I Ascend The Throne

Mrs Emma Jane Simpson

May 10th 1831

Yesterday I did something I’m sure my Eliza would never countenance writing down in a book: - I used the water closet!

With Masters and Mistresses away we do take very seriously our charge of looking after their houses for them.  But then, we too have our curiosities and our interests, and that there water closet has long been an interest of mine.

The little cottage in which I was born stood close by a wide river – but a small stream from it had curled around a knell and ‘twas there my grandma situated a closet for our use.  It was something of a wonder in the village for two reasons: the first being that it was fashioned in such a way that one did not have to leave the house in order to use relieve oneself.  A small covered passage led from a door in the back room to the door to the closet.

The second wonder was that the closet itself was positioned above the fast-running stream and full many is the shriek I’ve heard from a visitor upon finding that one sat comfortably upon a  wooden seat ...with no floor or bucket or basin ...and all waste fell directly into the water and was swished away in the blink of an eye!

Thus was I familiar, or so I thought, with a water closet. ‘Twas only when we moved the household to this new and modern house in Brighton that I discovered that a gentry water-closet and my Grandam’s water closet was two different sides of the same coin.

The villagers soon came to accept my Grandam’s closet; but one thing they never did approve of was that the closet was part of the dwelling. This, they all sagely agreed, was not the way of things. A closet must sit away from all dwellings, said local wisdom, that no foul miasmas could enter into one’s home. Which is ever the custom – and my Grandam be a rarity.

So, when the Housekeeper and maids finished their first day’s duty in the new house in Brunswick Square, they were all agog with the news that there was not one, but three water closets...all inside the house!!At which both Daft Mollie and the tweeny maid did mewl and moan and mutter darkly about us all dying in our beds overcome by the foul miasmas which must surely fill the house.

Well I knew from my own experience that no foul miasma arises because of a water closet but I was tremendous curios. There is no stream any longer in Brunswick Sq and thus I could not for the life of me fathom out where all waste and foul miasmas DID go.

I trust that I’m not thought so bold as so use the convenience which the family used.  But in the cloakroom which is on the first half-landing is a small closet for the use of visitors. So daft are the gentry in matters of everyday living, that they have become so mimsey as to pretend that the female body has no need to expel waste of any kind! So much has this idea been put about that some of the young’uns about the town do also think that women of the gentry, at least, are of a different sort altogether. For this doth explain for them why each night the gentry come a-sauntering down Ship Street to visit the doxies.

Howsomever – ‘acos of this daft thinking, a woman who goes abroad for visiting or shopping is sorely vexed if she has need of the Necessary. For even while they sup endless dishes of tay and share gossip, even then they may not excuse each other, and all pretend they have never heard of a privy!

But our house, on account of it being of the most modern and up-to-date, has discretely acknowledged that women are real creatures. For behind a partition in the cloakroom there sits a water closet! ‘Tis never mentioned, but whenever the ladies ascend our staircase to the first floor and divest themselves of cloaks, and primp and preen, or adjust their dress, they may also take advantage of the Necessary. Mary-Ann and I do often exchange a laugh about which ladies do sometime rise from their habitual languor and fairly runs up them steps!

So twas there I entered and there I sat me, like a very princess on her throne.  For the water closet be made of china! Pretty china with blue flowers around the inside! No tin, or wood, but china! With flowers! And the seat be a rich, dark wood with no splinters, that feels like satin! Oh, I was content to sit there, in the warmth, and think myself in paradise ‘till Mary-Ann knocks to ask if I has fallen down the hole!

I were disappointed though to discover that though there was water in the privy, it did not go away – just diluted what had been respectfully spilt in.  And so I said to Mary-Ann when I came out. But she laughed at me and took me back inside and pointed to a chain with a China handle which hung from a box above the privy.

‘Pull it’ says she.

‘I durst not’ says I. ‘What if it should ring in the kitchen and summon the butler or Mr. Fitz?

‘Tis not a bell’ says Mary-Ann with a superior air, and pulls the chain herself.

At which I was properly mazed – for water came gushing and rushing and swirling about all inside the privy! And when all had settled the water was clear and pure and no trace of discoloration of it to tell of my trespass! And, Mary-Ann says, each time the bell is pulled doth water come again – and we stared at the little box which held so much water and wondered.

So I don’t pay any mind to Eliza’s saying these is not writing-down subject.  I think my future nieces and nephews would think their old Aunty grand to have used such a glorious contraption. With blue flowers round the inside!