One would assume that the chamber pot need no introduction but just in case, a chamber pot is, for want of a better term, a portable toilet. Or pot. Yes, for your business. And in the 18th century, the century we will deal with in this short blog, that was more or less the only thing you could use! We take bathrooms for granted but not so the Georgians, in fact, the bathroom as we conceive it today was non- existent!


So be our guest, and come inside to this Georgian house where chamber pots were probably stored in small closet rooms for guest to use, and at night, of course, placed in bedrooms. Now, imagine yourself as a chambermaid, the morning after a large party or entertainment in the house. Your job would involve collecting up, bringing down all those stairs to the basement these precious pots for cleaning and returning them to their secret places. A secret pot that everyone knew about but no one really talked about perhaps?

The difficulties of private country houses as both guest and servant seem pale in comparison to life in the Royal Palaces.  As a royal courtier, making perhaps what is the most natural of all bodily functions was not as a straight forward as one would imagine. You were in the Royal Presence  and permission needed to be sought to leave that presence… and it was not always granted. Think of the embarrassment of one lady-in-waiting who could not hold any longer ‘producing a … puddle as big as the dining room table which threatened the shoes of bystanders’.[1] The aftermath is unrecorded… but what was the appropriate etiquette? Did one pretend not to notice? Were servants called? How did the lady maintain were composure? Is there a way to appear dignified after such a mishap? And then, what about the genuine emotional distress? Of course, as often with history little pieces of information raise more questions than they can answer. But this was the reality of court life!

In the Royal Court, there was no guarantee of privacy. Ladies, however, had a secret weapon… the bourdaloue, i.e. chamber pot designed especially for women. Women’s corsets (or stays) meant bending down was difficult so it was believed that this particular piece of equipment was used standing up. Yes, you read that correctly. It is difficult to conceive this, and as none of our guiding team volunteered to demonstrate how to use a bourdaloue, I must direct you to the documentary, If Walls Could Talk, Episode 2, where historian Dr Lucy Worsley, stepped up to the challenge. The theory is this could be used without attracting too much attention to oneself. Yet being completely discrete was impossible.

A Bourdaloue


One can only sympathise with the men and women caught short and having to use the chamber pots or bourdaloue within ear and nose of others. In her book, Courtiers, the Secret History of the Georgian Court, Worsley recounted the apparent infamy of one woman, a French ambassadors wife, who seems to have been particularly ‘notorious for the frequency and quantity of her pissing which she does not fail to do at least ten times a day amongst a cloud of witnesses’.[2] This, perhaps, puts a different slant on how we imagine the glamour of life at the Royal Court.

Flushing is something we take for granted and with no royal flush, sanitation problems abounded! And they did not stop at the Roya Court? What about a night at the opera perhaps? Before continuing, I would like to pose a question to our esteemed readers, if you were booking tickets for a concert, play, opera or indeed Croke part on All Ireland Final Day, would toilets be first and foremost on your mind? Now what if, like in the eighteenth century, we all knew we had to use chamber pots? Historian Michael Burden has shed some light on this very important problem in pre-1830s England, particularly in reference to opera goers. With large crowds gathering in one place for hours on end, using chamber pots in an enclosed or confined space like a theatre there was no way of avoiding some nose offence. And not only were noses offender for the night in question, but there are records of smells lasting days following a nights entertainment. It is no wonder, one advertisement for an opera reassured potential customers that the theatre would be well aired!

Winterthur Museum


Thus, the chamber pot, an essential in everyday life came with its trials and tribulations of Georgian life. These problems were part of everyday life! In order to truly appreciate the past, it is important not to romanticise it but embrace all its foibles and struggles!

This blog is just a little insight into one aspect of Georgian life and if you would like to learn more on this topic I would recommend Lucy Worsley’s documentary and subsequent book of the same name If Walls Could Talk. In the meantime, as a guide at Castletown, I would like to conclude by adding we cannot wait for the time we can welcome you all back to see behind the walls of Castletown and bring the stories behind these walls back to life! But maybe not the chamber pots, we are glad they are empty.


By Dr. Catherine Bergin-Victory



Further reading

Burden, Michael, Pots, privies and WCs; crapping at the opera in London before 1830 Cambridge Opera Journal XXIII, 1-2, pp 27-50.

Worsley, Lucy, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court (London, 2010).

Worsley, Lucy, If walls could talk; an intimate history of the home (London, 2011).

Worsley, Lucy, If walls could talk

[1] Lucy Worsley, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court (2010).

[2] Lucy Worsley, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court (2010).