Down the Garden Path – Derbyshire Privies (April 2009)

Down the Garden Path – Derbyshire Privies.

 The speaker at the April (2009) meeting of Ashbourne Heritage Society was David Bell.  He is a former primary schoolteacher, who turned his writing hobby into his ‘job’.  He became a writer – first of children’s books, then thrillers (under a pseudonym) and, finally, books about local history.  His topic for our meeting was “Down the Garden Path – Derbyshire Privies”.

For all his books, whatever topic he was researching, he appealed on local radio and in local papers for stories on that particular subject.  He referred to his ‘Old Codger’ who provided him with several ‘privy’ stories.

One of these involved a farmer who complained that the privy he had had built for his farm hands was ‘too comfortable’…  So the maker of the four-hole privy had to convert the smooth, round holes he had carefully made into rougher square ones.  “Now they only stay two minutes instead of twenty,” said the farmer.

At the other end of the scale he told of the privy at the old Bishop’s Palace at Southwell Minster which was reached up a spiral stair with a four-seater, in the shape of a cross, at the top!  At Cromford there was a privy over the mill-race.

These privies, be they buckets or something larger, had to be emptied.  This was the job of the ‘night-soil man’ with his horse and cart.  The cart was shaped something like today’s muck-spreader.  He was often euphemistically called ‘the Lavender Cart Man!’

This was a thoroughly entertaining and very humorous lavatory–humoured, literally, talk.  No need for slides or PowerPoint projection, this talk succeeded with just David talking.

Of the many stories and puns, too numerous to mention, my favourite was said of someone going down the garden path to the privy – “to loos he treks”.