Beyond the pail: suds and slops

Matching bathing set in Dorothy Theomin's bedroom, on a washstand. Photos: Supplied
Matching bathing set in Dorothy Theomin's bedroom, on a washstand. Photos: Supplied
In 1907, when the Theomin family moved in to their new home, Olveston, they were able to enjoy the benefits of sanitary plumbing in their up-to-date bathroom.

As the 20th century dawned, the English discovered the convenience of bathrooms via luxury hotels and ocean liners. The Theomins travelled internationally and would have experienced these new delights, and requested them to be incorporated in the design of their new home by their British architect, Sir Ernest George.

An up-to-date bathroom became de rigeur for anyone with pretensions to fashion, and the health benefits of modern sanitary plumbing were also to the fore at that time.

At Olveston, these facilities comprised a toilet with a flushing cistern, and, in a separate room, a shower over the bath plus a heated towel rail. Most other homes at that time still had the outhouse, or privy, tucked away at the bottom of the garden, and daily washing was done by means of a basin and pitcher on a washstand in each bedroom. We take our modern bathroom amenities for granted these days, but you can see how innovative the facilities at Olveston were for the times.

Victorian era bedroom water pail (slops bucket), decorated with rose-sprig swags.
Victorian era bedroom water pail (slops bucket), decorated with rose-sprig swags.
Washstands were the predecessors to bathrooms, and these were utilised in each of Olveston's bedrooms when just a minimal personal wash was required. Hot water was taken up to the bedroom by the maid in an elegantly decorated china jug, or ewer. There was a matching basin to hold the water. The decorated china jugs and bowls were part of matching sets which could include soap dishes, chamber pots, trays for hair tidies and pins, shaving jugs and a ``slop bucket'' or water pail, such as that in the accompanying photo.

The chambermaids used buckets like this one. There is a fitted top which slopes towards a knob in the middle with a gap under it. This knob stopped the bar of soap from inadvertently falling into the bucket when the water basin was poured out after the personal wash. Or, if the chamber pot was emptied into it, the top stopped the wee from slopping out over the sides as the chambermaid carried it downstairs.

In the Victorian era, domestic service was the second-largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work. With the introduction of modern facilities in the Edwardian era, there wouldn't have been so much fetching and carrying required of the servants.

Almost every ceramic, pottery and china company produced these washbowl and pitcher sets, from plain white ironstone to the fancy hand-painted china sets. The bedroom water pail in the photo is made of hard-fired earthenware with a cane over-handle, and is decorated with attractive rose-sprig swags. It was manufactured by George Jones & Sons, England. The individual pieces carry the Crescent ware identifying stamp.


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