05 May 2017

Victorian garden toilet restored to former glory at Brodsworth Hall

The privy was buried under a mound of ivy and experts say its discovery provides insights into 19th century social history.

Victorian reenactors outside the restored privy

A hidden Victorian loo that was used by the wealthy owners of Brodsworth Hall in their garden has been restored by English Heritage.

Considered a rare surviving example of its kind, the privy, an outdoor toilet in a small enclosure, has been covered under a mountain of ivy for decades.

The privy was built in 1864 by then-owners, the Thelluson family. It was located discreetly behind yew hedging and surrounded by heavily scented flowers including roses, geraniums and orange blossoms to mask unpleasant smells.

Now it's been recreated with a new bench, pagoda-style roof and pergola trellis porch. Strongly-scented flowers have also been planted around it, like the original gardeners did in the 19th century.

The restored privy

Daniel Hale, Head Gardener at Brodsworth Hall, said:

'Toilets may not be glamorous, but they can be a fascinating source of social history. The privy sheds a light on the Victorians' love of gardens.

'Lost for years under ivy, we're delighted to have rescued this lovely loo and share its story with visitors - although we'd ask them not to get too familiar with it.'

The privy covered in ivy before conservation

Although Brodsworth Hall was already fitted with nine flushing toilets, the Thellusons built the privy among their Victorian gardens to ensure they were never 'caught short'. The toilet was only used by the family and their guests - not by gardeners or servants.

As there was no running water connected to the building, an unfortunate staff member was tasked with emptying the toilet daily and spread the appropriately named 'night soil' as fertiliser on the garden at dusk.

A reenactor pretends to clean the inside of the privy

Brodsworth Hall passed into the care of English Heritage after the Thelluson family's fortunes changed. The investigation of the privy and subsequent restoration project has taken two years to complete.

Learn more about the restoration project on our conservation page.

Find out more about historic toilets with our Top 10 Toilets Through Time blog.

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