Primitive civilisations had no problems, naked or semi-naked, they could pee
wherever and whenever the need arose. Only when towns were built and large
public assemblies occurred did people have to control their needs. Little
evidence remains as to what actually went on, but the ruins that have survived
show little or no evidence of toilet facilities. Crowds that gathered for
religious festivals in ancient Egypt probably had no formal facilities and those
in the centre had either to contain their pee or go in their clothes. The
general standards of hygiene were low enough that the smell would not to be
noticeable once the wet garments had dried. Similar situations occurred in Greek
and Roman times, though the Romans built sewers, public bathhouses and probably
other facilities in buildings like the Coliseum.
However, it is Roman times where I found the first record of desperation. Courtiers and attendants were forbidden to leave the presence of the Emperor, or other important person, until dismissed and would never dare ask permission, regardless of the reason.
Claudius, one of the more benevolent Emperors, made a decree that allowed Senators to leave court briefly 'for natural purposes' after he discovered that one had made himself ill with his efforts to contain his piss in court. Ladies attending the Emperor's wife would have had similar restraints and therefore suffered similarly, though their problems do not seem to have been documented.
Such store was placed on maintaining appearances, following the correct behaviour, showing respect and the like that it is quite possible that any mention of bodily needs in front of a superior would have been considered an insult and been unthinkable. So it is probable that Claudius' senator was not the only person who had to restrain his pee to the point of injuring himself.
Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages would have been a bleak time for desperation fans. Streets and rivers were used as sewers, sanitation was non-existent and most people hardly washed, so peeing (and shitting) in the streets would have been normal for all classes. Of course there must have been situations when some restrain was needed. The boating scene in the film 'Elizabeth 1' comes to mind. After the young Queen had drunk several glasses of wine, being surrounded by water would have been the worst thing for her bladder. Did she suffer agonies of desperation, or when the discomfort became too great, did she let her numerous under-skirts absorb her pee? Since it is reported that Elizabeth bathed as 'often' as twice a year, the smell of pee would not have been noticed. Would her suitor have had to suffer similar desperation, or was it permissible for him to pee over the side of the boat?
Was peeing, or rather, *not* peeing, used as a form of torture in medieval times? It does not seem clear if the reason or mechanism of peeing was really understood then, but there must have been some association made between liquid intake and pee output and since the discomfort of refraining from peeing had to be known, this might have been one of the water tortures often mentioned. I have seen it mentioned that even today a crude method of torture is to bind cord round a man's penis and then force him to drink endless water until the pain becomes unbearable. Such a cheap and easy way of inflicting pain could well have been in use for centuries. What would have been the result of this torture? If the binding were tight enough, loss of circulation in his penis would have caused gangrene and if no urine could be expelled, then eventually his bladder would have ruptured, causing an agonising death.
As an aside, castration, when both the penis and testicles were removed, required the victim to refrain from urinating for some days after the operation while the wound healed. It was not uncommon for scar tissue to block the urethra and if this could not be removed, then the victim, unable to pee, would die of a ruptured bladder. Wooden pegs and the like were inserted in the urethra tube immediately after castration in the hope of both preventing inadvertent urination and to prevent the tube closing later.
2. 18th and 19th Centuries.
The French court of the 18th C was populated by both sexes and both seem to have suffered from the calls of nature. It is recorded that the ladies used a specially shaped chamber pot, fore-runner of the hospital bottle used today, which they could slide under their full skirts while seated and ease themselves. After use, it would have been discretely removed by a maid. One must assume that to use such a device they would have been very desperate, unable to contain themselves until they were dismissed. (Would any lady reader like to experiment to see how easy it is to use such a device without either being seen or heard doing so?) It is not recorded what the men did. Their tight trousers would have made peeing difficult anyway and I imagine that there must have been cases of extreme desperation, particularly considering the amount they drank.
3. The Golden Age?
I have made a study of the 19th C, mainly because of the opportunities for desperation that it seems to offer. There were no public lavatories in London (I can't speak for other cities) until late in the century and none at all for ladies until the after 1900. The opening of the first public lavatory for men in London, near the Stock Exchange, was celebrated by the publication of crude doggerel poems describing the relief to be obtained in the new building, which suggests that there had been a desperate need for such facilities.
