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Offline kyn

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Victorian Sanitation
« on: January 26, 2014, 05:10:24 PM »
Sanitary conditions were becoming a serious problem throughout the United Kingdom during the 19th century.  By 1855 most waste in London was being disposed of through the sewers which emptied into the River Thames.  Those buildings that were not yet connected to sewers were using cesspits to collect the waste, unfortunately these often overflowed or split, allowing the waste to leak and pollute drinking water.  During the summer of 1858 temperatures soared increasing the smell of waste in rivers and in the streets of villages and towns, the Houses of Parliament had lime soaked curtains covering the windows in an attempt to reduce the odour of the Thames and Queen Victoria abandoned a cruise along the river.  The problems being experienced by so many people resulted in experiments in improved sanitary arrangements; one of the people who were trying to improve the conditions of his parish was Reverend Henry Moule, the Vicar of Fordington. His parish had yet again suffered from Cholera as well as having the drinking water polluted from leaking cesspools.  Moule believed that the poor sanitary conditions contributed to the spread of diseases and was determined to find a way of improving the conditions in his village.

In 1859 Moule had found that by mixing earth with his excreta it decomposed in three to four weeks with no remaining odour.  He then went on to talk to a local farmer about experimenting with this earth as a fertiliser.  He used earth that had been mixed with excreta five times to fertilise one half of a field growing swedes.  The second half of the field was fertilised using equal weight of superphosphate.  The experiment was a success and the swedes grown in manured earth grew one third larger than the others.

The following year Moule patented his earth closet which included a lever that released a measured amount of earth into the removable bucket used to catch human waste beneath a seat.  This became quite a popular invention that was introduced into hospitals, gaols, government buildings.  Queen Victoria also had one installed in Windsor Castle!  As with most inventions other variations became available and over time were improved.  One such variation was installed in Fort Horsted during its construction, and these still remain in place and almost complete.

The latrines here consist of 4 earth closets and one urinal. 



The urinal was provided with water from a small water tank just above and to the left of the latrine block.



This is the most complete earth closet out of the four.



The earth closets were in pairs, with a doorway accessing two fronts and a second doorway giving access to the rear to allow emptying of the pails.



Close up of the seat.



The waste would fall into a metal pail beneath the seat which sat in the recess pictured below.



It seems that these particular closets were automated, the seat was hinged and the release of pressure, standing up, would move the arms that connected the holder containing earth.  This allowed a measured amount to fall into the pail covering the waste.



Counter weights on the end of the arms.







Although earth was used the forts also used ash from the fireplaces.  Fort Borstal had an ash bin to store ashes before they were used.  The earth and ash would be poured into the hopper at the back of the closet.






A measured amount would sit in this rotating cup which the arms connected to the seat would tip into the pail.



Each room was provided with access to water from the tank to wash the floors and a drain.







One of the earth closets at Fort Horsted has now been restored and is in full working order!

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2014, 03:21:46 PM »
Thanks for the information Kyn.
A good few years ago (in the 1980s) John Symonds of the Plymouth Garrison Artillery Volunteers  was given permission to excave one of three earth closets situated in the tunnel that links Egg Buckland Keep at Plymouth with the grand caponier in the outlying ditch. He restored the closet to full working condition and then allowed the Palmerston Forts Society to borrow it for display at Fort Nelson. The Portsdown Artillery Volunteers regularly took it with them on outside gun firing events and it was displayed during such events at Crownhill Fort Plymouth and at Dartmouth Old battery. Yours truly was often seen demonstrating the closet, in full Victorian uniform, much to the delight of the assembled crowds!
This is the closet which I believe is still on display at Crownhill Fort.
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline kyn

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2014, 06:00:27 PM »
Thank you David :)

It looks very posh compared to the ones at Fort Horsted!  Could yours be from the Officers Latrines do you think?

