot under the bed was a common alternative, especially if (as in our gaslit house) there was no inside toilet. If you felt you might need a drink (or anything else) during the night you took it with you when you went to bed. If you had servants you could call one of them, but that was regarded as unreasonable behaviour.
 

Ben Lemmon

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a chamber pot under the bed was a common alternative
Ah, the wonderful sight of someone using the toilet in your room. I think I will go with the outside toilet on this one. It may be what the audience would prefer.
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By the way, is "chamber pot" where some got the phrase "I have to use the pot" or maybe "potty?"

Heh, maybe I should get my head out of the gutter *rimshot*
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think I will go with the outside toilet on this one.<<

Not always practical or even desirable. If you ever have a chance to tour the Biltmore Mansion in Ashville NC, take note of the fact that not all the rooms have baths or even toilet facilities...notably the servents quarters. As large as this place is, if you had to go, by the time you got outside, you would need a fresh change of underwear.

Also, in smaller homes, the nearest outhouse could make for a very unpleasant trip if it you had to make your way through mountains of snow.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Yes, also called a pot or po (or potty with reference to infants). In my youth this essential bedroom accessory was commonly also called a 'jerry' (short for jeroboam - a large bowl). There's a theory that German soldiers were called 'jerries' because of their helmet shape, but more likely that was just a familiar name suggested by 'German'.
 

Ben Lemmon

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In retrospect, I guess it wouldn't be so weird. I used something similar when I was being potty-trained (no pun intended, and yes I remember being trained). Did you just go in your room, or, in the case of more than one person in the room, did you go elsewhere, like a closet or something. In middle-class homes, did they have nurseries? I recall seeing one in Peter Pan and the family seemed about middle class.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Some people are more self-conscious than others, but most men don't have a problem using the common urinals provided in public places and bars, and likewise years ago most people used the po without embarrassment. It was a simple matter of necessity, and perfectly natural. I can see how that's difficult to understand for generations brought up with modern conveniences, but I go back to a time when gas lights, candles, outdoor plumbing and chamber pots had become rather archaic but were not regarded with horror, and I've used them all! :)

If you had a nursery, in the sense of a room where children spent most of their time (including eating meals) rather than just a child's bedroom, then you needed to employ a nursery maid. Servants were cheap to employ in 1912, but a lower middle class family would generally have no more than one or two general-purpose domestics, often little more than children themselves. A complete 'household' of servants with specialist and experienced roles would generally be found only in upper middle and upper class homes.
 
Jan 28, 2003
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I've got gas lamp fixtures in my home, which I bought 11 years ago. The estate agent told me it'd be really cool (and lucrative) to get them working again (as opposed to the 1940s electrics which I rapidly had renewed). But I was rather doubtful about 100 year old gas pipes, so didn't do it. I still know where all the gas outlets are, though, and have kept a couple as a feature, though they don't work. The potty was a common feature years ago, not merely because the toilet might be in the yard, but because it was a darn sight warmer to use it and then dive under the covers again than wander around in the freezing cold inside or out. We had them until we got central heating when I was a small child.
 
Feb 4, 2007
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So since we're discussing chamber pots, and we know they were used on the Titanic because they have been found in the debris,......just exactly how did one use the thing? I mean, was it set on a chair, and one sat on it, or was it set on the floor, and one squatted over it? Goodness, I can just imagine 'missing' as one fumbled in the dark in the middle of the night with the ship rolling. The stewards must've had quite a clean-up job, at least on occasion.

My mother has a very old English stoneware chamber pot from the mid-1800's. When I was growing up, she thought it was a soup tureen, and we occasionally used it as such on 'special occasions' until I was in college and realized that it was actually a chamber pot. Needless to say, my discovery gave us all a good laugh.
 

Bob Godfrey

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You did whatever came naturally, Jason. I don't recall ever being provided with a set of instructions! The pots carried on the Titanic were intended for use I think mainly by people bedridden with mal-de-mer, who might need servicing at both ends.
 
