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Castle Moats Were Sewers, Too

Not much of a fairy tale

It turns out that those fairy tales you read as a child all left out a very important truth: The moats that surrounded medieval castles weren’t just useful defenses against attack; they were also open sewers into which the castles’ primitive waste disposal systems flushed human excrement and other foul substances. The next time you have a plumbing problem, be thankful you don’t live near one of those.

More About Moats

The history of sewers is fraught with misconceptions and legends. However, it’s true that moats played a big role in sanitation for medieval Europe’s nobility. Whereas commoners used communal outhouses or open, out-of-the-way latrines, residents of Europe’s castles used rudimentary plumbing systems called garderobes. These were little more than holes or short tubes that dropped waste directly into the castle’s moat or onto a hillside that led down into the pool. Needless to say, moats were foul pits that were to be avoided at all costs. People or animals who fell into moats were at serious risk of developing dangerous illnesses.

How Castles’ Waste Disposal Systems Worked

Every castle was different, but most disposed of their waste in one of two ways. First, garderobes located near the exterior walls of castles – particularly in overhanging alcoves – might discharge waste straight down into the moat. Alternatively, residents might use “chamber pots” – simple containers that could be filled with waste – that servants would empty outside on a daily basis. Neither option sounds particularly appealing.

When Did Things Start to Change?

We take indoor plumbing for granted, but this arrangement really didn’t begin to change until the turn of the 20th century. Until then, the rapidly growing cities of Europe and North America featured open sewers that constantly polluted the air with their odor and contributed to the spread of disease. In rural areas, outhouses remained common among regular folk until well into the 20th century. Of course, they’re still common in the developing world and in some rural areas.

Filling All Your Plumbing Needs in Bryan-College Station

It’s certainly good that even the most modest central Texas homes have indoor plumbing. While your house might not be surrounded by a foul pool of wastewater, it can still suffer from any number of plumbing issues that require help from a professional. We’re happy to provide that help. No matter what’s going on with your pipes, sinks, showers or toilets, give us a call at (979) 361-0500 or visit us online to find out what we can do for you. You can also schedule a free estimate through our website.

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