The Conservatives have just unveiled their new education policy promising better teachers and a shiny future for our schools. However, in the past, it has not just been
the education that has been in need of reform. The facilities themselves were in urgent need of an
overhaul. I trust the Tories will take note...
For example, in 1518, Dr John Colet (1467-1519), the
founder of St Paul's School in London proudly attested to the fact
that he had provided the boys with somewhere to urinate. More serious
business could be dealt with in the River Thames. The mind boggles to consider what must have gone on before:
Matters had hardly improved by 1843 when Queen Victoria was being shown around Trinity College, Cambridge by the master, Dr William Whewell (1794-1866). Lavatory paper was not invented until 1857 – by the New Yorker Joseph C. Gayetty, whose “Therapeutic Paper” was marketed as being “a perfectly pure article for the toilet and for the prevention of piles.” At the time of Victoria's visit to Trinity, students would tend to use pages torn from books and the primitive plumbing in the colleges meant that the paper (and everything else) ended up in the River Cam.
To theyr urine they shall go thereby to a place appointed, and a poore childe of the schole shall see it conveyed awaye from tyme to tyme, and have the avayle of the urine. For other causes if neede be they shall go to the watersyde.
(Samuel Knight – The Life of Dr John Colet 1724)
However, the collision of education and excretion has not always been a disaster. Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773) took great pains over the education of his illegitimate son, sending him endless letters of advice. Samuel Johnson, on the other hand, considered that Chesterfield's letters taught “the morals of a whore and the manners of a dancing-master”, a neat description that was recently used to describe modern bankers. Chesterfield, however, was adamant that time spent on the privy could be spent instructively. This piece also serves to explain just how those soiled book pages would end up in the River Cam.
There is a tale of Queen Victoria being shown over Trinity by the Master, Dr. Whewell, and saying, as she looked down over the bridge: “What are all those pieces of paper floating down the river?” To which, with great presence of mind, he replied, “Those, ma’am, are notices that bathing is forbidden.”
(Gwen Raverat - Period Piece 1952)
I knew a gentleman, who was so good a manager of his time, that he would not even lose that small portion of it, which the calls of nature obliged him to pass in the necessary-house; but gradually went through all the Latin poets, in those moments.
He bought, for example, a common edition of Horace, of which he tore off gradually a couple of pages, carried them with him to that necessary place, read them first, and then sent them down as a sacrifice to Cloacina: this was so much time fairly gained; and I recommend you to follow his example. It is better than only doing what you cannot help doing at those moments; and it will make any book, which you shall read in that manner, very present in your mind.
Books of science, and of a grave sort, must be read with continuity; but there are very many, and even very useful ones, which may be read with advantage by snatches, and unconnectedly; such are all the good Latin poets, except Virgil in his Aeneid: and such are most of the modern poets, in which you will find many pieces worth reading, that will not take up above seven or eight minutes.
Bayle’s, Moreri’s, and other dictionaries, are proper books to take and shut up for the little intervals of (otherwise) idle time, that everybody has in the course of the day, between either their studies or their pleasures. Good night.
(Lord Chesterfield – Letters to His Son December 11th 1747)
All of which should serve as useful information for the Conservatives as they refine their education policy...