Our fascination with history can be quite addicting. It can be time-consuming and sometimes even a little overwhelming. Medieval history always held a certain romantic view. Those were the days of sword fighting, kings and queens, and castles. Movies and television may have skewered our view of this though. Thank you, Game of Thrones. But have you ever wondered about real castle living? Modern-day conveniences were nowhere to be seen in Medieval times. Hygiene for instance, even for royalty, was not high on their priority list. Baths were scarce. Toilets? What an interesting topic. Just how did toilets work in castles?
Yes, it started with a hole. A urinal hole, to be exact. In some castles, these holes would be built into the floor where a person could stand and do their business. Of course, when the need arose and sitting was required, a wooden platform above the hole was used. Typically, and early on in Medieval times, these holes were built over pits, but as time moved on, castle builders became wiser to the movements of the people.
More Than Just A Hole
No longer using just a hole, castle designers came up with was called a Garderobe. In many famous castles, these garderobes were built as small rooms, sometimes a single seater, sometimes a double. But they were built strategically into these castles. There were other designs too. The need for privacy was not high during those times, so many garderobes were built with numbers in mind. It was common to see a toilet with perhaps 10 or more holes lined up next to each other. Conversations with toilet buddies were common and much gossip found its origin in the toilet.
But Where Exactly
Usually constructed high up in a castle, the garderobe was built to empty outside the castle walls. Its design was such that the hole fed into a chute. The chute would then empty itself outside the castle. Many times, this chute would dump directly into the castle’s moat. Most moats were simply standing water, so one can only imagine castle life in the summer. One can only imagine castle life in the wintertime too. Some castles were built to where the moat would feed into a running river, acting as a flush toilet and removing the waste from the castle. And then, there were those who had to clean the pits.
Cleanliness Is Next To…Oh, Never mind
Considered to be the worst job in history, a gong farmer was employed to keep these pits clean. While they were well-paying jobs, sometimes being knee, waste and even neck deep was not a profession many chose to take on. At one famous castle, the gong farmer would be tied at his waist with a rope and then dangled while he emptied two 5m deep pits.
A Royal Ending
There were many luxuries afforded to those of royal stature. A nice, well-built, private loo was one of them. But in the end, it all came out the same way. A garderobe with the waste exiting outside the castle, into a moat or in other instances, simply to the base of the castle. Most Kings would have a Groom of the Stool, who would help the King perform his bodily functions, making sure the royal bottom was spotless.
Thankfully as time moved on, the invention of plumbing took hold, flushing the old ways down the drain.
Also read: When Did Toilets Become Common?