A Description of a Privy Design, by Sir
John Harington, late 1500s,
Sir John Harington invented the first
known valve closet (a precursor to the modern toilet) in the late 1500s.
Queen Elizabeth I (a relative of Harington's) had the device installed
in Richmond Palace. A New Discourse of a Stale Subject was
a book he wrote about the device, giving practical advice for construction
in a fictional setting. See Roy Palmer, The Water Closet (Newton
Abbot, Devon: David and Charles Limited, 1973). See also two
poems by Sir John Harington.
Next make a vessel of an oval form, as broad at the bottom as at the top; two feet deep, one foot broad, sixteen inches long; place this very close to your seat, like the pot of a close-stool, let the oval incline to the right hand. This vessel may be of brick, stone or lead; but whatsoever it is, it should have a current of three inches to the back part of it (where a sluice of brass must stand); the bottom and sides all smooth, and dressed with pitch, rosin and wax: which will keep it from tainting with the urine.
In the lowest part of the vessel which will be on the right hand, you
must fasten the sluice or washer of brass, with solder or cement; the
concavity or hollow thereof, must be two inches and a half.
This screw must, when the sluice is down appear through the plank not above a straw's breadth on the right hand; and being duly placed, it will stand about three or four inches wide of the midst of the back of your seat.
That the children and busy folk disorder it not, or open the sluice with putting in their hands without a key, you should have a little button or scallop shell, to bind it down with a vice pin, so as without the key it will not be opened.
If water be plenty, the oftener it is used and opened, the sweeter; but if it be scant, once a day is enough, for a need, though twenty persons should use it.... And this being well done, and orderly kept, your worst privy may be as sweet as your best chamber.
But to conclude all this in a few words it is but a standing close-stool
easily emptied. And by the like reason (other forms and proportions observed)
all other places of your house may be kept sweet.