roman baths toilets

A brief history of toilets and toilet paper

Surprisingly toilets have been around for longer than you may think.

As far back as 3000BC some ancient cultures had primitive toilets in their dwellings albeit a hole in the ground that was squatted over that drained into subterranean clay chambers. Around the same time the canny Scots used a drainage system that used water from nearby rivers to automatically sluice out all the dirty stuff into those same rivers.


A few thousand years later and the Romans took over in skills and ideas with the introduction of their public baths using water brought into the cities from their magnificently constructed aqueducts to fill the baths and to sluice their urinal style toilets.

roman baths toilets toilet being manually flushed

The Romans built sewers under the cities and the water that flushed their baths and toilets was directed into marshlands that afforded some filtration before it then drained into the Tiber. Only the wealthiest had private toilets while the mere mortals had to tip their waste into the sewer pipes. They were also advocates of recycling their water and used the bath water for flushing their latrines- a practice we could all use now!!

The Romans weren’t completely flushed with success though as the poor often chucked their waste into the streets and disease and pestilence was rife and often spread with the communal use of the very popular public baths affecting both the rich and the poor.

In this game of thrones the most documented use of the first flushing toilet was during the reign of Elizabeth 1st whose godson John Harrington detailed an instruction manual on flushing toilets whose basic theory and components are still used today. It is commonly thought that this is origin of the word ‘John’ for a toilet.

john herrington diagram of a toilet

Another canny Scot Alexander Cummings was granted the 1st patent for a flushing loo (or Water Closet- WC) in 1775- his toilet design had the ‘U’ bend which kept all the nasty niffs at bay. The word ‘loo’ for a toilet comes from the French saying ‘Garde l’eau’ (beware the water) from when the poor French folk used to throw the contents of their bedpans out of their windows into the street below and would shout the legend as they did so.

Nothing much has changed since then apart from the occasional refinement here and there and Thomas Crapper – an unfortunate coincidence and no guessing what word has appeared in our language from his name- who was a plumber, added better drainage and leak free valves. He also popularised the flushing toilet with his excellent salesman techniques.

thomas crappers toilet

Apart from cosmetic changes and whether your cistern is high, middle or low or even close-coupled or rimless, take a few minutes the next time you sit and think about the history of the throne you are sitting on.

alexander cummings toilet

Rolling on from toilets what about the ever essential toilet paper? In 50BC the Chinese used short lengths of bamboo and added cotton pulp that was formed into sheets and dried. Once paper making skills became world-wide nearly every paper manufacturer was using the same kind of paper or rag based sheets for this daily essential.

Toilet paper

The first ‘toilet paper’ was used in China by the Emperor in 1391 and it was a luxurious and rare commodity confined to royalty only, but production was prolific with 720,000 sheets of 2 x 3 foot sheets, that were cut down, made a year.

ancient chinese toilet paper

The paper makers around the world gradually developed the product and in 1890 the Scott Paper Company were the first to put paper on a roll, although they were too embarrassed to put their name on this unmentionable product, so it was sold through drug stores and salesmen. Production became worldwide through companies like Kimberley-Clark, Charmin and Kleenex and the rest is history, because it is a product that we would not want to be without.

charmin tissue advetisement scot toilet tissue advertisement









So the bottom line is the job’s not finished until the paperwork is done!!