The necessary, necessary house, bog, boghouse, boggard, bog-shop, temple, convenience, temple of convenience, little house, house of office, close stool, privy, garderobe—all euphemistic terms for what we would call an outhouse. The privy at Graeme Park is a reconstruction located just off the south side of the house. Given the proximity to the door, the carriage turn-around and the known approach to the house, it is not believed to be the location of the original privy, as it would be the first thing visitors would see (and smell) as they entered or exited the house. The reproduction was placed here based on an early painting which shows that some sort of small shed or structure existed here, but the archaeology that was done back in the 1960s failed to locate a privy.
Given the nature of the structure, and even the origins of the word “privy” (private, apart, not publicly known), the placement was usually somewhere physically away from the dwelling, at the side or back of the home and/or near other “unsightly” buildings used by servants or slaves such as kitchens, dairies, or smokehouses. Exceptions were sometimes made in the case of grand colonial estates where the privy was often a decorative building at the back of the formal garden—partially hidden by the landscape with fragrant flowers chosen to obscure the smell. Lambs ear was often planted along the path because it was reflective at night and helped guide the user to their destination.
In grander homes the architecture of the necessary often mimicked that of the main house. Some were raised up to aid in removal of the waste (see back cover for more on this) and some examples had domed, plaster ceilings in order to avoid corners where insects and dirt could collect.
More commonly, however, privies were simple wooden structures which would make transporting them to a new pit, when one was needed, easier. These pits could be any-where from 18” to 6’ deep and often served as trash dumps as well, making them great archaeological finds.
One of the interesting characteristics of the reconstructed privy at Graeme Park is that it is a “three seater” with two adult seats and one at child height. Was this common? Did everyone go at once? Or were there separate seats for men, women, and children?
As it turns out, it was common to share accommodations and three seats is even on the low side. There are monasteries in France with privies that seat 30-40! This seems at odds with the desire to keep the structure itself hidden and private and very much in opposition to our 21st century sensibilities.