Before that, the lower classes would go openly in the street, or even in their clothes, but the upper classes had no choice but to wait. Gentlemen on their own probably used secluded alley-ways and entrances to ease their bursting bladders, but when in mixed company such behaviour would have been unthinkable. Ladies had no choice but to wait. Underwear was layers of underskirts, no drawers or knickers, which did not come into use until about 1880, so the unavoidable release of a trickle of pee down their legs while standing or walking might have gone un-noticed. A medical book of the period notes that a case of diabetes had been identified by the sticky, sugar deposits on the lady's stockings and boots where her urine had dried. The diabetes had made her want to pee more often than usual and the unfortunate lady had been unable to contain herself, with no option but to go down her legs.
While a lady might be able to relieve herself discretely in this manner, her upbringing would have prevented her from doing so if it was physically possible, as the shame of committing such a disgraceful act in public would have been unbearable. Sitting, a lady could have crossed her legs, or even sat on her heel, which would have been hidden by her long skirts.
The real struggle came when they had to stand up, putting extra strain on their bladder and socially forbidden to plait their legs, twist round in circles, show any sign at all of their need. If a lady lost control it might not have been noticed, but for a gentleman, particularly when tight breeches were the fashion, the slightest loss of control or leakage would have been clearly revealed. As such an indiscretion was inconceivable and would have made them a social outcast, gentlemen would go to almost any lengths to avoid it. This was an age when a type of male 'chastity belt' was used to prevent young men masturbating, so the use of mechanical devices to contain their urine should come as no surprise. It would seem that anything that would stop a man masturbating would also make it difficult, (if not impossible) to pee and I have seen no explanation of behaviour when wearing such a device. Men might bind their penis tightly with strips of cloth or leather, or resort to special clamps, willing to suffer anything as long as they did not disgrace themselves in public.
It also seems to have been quite common for men to suffer from bladder stones, which caused great pain when peeing. A medical book tells that afflicted men would not pee 'until the sheer bursting pressure in their bladder becomes unbearable and urination can no longer be avoided.' The pain when urinating was so great that they would undergo operations without anaesthetic to remove the stones, so they would really have held on to the very limit.
Maybe ladies also resorted to artificial aids to help contain their pee. The expression 'attempted to seal her outlet, so no leakage could occur, however great the pressure,' could have referred to pressing her fingers against her pee-hole, or to something more drastic, though it is difficult to imagine what. Whatever, there is no doubt that they would have fought to hold their pee with every ounce of their strength. The terms 'stomach pains' or 'being in pain' was frequently used as a euphemism for needing to pee, which gives an indication of the level of desperation experienced.
Later, when fashions changed and trousers were looser, gentlemen would fix a pig's bladder to the inside of their thigh, which would contain their leaks in an emergency. Rubber bags, with specially shaped inlets, strapped between their legs, were also used by both sexes 'when travelling or at other inconvenient times.' How effective these were was not recorded, though claims that 'a patented non-return valve ensures that no leakage is possible' suggests that not all were watertight. Once again, it was probable that these devices were only used when it became impossible to contain their pee another second, and they were better than simply releasing in their clothes. Imagine the embarrassment of walking along a quiet street and your companions hearing your pee slopping about in your secret container.
3. 19th Century Travel.
As travel by public stage coach became more popular, the number of people exposed to long journeys with no opportunities for relief increased. Coach operators would warn passengers 'to make every preparation to ensure their comfort throughout the journey' and rely on the Inns at the stopping places to provide facilities for the passengers. In bad weather the journey times would have increased and no extra provision was made for the passengers. Journey times of over four hours without a stop were common, which, particularly in the morning, must have taken some passengers to the limit of their capacity, or even beyond it. Complaints that this resulted in some passengers being in such pain that they were hardly able to walk unaided at the end of the stage were ignored because there was no alternative means of travelling. It is also mentioned that the coaches frequently needed cleaning after these long stages and this did not refer to simply sweeping out the dust. The shame of a passenger, male or female, who was unable to contain their pee another second must have been terrible. Probably they would have sat still and tried not to reveal what was happening, hoping that their clothes would absorb the leaks, never giving up, but continuing to fight the need until the end of the journey. 'Being in pain' would have been a true description of their condition.
