A loo with a view: restoring a Victorian privy

Tucked away in Brodsworth Hall's sprawling gardens is a piece of history, which for many years has been overgrown with ivy and in a state of disrepair. This is Brodsworth Hall's privy, an original feature of the house that has been undergoing essential conservation work for the last 6 months.

Discover more about its history and find out how English Heritage has been working to bring this treasure of Brodsworth's past back to life.

Garden curiosities

Beyond the spacious lawns and terraces immediately surrounding Brodsworth Hall, lies a series of pleasure gardens - 15 acres of interconnected spaces, containing 'surprise features'. Among these is the summer house - from which you can view the house and gardens, the target house - marking the end of a former archery ground and the less grand, but equally as delightful, privy.

Original to the building of the house in the 1860's, the privy is a rare surviving example of its kind. Built to relieve members of the Thelluson family, who may otherwise have been caught short whilst in the gardens, it housed a simple wooden seat which had hole beneath it. This hole, covered by a trap door, extended to the back of the building so it could be accessed and cleaned out.

Strictly for family use only, staff were responsible for cleaning out the excrement at night, using the 'night soil' to fertilize the garden.

Building the privy

Three of Brodsworth Hall's gardeners outside their accommodation, in about 1914.

Three of Brodsworth Hall's gardeners outside their accommodation, in about 1914.

Many of the buildings in the gardens of the Brodsworth estate were built by local masons, like the Ball family from nearby Hickleton. In 1864, George Ball was paid 3 pounds and 5 shillings to build the privy.

Rustic and set within its own garden, it was originally covered in Ashlar rendering, with a slate roof to shield its visitors from the elements. 

Its porch had a Chinese style pergola roof, supported by trellis, which would have allowed for highly scented roses to grow around the door. Such scented planting would have helped to mask unpleasant smells, maintaining the caller's dignity.

The privy was built with a combination of functional and decorative details in mind. Intended to fulfil not only a practical function, it also acted as a source of intrigue for family and friends roaming the gardens.

The privy prior to conservation

The conservation project

As part of major conservation work going on at Brodsworth Hall, English Heritage has spent the last 6 months restoring this precious piece of history. Long hidden behind a curtain of ivy in a state of disrepair, it needed considerable work to return it to its former glory:

  • A mixture of repointing in lime mortar and rebuilding of the upper courses was carried out to restore its brickwork.
  • The roof was completely replaced and recovered with slate for the first time in over thirty years and the windows were also rebuilt and re-glassed.
  • The Chinese-style zinc roof over the porch was rebuilt and the trellis reapplied in red cedar. The seat inside was also replaced and the original door repaired.
  • The paint was chosen to match the electricity generation house elsewhere in the garden, as it was constructed by the same Victorian builders.
  • To reconstruct the original paths leading to the privy, an 1870's first edition ordinance survey map was used.
  • The Victorian planting scheme - with both autumn and spring interest and highly scented plants including old variety roses around the door - have been re-created.

The privy at Brodsworth Hall and Gardens is now open to the public.

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