Nine hundred years ago, using the bathroom was not necessarily a solo activity.
As a medieval toilet seat discovered in London demonstrates, at least some people living in 12th-century England were willing to use the bathroom two or three at a time.
The oaken seat is not fully intact, but is remarkably well preserved given the centuries it spent underground. It contains two full holes one could use for anything one might wish to use a toilet for, as well as part of a third hole.
As the Museum of London notes on its website, the seat “was originally big enough for three people to share at the same time (presumably, three people who knew each other very well).”
While that comment was tongue-in-cheek, the known history of the toilet seat suggests that the two people most likely to have made regular use of it were in fact quite familiar with each other.
The seat was discovered during archeological work at the lower portion of the River Fleet in the 1980s. Archeologists discovered remnants of a bridge and a row of buildings. One of those buildings – the one where the seat was found – belonged to hatmaker John de Flete and his wife Cassandra.
Beneath the seat was a wicker-lined pit, presumably used to capture anything that made its way through the seat. Solids built up in the pit – requiring it to occasionally be emptied or replaced – while liquids were able to seep through its lining.
According to the museum, the seat was well-preserved largely because it was buried in waterlogged earth for most of its existence.
“The wet conditions helped stop oxygen from reaching the wood, preventing it from rotting,” the website says.
The River Fleet was notoriously foul-smelling, and was paved over in the late 18th century. It continued to function as part of London’s sewer network.
The triple-seat will be on display from May 24 to Oct. 27 at the Museum of London as part of an exhibition detailing the hidden history of London’s waterways.