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I have seen a couple of chairs with holes in the seats in the master (ie. the parents') bedroom in a couple of historic houses [the Samuel Fry House in Jordan and either the Schneider Haus in Kitchener or Mackenzie House in Toronto.] The chamber pot was placed underneath. Mr. Fry's chair had a fitted lid. Perhaps, if the second chair I saw was at the Schneider Haus, having one may have been part of Pennsylvania Dutch/Deutsch furnishing. Mr. Fry's had an ample seat, spindle back, legs and arm rests. A handsome chair.

Henry VIII had a padded leather close-stool that was carried with his baggage when he went from palace to palace, if the television documentary I saw was not an April Fool's joke. It was a box with the padding around the hole in the lid. The pot went inside, of course.

Now, on the Titanic, could there have been similar chairs for invalids / seasick folk who could not squat without falling? Or maybe a sort of demi closet box with a lid that you raised to expose the seat, and a little front door for the pot, the box located near the washing table?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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The 'chairs with holes in' are called commodes. They are easily obtained today. They are much used in hospitals, nursing homes, etc. Some are on wheels. They look coldly efficient, with plenty of stainless steel.

In the old days, commodes were often used by people who were not invalids, just to save the walk to the outside privy. They were disguised as comfortable chairs. They weren't needed in Kansas City.

In, I think, the 18th century, it was possible to buy chamber pots with pictures of politicians painted inside. I'm looking for an example. There's an opportunity for somebody who can draw!
 

Ben Lemmon

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OK, I want to go back to the nurseries for a moment here. Did they all have a nursery maid, or did the mother sometimes look after the nursery? I'm just wanting to know because that may mean a new character being added to all the family parts in my book. I guess I can start pulling together ideas for her, but I wouldn't mind not having her.
 

Bob Godfrey

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To Dave and all who are interested in the many possibilities afforded by Victorian and Edwardian plumbing (or lack of) I heartily recommend Lucinda Lambton's book Chambers of Delight. Or even better, the combined volume Temples of Convenience and Chambers of Delight. The publisher's blurb assures us that Ms Lambton "has driven over 40,000 miles all over Britain to bring together a collection of the most unusual lavatories." And add that she has "sometimes taking up to seven hours for a shot". Now that's what I call dedication to purpose!
 

Bob Godfrey

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Ben, the basic idea of having a specific room or rooms designated as a 'nursery' was that the parents could avoid disruption of their everyday routines by keeping the children out of the way most of the time and paying someone else to look after them.
 

Ben Lemmon

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Do you think, Bob, that someone who teaches would have a nursery? They deal with kids all day, so why should home be any different? On the other hand, they may be sick with dealing with kids. But would that make them mean, or was it just a common practice of the time? On the other hand, what would a teacher need a nursery for? They wouldn't have to do much after they got home from school. On the other hand, they would have to prepare lessons, and may want to read books or something. Hmmm . . . Bob, can you tell me which one of my hands is right? One final thing, did the mother figure make dinner or was that the nursery maid that made it? Anyway, thanks for listening to my ramblings. Again, which one of my hands sounds more accurate?
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Bob Godfrey

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Female teachers generally were unmarried, and not from wealthy backgrounds. If they married and started a family of their own they gave up their jobs at least until their children were old enough to go to school themselves. On a teacher's wage you couldn't afford to pay somebody else to look after your own infant children during the working day.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>In, I think, the 18th century, it was possible to buy chamber pots with pictures of politicians painted inside.<<

Napoleon was a popular choice in Britain. I can only imagine who would be the politician of choice to send a message to in France. I can think of plenty of worthy "recipiants" today from both sides of the aisle, but that would be getting too close to contemporary politics for this forum.
 

Ben Lemmon

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Who said I was talking about a female teacher? There were male teachers back then, as evidenced in La Gloire de Mon Père and a few other literary works of that time. While I don't recall a nursery maid in La Gloire de Mon Père, I'm thinking perhaps it is possible for a headmaster of a school to get a decent working wage[sup]?[/sup]. Correct me if I'm wrong, though. I want to be historically accurate.
 
K

Kyle Johnstone

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The King's Commode

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"used" by Charles I, Hampton Court Palace
Note the velvet upholstery for the delicate royal rear.
Looks to be mobile, and similar, to one mentioned above for Henry VIII