A Privy and a Pigsty

A Privy and a Pigsty

While some might shy away from looking into the toilet arrangements of people in the past, for archaeologists they're an especially interesting subject so the chance to investigate a 'privy' with no mains water connection is quite exciting.

Much has been written about Roman toilets, medieval garderobes and monastic latrines but there's surprisingly little detail about the period between the end of the medieval era and the advent of modern sanitation in the late 1800s. It's not hard to find references to cesspits, ash-pits and dust-holes but more is written about their nuisance than about their construction and use.

One of our current digs concerns that even rarer breed of 'necessarium'; the combined privy and pigsty. The toilet consisted of a bench-type seat mounted over a brick-built trough about 50cm deep. Waste would fall into the trough and ashes would be sprinkled on top with the final products of decomposition running through a small arch into an 'ash pit' which was also the receptacle for household waste and the contents of commodes. Now and then the cover would be taken off the ash-pit and the contents removed, either composted, strewn on nearby fields are taken away by a 'night-soil man'. The sketch shows what we think the building looked like and the photo below shows the 'trough' (left) and the ash-pit (right) with the connecting arch between.

Needless to say, the building was situated as far as possible from the house - probably not a trip you'd want to make in a rural location in the dead of night in mid-winter!