Nowadays, a toilet can be expected in any house. We visit the bathroom several times during the day to relieve ourselves, to shower, or to take a leisurely bath. But ideas of what it means to be clean and  how to get clean easily have changed considerably.

1780 – 1830

Clean linen – clean people

Ideas of hygiene around 1800

A toilet like we know it did not exist around 1800: For country house residents, a toilet was still a table containing everything a lady needed to make herself beautiful. If she had to answer the call of nature, she used a chamber pot or -stool  which servants emptied into the country house’s own cesspool. To avoid overflow, hired laborers emptied the cesspool once a year. People bathed far less frequently than we do today. They pursued a different approach to look clean: Those who could afford it changed their linen frequently as a white shirt made its wearer appear neat and clean. Masters and mistresses needed a lot of clothes for this strategy to work  as the “great wash” took place only two or three times a year. This very laborious undertaking dragged on for several days and put the country house into a state of extraordinary activity. The mistress usually hired extra servants who assisted with the tedious washing, drying, and ironing. But these servants only took on the laundry of upstairs, those downstairs had to engage a washerwoman in the village.

Rich nobleman: Possession of linen around 1790. The number of linen mirrors the wealth and social status of its owners.
Day labourer: Possession of linen around 1790. The number of linen mirrors the wealth and social status of its owners.

Rich nobleman: Possession of linen around 1790. The number of linen mirrors the wealth and social status of its owners.

Day labourer: Possession of linen around 1790. The number of linen mirrors the wealth and social status of its owners.

1880 – 1930

Pipes for the country house

New bathrooms, new comforts

Even though doing the laundry remained a cumbersome task, the end of the nineteenth century saw the arrival of new comforts. The toilet changed from being a table to a room and bit by bit, the water closet displaced the chamber pot. Accordingly, servants no longer crossed the corridors to empty a night’s worth of human waste into the cesspool. However, a spot needed to be found for the toilet and  owners faced costly considerations. Where could they install a bathroom?  How to get running water there? What about the effluents? Plumbers turned empty guest rooms or expendable storerooms into functional rather than fancy bathrooms and ran expensive pipes through old walls. Hermine and Kuno von Thannhause also had such ideas in mind when they added new comforts to their country house Thannhausen. In 1926, they had central heating and water pipes installed.

These before-and-after blueprints show the great changes in the Thannhausen’s country house in 1926. Can you find the new toilets and bathrooms?

1945 – 1990

Using the pipes, not the pond

Connecting the country house to the communal sewer system

From 1926, central heating warmed Schloss Thannhausen but a heated bathroom could not be taken for granted – not every owner could afford the expensive refurbishment. In quite a few country houses, bathing remained as uncomfortable as it did for the owners of Haus Kendenich in the Rhineland: Only in 1963 did they get to know the true benefits of central heating. During the remodeling, they solved another dire problem: what to do with the waste matter? For centuries, faeces and urine had ended up in the castle’s pond – before the existence of a water closet, the latrine had consisted of a simple wooden seat placed above the pond. Even when toilets were first installed, the sewage was discharged into the pond. This situation was only resolved by the 1963 remodeling when construction workers joined the country house’s pipes  to the already existing communal sewer system. Due to their isolated location, country houses were in fact  often late to participate in this particular achievement of civilization.








Oh, how everything sparkles and how sweet it smells!

Her Ladyship, Adelgunde von Uselstein

Every time I sit down at my toiletry table, I think of my dear husband. It gave me such joy as a young bride when he presented these exquisite goods of shiny silver to me. But regarding the contents, I rather take care of them myself. Next week I have to dispatch another order to the court’s perfumer to stock up on pomades and perfume. I just love it when everything smells so fine!

Builders are nothing but trouble!

Chief administrator Behring

Yesterday, the plumber demolished half the wall to install water pipes in the country house. His lordship will take him to court over that because he hacked through the brand-new power line. But frankly, I don’t know how much of all that new technology can be made to fit into these old walls.

Anyone wants a country house?

Manfred Schulz, Mayor

There have been many shady realtors sneaking around Count Klagenfeld’s country house lately. He and his wife moved out a while ago. There is not even central heating in that old rickety house. Can you believe that? I’m not sure whether the realtors know how much money they will need to invest? Well, a couple of them will probably approach me soon: Without the council there is no way they can turn the house into a luxury hotel. Too bad the community does not have the money to buy it.


The Costs
of Comfort

Everyone in the country house wants to look well groomed and to achieve this goal as comfortably as possible: Be it thanks to a load of fresh and white linen or thanks to running water in the newly installed bathroom. But not everyone could afford the various types of comfort – the toilet demonstrates the social differences.

What is more important to you? So haben die Besucher:innen abgestimmt:

Central heating?

Running water?

Next room:
Servants’ hall
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