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2014, 11:00:10 AM »
That is a good thought Kyn, but the three earth closets were external to the keep down a very long, dark tunnel to the caponier. No where near the comfortable Officers' mess. A bit of a way to go.
Where the tunnel opens out in this diagram.
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline kyn

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2014, 07:52:59 PM »
Yes far too far for the Officers.  It is interesting that there doesn't seem to have been any consistency with provisions for the forts, maybe it depended on the area you were in?  It seems the Medway Forts were more test runs by the time they were reaching completion, and I assume some of the fixtures and fittings had become more efficient to construct?

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2014, 11:28:59 AM »
I suspect that the provision of earth closets depended upon the availability of sewerage. Where it was not possible to lay on sewerage then closets were provided. For example, the mens' W.C.s at  Fort Nelson had round earthernware toilet bowls that were connected underneath by a pipe and were all flushed at once by a tank with a handle operated valve on the end of the line. This washed though to a cess pit outside the fort halfway down the hill. This was emptied periodically by the local farmer. Fort Brockhurst was connected to the main sewerage pipe running along the military road connecting the forts. Sewerage needs to run downhill so earth closets in caponiers were necessary where a downhill run for pipes could not be obtained.
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2014, 12:05:55 PM »
These plates are from the 1912 'Fort Pattern Book'. A series of plates for contractors fitting out forts. They are not good copies as the original was on loan from the owner and photocopiers were not very efficient when I copied it in the 1980s.
« Last Edit: February 06, 2014, 12:18:30 PM by David »
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline kyn

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2014, 01:46:58 PM »
These are fantastic, thank you so much for posting them.  I don't suppose I would be able to find a copy of the book anywhere would I?

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2014, 09:33:09 AM »
The correct name for the book is the War Department Pattern Book. A copy appeared at Fort Nelson one day through the Royal Armouries, on loan from the owner and I was able to copy it for the PFS archive. The loan copy was on the old style Zerox shiny copy paper and already of poor quality. The PFS archive copy is therefore a copy of a copy. I have never seen an original copy, despite searching, but one must exist somewhere.
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline kyn

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2014, 08:30:55 PM »
Thank you David, it would be great to find a copy!  I didn't expect to find plans for these.  I have seen similar books at the National Archives but it would take years to go through all of them to see if they contain these plans or anything like then.


Offline jon brown

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2014, 05:21:34 PM »
one of the things in the pictures is that the stall dividers appear to be of wooden board construction(which is a nice survival), the ones at crownhill were of  cast iron and i have seen slate dividers used, the fitting being dependent on local construction. there are also officers stalls at crownhill which always seemed a bit exposed to me.
at the firing ranges at tregantle there are still some small soil stalls on the victorian range hidden behind modern construction, when they were accessible you had to squeeze through an 18 inch gap where the more modern 1950s ones had been built in front of them. the seats are still there.
the one still at crownhill (pictured) was a pressure seat, you sit down it works the mechanism, you stand up it deposits the earth, as long as the earth was dry and not damp, which always left me wondering where you get dry soil in britain.
if you want a hard to find original document david is usually helpfull in having a copy somewhere, so it is always worth asking

Offline David

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #11 on: March 09, 2014, 11:27:09 AM »
Thanks for the information Jon. I read somewhere, but cannot find it now, that the preferred earth to use was 'Fuller's Earth'. I believe this was used to clean wool so was readily available.
David Moore

Die, my dear Doctor? Thats the last thing I shall do. - Palmerston (attrib)

Offline jon brown

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Re: Victorian Sanitation
« Reply #12 on: June 13, 2014, 02:21:58 PM »
I have pondered this for a while, the pathways and walkways were of crushed cinder, if crushed cinder was available in large quantities it is absorbative and easy to store dry.
fullers earth could be used, it is still supplied by the military as a non reactive absorbative material and is provided for chemical absorption. it also has uses for cleaning certain pieces of Victorian equipment along with pipe white.