Down The Garden Path

April 22, 2014 | 0 Comments | Filed under: 2014, May 2014

There was this ‘ere gardener who used to put the contents of his midden on to his allotment. “That’s funny” he said “I don’t remember putting all those tomato plants in.” This and dozens of other earthy reminiscences were the stuff of David Bell’s talk to Tideswell History Club in April.

Having written many books on local subjects, he went on Radio Derby to ask for people’s memories of early primitive sanitation. The feedback that he received was tremendous and so his talk was peppered with these anecdotes. From time immemorial, toilets had consisted of a hole (or two) in a plank of wood with a midden underneath, or a collectable bucket if you were lucky. The family of a bride-to-be thought that they would smarten up the privy by painting the seat a pale green colour. But in her excitement about the forthcoming day she went and used it too soon. Many swabs of methylated spirit later, she was able to continue with the nuptials.

David takes his inspiration from the famous American book “The Specialist”, which tells of the exploits of a professional erector of outside lavvies who could lovingly relate the creation of 3 and 4 seaters. This book was published in the 1930’s and has never been out of print since. One of the stories concerns a farmer who had him make a rough-cut seat with square holes because he didn’t want his workmen spending too much time in there. Remarkably, David heard about and photographed similar shaped seats at Haddon Hall. His correspondents certainly got up to a lot of stunts. “There was a collier who used to take his miner’s acetylene lamp down to the privy with him and one time he dropped his spent carbide down the hole, then, as he settled down he dropped his fag end down as well – – -BANG”

One lady visitor asked the old chap why he didn’t have a door on his privy. “Nay” he said “I’ve never had a bucketful pinched yet”. Warming to his subject, David related the story of the hen that insisted on laying her egg in the bucket. It was then some young lad’s job to retrieve the egg and wash it. Things came to a head when one day the chap came in and sat upon the throne only to feel the warm caress of Rhode Island feathers on his undercarriage. Most ladies were careful to see that their “offices” were kept spotlessly clean and whitewashed, in fact one lady was said to be “privy-proud”. David once inspected one that had a big turn-key behind the seat that let a cascade of fire ashes down on to the “pyramid”. Sometimes folk kept a stick handy to flatten off the pyramid , hence the saying “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick”. Going back to brides-to-be, one night this young lady was set off down the garden path with a candle in a jam-jar. Of course the wind blew the candle out and after many adventures, it was half an hour before she re-appeared in polite company.

We’ve had another very successful season, thanks very much to Julie, our highly accomplished speaker-finder and the rest of the committee. See you all again with a bit of luck, next autumn.


Brian Woodall.


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