Early railway carriages, all single compartments, no corridors, had no toilet facilities at all. Since their rivals, the coach companies, had been able to flourish while making their passengers wait on long journeys, the railways would have expected to do the same. Their responsibilities would have been fulfilled by providing toilet facilities on their stations and passengers were expected to hold out until the end of their journey or some intermediate stop allowed them to use the station facilities. I had not heard about the Swindon stop described in the Dec 2000 Cascade.
For either sex to make such a blatant display of urination, their needs must have been very great, with no possibility of enduring the remainder of the journey.
As competition between the railway companies increased and fast services became important, the intermediate stops like Swindon would have been cut out. Railway companies were notorious for ignoring their passengers' needs in the pursuit of the fastest journey, to the extent that intermediate towns such as Swindon and Chatham had to take them to court to get trains to stop. This would have given desperate passenger the chance to pee - a welcome relief on a long journey.
Rival companies sharing the same track would deliberately block each other's trains. A London to Brighton train was once delayed, stuck between stations for more that 8 hours which must have caused the passengers unendurable levels of desperation.
Later, perhaps because the introduction of upholstered seats was making it inconvenient or expensive to clean the trains after these journeys, lavatory compartments were introduced, together with 'Ladies Only' compartments, but still no connecting corridors. Passengers needing to pee had to change compartments at a stop and again, such a blatant display would have only happened because of desperate need. Many ladies would have been most unhappy at any gentleman, particularly a stranger, seeing them enter the lavatory and might have preferred to suffer the agonies of a bursting bladder in the relative privacy of the 'Ladies Only' compartment. A joke of the time refers to the embarrassment of a lady traveller who had peed on the floor of the 'Ladies Only' compartment and then had to explain the puddle to the ticket collector.
We can only imagine the feeling of a refined, demure lady, in a train or carriage with strangers, whose need to pee is becoming more and more desperate as she fights to control herself without revealing her need, until eventually her body can hold no more and she begins to pee where she sits, first soaking her skirts, then the seat cushion and finally making an embarrassingly obvious puddle on the floor. She would have willingly tried anything that might have avoided such a disgrace.
As mentioned earlier, containers - special containers that were rubber bags with shaped inlets, were strapped between the legs, to allow the wearer to pee at any time. These were advertised as suitable for both sexes for use when travelling, with claims that no leakage was possible. How effective these were was not recorded, but they show that travellers had no other way of relieving themselves. Made of rubber they would have been prone to perish and split in use with embarrassing results and would only have been used in emergencies and when nothing better was available. To say nothing of the discomfort of ending a long journey with a bagful of pee tied between the legs and praying that it will neither split or the noise of the pee 'sloshing about' will be heard and identified. Travelling rugs over their legs might have been used by both sexes to cover their struggles to wait and their failures to do so, as well as to keep warm, though the strict conditioning that it was dirty to touch themselves 'down there' would have inhibited them from holding themselves unless there was no other way of avoiding a worse disgrace by wetting themselves.
When it was necessary to travel, one can imagine the distress of any person with a smaller than normal bladder, who might be only to aware of the desperation and disgrace that such a long journey might bring and it is not surprising that gentlemen would resort to penis clamps to hold back their pee and prevent any indiscrete leakage and ladies would look for any way that they could to 'seal their outlets' to prevent any indiscrete happening. The 'stomach pain ' from using such a device would have been suffered in silence as punishment for their weakness in not being able to conform to the social standards of the day. Gentlemen would have been ashamed to admit that they could not control their natural needs and ladies would have suffered in silence, knowing that they were the weaker sex and that this was why they could not 'hold their waters.' Should we be surprised that ladies were so prone to 'fainting' or were considered to be 'too delicate to travel' when a journey might result in the agony of a bladder stretched to bursting point and even beyond. From what I have read of the social standards of the time I believe that ladies and even gentlemen would have done anything and everything they could to hold their pee rather than admit in public that they could not wait any longer. Only the lower classes would have relieved them selves in public or admitted to such needs and it was a mark of the upper classes that no such need would ever be expressed in public.
It has been noted that 'while evidence of the need for urination was visible in every alley-way, or secluded doorway and on most streets, the upper classes had to live in complete denial that such an act ever took place.' Think about this next time you see a period drama on TV; those elegant ladies would have been concealing bursting bladders under those long dresses and many would have had wet legs and stocking from their inability to hold back their desperate needs. This is probably when the tube inside the trouser leg, used by football fans to pee on crowded terraces, was first used by gentlemen whose need to pee was too great to contain and had no other way of releasing their pee in public. Streets were normally filthy and wet with horse manure and a stream of pee running over their boot would have been far better than a stream of pee down their trouser leg.
