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Chamber pot

Dark green, round pot with loop handle on the right. Some damage to the green glaze. To magnify click now
What was it used for? As a toilet at night
Where is it from? Guildford
When was it made? 18th century
How was it made? On a potter's wheel
What was it made from? Clay
Size: H121mm, Diameter 152mm
Museum number: LG.197

When our ancestors needed to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, they used chamber pots such as this one. At this time, indoor toilets like those we have today did not exist. People from all levels of society used chamber pots but the size of this pot and lack of decoration suggest who used it.

People usually kept their chamber pot hidden away under their bed where sleepers were safe from the 'dangerous smells'. People thought the smell could affect the balance of the four 'humours' in their body. They believed that an in-balance could lead to poor health.

Emptying the chamber pot was a daily ritual. Richer homes had separate staircases so that the family going upstairs did not have to meet the housemaid coming downstairs with a full chamber pot. Sometimes people threw the contents of their chamber pots straight out of the window on to the street! People stopped using chamber pots once indoor toilets were introduced. In London, all new housing built after World War I had to have an indoor toilet.

Chamber pots came in a range of shapes and sizes. This small pot was probably for a child. Some chamber pots were real works of art and were part of a larger set alongside a bowl for washing in and a hot water jug. Because this pot is very plain, it would have been cheap to buy and probably belonged to a poorer family. The plain green glaze is typical of 18th century chamber pots from around London and the Thames Valley. In the 16th and 17th centuries, 'Tudor Green' vessels were made on the Surrey/Hampshire borders and must have been found in most homes in Guildford.