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How old is a privy….?

Privy at Donegal Castle

The above picture is of a privy at Donegal Castle, and not, I’m sure, in the mould of the fancy ‘bog’ described below!

There was a question recently concerning how old various words for ‘toilet’ might be. I have just happened on the following reference: circa 1400, Jan de Wynken de Woorde, in his ‘Boke of Kerunge‘ (The Manual of Carving):-

“. . .see the hous of easement be swete and clene and the privy borde covered with a green cloth and a cysshen, then see ther be blankad [blanket] doune [down] or coton for wiping . . .”

A ‘blanket’ here means a white woollen cloth of fleece, ‘coton’ is cotton flock... So ‘house of easement’ is at least as old as this.

However, ‘privy’ goes back to 1377 (and therefore earlier) because in that year there is mention of ‘a large public ‘prevey’ being in a state of disrepair. C.P.R., 50 Edward III (1377), Roll A. 22, 3 Feb; and C.P.R. Book II, 6 Richard II, p.212, fol. 162b, 18 Feb.

I hardly dare imagine a large, mediaeval public privy that’s in a state of disrepair. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Finally, an interesting (and amusing) fact. In 1572, one word for a lavatory was “Jaxe”. Puts a whole new meaning on the present-day phrase that employs that word!


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2 thoughts on “How old is a privy….?

  1. They still have ‘mediaeval-style’ privies in Norway! At least wrt their mountain cabins. It’s no problem, actually (mind you, I don’t have to do any cleaning!)


  2. Thank you for this. Contrary to popular belief, people didn’t use just sticks or rocks to wipe their bottoms. In the finer homes at least, old linens too worn for garment use were cut up into squares; since the linens had by this time been softened up considerably through repeated wearings and washings, they made nice, soft, sanitary bum-wipes.

    Liked by 1 person

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