I can only emphasise that the social conventions of the day made any reference or mention of peeing or similar subjects absolutely taboo among the upper classes and any journey or social activity such as attending church would have been likely to have meant being deprived of any chance to pee until they could return to their own home. As a lady or gentleman it was unthinkable to ever mention a need to pee or even worse to be seen performing the act. It would have been a delightful (to us!) the situation of the person having to wait at any cost or discomfort. Penis clamps or other means of applying pressure to his 'manhood' would have been the last resort of a gentleman who would have been prepared to accept any level of pain from such a device, so long as he could hold back his pee and keep his trousers dry. Circulation of the blood was not understood then, so the danger of such a device would not have been appreciated. Those who did not own a clamp might have resorted to a strip of leather or cloth bound round their penis. In fact anything that would help them wait and avoid the public disgrace of having to admit to a need to pee. Ladies in equally difficult situations might have resorted to ways of blocking their pee outlet, either by something that would apply pressure between their legs, or plugging their vaginal outlet. Ladies skirts at the time often had large side pockets which would allow a lady to reach in and press her hand between her legs in the time honoured way of holding back her pee. Remember that while she might be able to pee down her leg under her skirt, she would have thought that such an act was disgraceful and something that she should do everything to avoid. After all, a lady could pee under her skirt in the same way today but how many hold on in absolute desperation until they can find somewhere 'proper' to pee
Even when there were toilet facilities, many ladies would have been terribly embarrassed to be seen entering one, particularly by men. This was the reason why the 'Ladies Waiting Room' was introduced on many stations, serving as an anteroom to the Ladies Toilet, which ladies could then enter and leave in relative privacy. Another popular medical book refers to the sufferings of ladies even at home, where the only privy was in the garden, refusing to use it because they could be seen from the drawing room windows as they walked to it. The installation of an indoor water closet is suggested, but with the warning that unless precautions are taken to ensure the sewerage is properly disposed of, it will become a worse health hazard. When ladies were so sensitive to anything associated with toilets or other necessary bodily functions, they must have regularly suffered bladders stretched to bursting point, even on the rare occasions when toilet facilities were available.
4. Leisure Activities.
During the 19th Century, the upper classes, particularly those living in towns, had a great deal of leisure time, but it seems likely that many of their activities would have been pursued while desperate to pee. I have not been able to see any detailed plans of theatres, concert halls, or similar places, but I would imagine that toilet facilities would have been non-existent for the audience, while performers would have been expected to use buckets in the dressing rooms. Gentlemen might have been able to bribe a doorman to allow them outside a back entrance to pee against the wall, but ladies would not have been able to do this. Presumably those that could not wait would either pee down their legs onto the carpet during the intervals, or wet the seat and hope it was not noticed. Would those in private boxes have had the special chamber pots that they could use under their skirts? Possible and then some attendant would have been paid to discretely remove it?
Balls and other large formal parties probably did not have any provision for guests to pee either, despite the quantities of wine and champagne they would drink. I believe that the repeated references to guests going outside onto the terrace or into the garden to get some fresh air, probably also allowed them to empty their bursting bladders. Again ladies would have had to pee standing under their skirts, while gentlemen would have needed an excuse to move into the shadows, or behind some bushes. Remember, the rigid conventions of the time forbade any mention of such needs to their partner.
Is it possible that the bustle, elaborate folds of cloth at the back of a ladies skirt, which was fashionable at the time, served the more practical purpose of hiding any wet patches when a lady had 'been indiscreet.' Her thick flannel underskirts, worn under the more elaborate and decorative petticoats, would have served the same purpose.
It is even less likely that the public parks and pleasure gardens would have had any facilities. Walking here, it would have been possible for ladies to pee under their skirts, but gentlemen would have had to hold out until they could find some excuse to retreat behind a tree or bush.
It is definitely recorded that the popular spas at Bath, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells and others did not offer their patrons any 'private facilities,' that is toilets. As the normal spa treatments included drinking copious quantities of the water, this must have caused unbelievable levels of desperation among the visitors. They would have to wait throughout the course of treatment they had started, perhaps not aware of what it entailed until it was too late to back out. They had no option but to contain themselves until they were finished and could return to their lodgings or hotel. Horse cab and sedan chair drivers working at these spas were rumoured to take full advantage of this, raising their fares according to how they perceived the urgency of the journey. My imagination dwells on the fate of a lady with less capacity than average, in a party taking the waters, being forced by conventions to remain with the groups even though her bladder was at bursting point and she was beginning to disgrace herself.
Even normal activities like shopping were not always easy. In the late 19th C, one lady, living in the outer suburbs of London, records in her private diary that she was never able to go shopping in Central London because there were absolutely no facilities for ladies to relieve themselves. Another lady, from Camden, also remarks in a letter to her sister that she and her daughter could only make brief shopping trips to Oxford Street, before the call of nature forced them to hurry home.
It is, of course, quite possible that the number of semi-invalids, persons of delicate disposition and the like, who hardly ventured outside their own houses, were, in part, people with small bladders, who so feared disgracing themselves that they avoided any risk of it happening. Older men with prostrate trouble is one group that comes to mind, who must have suffered terribly when away from home. Cystitis and other urinary tract ailments would have been just as prevalent as today and more persistent without the modern drugs to cure them. It has been suggested that the frequent fainting and dizziness attacks that ladies suffered at that time were caused by extreme bladder pressure, when the lady was beginning to lose control and had to find some way of leaving her group. Helped to some private room to rest, her maid would administer smelling salts and a chamber pot and she would recover rapidly.'
Most people went to church or chapel in those days and sermons were expected to last two or three hours or more, not the 15 minutes of today. Sitting for three or four hours in a cold church would have been another desperate situation. I have seen a reference, which I can no longer find, about iron railings being built round a church to prevent men peeing against the walls. When the service finished the men of the congregation, beside themselves with desperation, would rush behind the church to relieve themselves facing the building. The soft sandstone walls were being eroded by the streams of pee directed at them. The women, who must have been equally desperate, would have had to wait, making polite conversation with the vicar and curates, maybe pee trickling down their legs, until their men had finished and could escort them home.'
So how did these people survive having to wait far longer that we do now? Training is one answer. Cascade contributors have described how, as adults, they have increased their bladder capacity by repeatedly holding on until bursting point. Earlier generations of the upper classes were trained to wait almost from birth. Strict nannies would have toilet trained their charges and then disciplined them to 'wait' until they were allowed to go and made them sit still while waiting. School discipline was much stricter, with little regard for the children's welfare, so again they would have been made to wait until lessons finished before being allowed to leave the class. I have heard rumours that certain schools, particularly finishing school for young ladies, specifically trained the pupils to be able to hold their pee for as long as possible, presumably by simply not allowing them access to the toilets.
4. Public Lavatories.
It is fairly well known that the first public lavatories were at the Great Exhibition in 1853 and the history of these shows the attitude of the age. When the exhibition was being planned an entrepreneur approached the organising committee with the proposal that he would install some of the newly invented Water Closets for public use and charge a small fee for this facility. This was rejected by the committee for the reason that 'the public were coming to see an exhibition and not go to the lavatory.' However 'common sense' prevailed and three WC's were installed and he charged the public a penny to use them. This charge was 1/12 of the entrance fee and probably equates to about 50p (1$, or 1 Euro) today. Imagine going to Disney-World and being charged this to pee! To the surprise of the organisers these WC's proved so popular that long queues formed and higher charges were introduced on those near the entrance to encourage the public to hold on and use those further inside the exhibition.
Two points to note here; This shows that the public were arriving at the exhibition desperate to pee and that the need of, particularly the ladies, must have been so great that they were prepared to be seen waiting in a line to get into the WC and thus revealing their great need to pee. It was commented that the popularity of the public lavatories showed that there was a great unsatisfied need for such facilities and it revealed the extent of public suffering caused by the lack of such facilities. Many early public lavatories were built following this exhibition showing that urban authorities took notice of such a need. The charge of one penny was established as the penny coin of the day was conveniently large and heavy enough to activate the cubicle lock and within the means of most desperate ladies who would prefer to spend the money instead of peeing down heir legs under a skirt with the resulting misery of wet stockings and legs, even if their pee could be released without it being noticed. Many ladies would still have been too poor to spend this money and others would have been ashamed to be seen entering a public lavatory and opted to try to hold out until they could reach the comfort of their own homes.
Desperation Down The Ages Pt 2
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