This section is from the book "The Principles And Practice Of Modern House-Construction", by G. Lister Sutcliffe. Also available from Amazon: How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Home.
A glance at the history of the subject shows that the use of water for the conveyance of faecal matter from latrines is a practice of very considerable antiquity. Sir John Simon says that in Home public latrines were in general use under Augustus, at any rate for the male sex: - "That at least some of them (i.e. latrines) discharged into the sewers is known from the language of eon-temporary writers; and that at least some of them more or less resembled the trough water-closets of our own time, in taring an ample water service by which their contents were flushed into the sewers, seems proven by the fact that apparatus of the kind has in several cases been discovered in the remains of Pompeii."1 Mr. Hellyer, in his Lectures on the Art of Sanitary Plumbing, cites an example from Fosbrooke's Encyclopedia of Antiquities, of a water-chwet in the palace of the Caesars which was furnished with a cistern, from which water was distributed by pipes to several seats.
At the monastery attached to Canterbury Cathedral, Professor Willis traced the exact position and construction of the "third dormitory" or necessarium.
The privies or closets were arranged in a row along one side of a great hall, and immediately under them ran a fosse or open sewer. Into this fosse or sewer, the rain-water from the roofs, and the overflow from the series of tanks by which the monastery was supplied with water, were led, thus forming what must have been a fairly-efficient trough-closet. Mr. Hellyer, in the lectures quoted above, refers to an early form of water-closet mentioned in Aubrey's "Surrey". At Sir Francis Carew's, Beddington, Surrey, Aubrey "saw a pretty machine to cleanse an House of office', viz., by a small stream of water no bigger than one's finger, which ran into an engine made like a bit of a fire-shovel, which hung upon its centre of gravity, so that when it was full a considerable quantity of water fell down with some force and washed away the filth".1 This apparatus, from its description, must have been curiously like some arrangements to be met with abroad at the present time.
Fig. 283 shows an apparatus that was probably the usual form in use during the last century, in the houses which were possessed of Buck luxuries. The pan was made of marble, and the outlet was closed by a wedge-shaped plug B, attached to which was a long handle; the water was admitted by a service-pipe c, and its height in the pan regulated by an overflow-pipe D. No trap was fixed under the pan, and the soil-pipe, unventilated, was carried direct to the drain. \n improvement upon this apparatus was the valve-closet, which, in various improved forms, remain- in common use to this day. Though one or two valve-apparatn- were designed and patented before Bramah produced his well-known closet, they need not be referred to further here. Joseph Bramah, a cabinetmaker, took out a patent for a valve-closet apparatus in 1778. This apparatus was the parent of all the succeeding closets of the valve-type, and though there may be little of Bramah's detail left, the leading principles remain the same.
Fig. 283 - Section of an Eighteenth- century Water-closet.
1 English Sanitary Institutions, by Sir John Simon.
2 Hellyer, op. cit, p. 190.
The valve-closet consists essentially of two parts, tin- bean, and the valve-box and valve; to which must be added a third part, vis., the trap. The trap did not apjmrently form an essential part of the apparatus in Bramah's time, and it will be convenient to consider it separately.
Bramah's closet (Fig. 284) consisted of a basin, at the bottom of which was a valve, which, when closed, seated itself close against the outlet, and thus served to retain any water which might be in the basin. The-valve was worked by a cranked lever connected with a handle, which was raised to open, tin-valve and lowered to close it. The water was admitted near the top of the basin, and it-height in the basin was regulated by an overflow-pipe communicating with the valve-box. The weak point of Bramah's closet was - and this is the case with inferior valve-closets of to-day - the difficulty of ensuring that the valve should always shut down tight on its seating.
The apparatus known as the "Pan-closet" was probably devised with a view to correct the defects of the valve closet. This apparatus consisted of three essential parts: the basin, the pan, and the container, and is usually found with a fourth, viz., the D-trap. The basin m (Fig. 285) is in the form of a truncated cone; below this is tin-pan o, a circular vessel generally made of copper and fixed on a pivot, so that when the handle is raised, the pan falls and discharges its contents into tin-receiver N. The receiver is made of iron, and is large enough to give free play to the movement of the pan.
The defects of this apparatus are so glaring, and its evils have beta so frequently described, that it seems almost superfluous to enlarge upon them to-day. Indeed, the fact that the apparatus is, in many places, prohibited by by-laws sanctioned by the Local Government Board, would render further comment unnecessary, were it not unfortunately true that the dung continues to be made and fixed, notwithstanding all that has been done to demonstrate its unfitness. Perhaps the chief defect ii that in the container there is a very large area of metal, which is exposed to contamination by splashing at every discharge from the basin, and for the cleansing of which no provision whatever exists. The whole surface of the container, and the bottom and sides of the pan, are in course of time almost entirely covered with filth. That this is no exaggeration may readily be proved by anyone who will be at the pains to examine an old pan-closet, which has been in use for a few years. When the pan is lowered, the whole of this foul surface becomes exposed to the air of the house, and the resulting effluvia are better imagined than described.