Housesteads Roman Fort is tops for historic Roman toilets says English Heritage

Ancient Roman loos scoop number one accolade for Northumberland in English Heritage awards

Philip Corke Reconstruction drawing of the interior of the latrines at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall
Reconstruction drawing of the interior of the latrines at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian's Wall

The loo legacy left by the Romans has made Northumberland tops when it comes to historic toilets.

English Heritage has awarded the number one spot to Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall which, it says, has the best preserved Roman loos in Britain.

The accolade comes only weeks after the first wooden toilet seat in the Roman empire was found at another nearby fort, Vindolanda.

Housesteads at its height garrisoned 800 men, who would have used the loo block which can still be see today.

There weren’t any cubicles, so men sat side by side, free to gossip on the events of the day.

The loos were flushed by a channel running anti-clockwise, which used rainwater and draining surface water.

Water was also collected in a stone cistern.

A spokesman at English Heritage’s Housesteads site said: “We have the best preserved Roman toilets in Britain, which still ‘flush’ when it rains.

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda
Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

“All our visitors make sure to visit this part of the site, which makes for a great talking point.”

Meanwhile toilet seat manufacturer Tosca & Willoughby, based in Oxfordshire, have pledged a cash sum towards the preservation of the Vindolanda toilet seat.

The company will be producing a special Vindolanda edition version of their most popular Thunderbox seat, with a percentage of the sales going to the Vindolanda Trust.

James Williams, director of Tosca & Willoughby said: “We are absolutely fascinated by the discovery of a perfectly preserved ancient loo seat.”

Mr Williams offered to help support the conservation of this seat when he discovered the Vindolanda Trust was funded by visitors to the site.

He said: “We realise our donation is a drop in the ocean when you consider the overall cost of excavation and the preservation of these fascinating artefacts but we hope our pledge will help.”

Patricia Birley, trust director, said: “The work undertaken at Vindolanda which includes annual excavations, conservation and public display of artefacts can only happen with the support of the public.

“The trust is therefore delighted to receive a donation towards the cost of preserving our Roman toilet seat.

Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda
Wooden toilet seat found at Vindolanda

“The discovery of such a personal everyday item from nearly 2,000 years ago has intrigued people across the world and its legacy will now continue with a special edition Vindolanda Thunderbox seat being launched by Tosca & Willoughby in time for the ancient loo seat going on public display.”


The runners up to Housesteads in English Heritage’s Top 10 historic loos were:

2. Old Sarum, Wiltshire, where Deep cesspits beneath the Norman castle at Old Sarum were probably underneath rooms, like private bathrooms. At Old Sarum a man was dangled from a rope tied around his waist, while he emptied the two 5m pits.

3. Dover Castle, Kent, where Henry II had his own en-suite facilities off the principal bed chamber.

4. Goodrich Castle, Herefordshire where there is a whole tower dedicated to toilets.

5. Orford Castle, Suffolk. The constable – a senior royal official in charge of the castle – had his own private urinal built into the thick castle wall.

6. Muchelney Abbey, Somerset, which has a thatched loo for monks.

7. Jewel Tower, London, which is well supplied with garderobes, or toilets,

8. Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire. The forerunner to our modern flushing toilet was invented at Old Wardour Castle.

9. Audley End House, Essex. One of the first country houses in England to have flushing toilets. The first of Joseph Bramah’s new hinged-value water closets was purchased in 1775.

10. Brodsworth Hall, South Yorkshire. A highlight are the flush 1860s thunderboxes – mahogany boxes with a hole, and a brass handle for flushing.


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