In part 4 of our look into Bathrooms through the ages we focus on the Middle Ages. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire came the Middle Ages, a period in history which saw a huge social change, international conflicts and dreadful natural disasters. Seen by many as a time of stagnation and regression after the fall of Rome, people in the Middle Ages had very different bathroom habits to those during Roman times.
For many people in the Middle Ages the toilet was simply a hole dug in the ground with a wooden toilet seat placed over it, however monks did built public toilets out of stone or wood situated over rivers.
In Medieval castles the toilet was called a garderobe and was a simple vertical shaft with a stone or wooden seat on top. Most garderobes emptied into the moat, but at Portchester Castle in Hampshire, stone chutes were built on the outside wall of the castle facing the sea. When the tide would come in it would wash away the sewage.
People used to hang their robes and other clothes in the garderobe, believing that the smell would get rid of moths. Over time the word garderobe changed into the word we now associate with hanging clothes up in today, a wardrobe.
During the Middle Ages the wealthy use rags to wipe their bottoms, whilst ordinary people used a plant called great mullein or common mullein.
Only the wealthy could afford to have a private bath in their residence. The majority of people did not care about their personal hygiene or even keeping clean in general, though when they did bathe they would use a wooden tub with a tent like structure over it to protect their dignity. Attendants would bring out pots and jugs of warm water to fill the tub.
During the Middle Ages glass mirrors all but disappeared, this is because during this deeply religious period of history confessions stated that the devil was watching from the other side of the glass. Women instead used either polished metal mirrors or specially shaped water bowls to see their reflections.
Full plate armour developed in Europe during the late Middle Ages and were made from iron or steel plates that would completely encase the wearer. A complete suit of armour could weigh up to 25kg, but the wearer was still able to remain highly agile as the weight was spread over the whole body. It would take a knight approximately half an hour to suit up in full armour, provided he had someone helping with the laces and buckles.
Eating habits of the wealthy and poor during the Middle Ages was very different. The lord of the manor would usually have a three course meal, but each course would have between four and six courses in it, including a range of meats and fish as well as an array of wines and ales. Some of the more unusual dishes included pigeon pie, woodcock and even peacocks.
Ordinary people during the Middle Ages ate a lot of bread and a dish called pottage. Pottage is a kind of soup stew made from oats that sometimes had beans and peas added to bulk it out. Turnips and parsnips were also staple food sources. Bread and ale were an important source of nutrition during the Middle ages, and ale in particular was drunk in copious amounts because it was safer to drink than many other water sources. The ale was boiled in the production process killing off many of the harmful pathogens.
Here is part four of our Bathrooms through the Ages comic strip: