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"Mind the water!"

Plumbing problems? It could be worse! Ever hear the expression “Gardyloo”? It comes from the French expression “Prenez garde a l’eau!” which translates as “mind the water”.

Now, before I go any further, try to imagine yourself living in the overcrowded, unsanitary city of medieval Edinburgh, Scotland. Pedestrians crammed the extremely narrow cobblestone streets that were lined with towering tenement buildings on either side. They did not have electricity nor did they have running water or plumbing for that matter. There also were no outhouses in the medieval capital, so no one was running down to use the non-existent bathroom facilities.

Soooo…what exactly did they do when they had to poo? They hollered “Gardyloo!”. A chamber pot was kept in their apartment then when it came time to dispose of the contents, they dumped it out of their window, into the streets, hollering out a warning of “Gardyloo”. Imagine just how tricky this would have been with the crowded narrow streets. You would have likely only had a moment to get out of the way. If pedestrians were quick enough to reply, they would holler back “hold your hand”, asking for the person to wait a moment so they could find a way to avoid a repulsive fate. Residents on the lower levels were not so lucky either as it was common for the backsplash to splatter up the sides of buildings.

Thankfully, in 1749 the “Nastiness Act” was passed, which decreed that chamber pots could not be emptied unless it was between 10 pm – 7 am. Plumbing and proper sanitation systems would not become common in the built environment until the 1930s. The act has never been repealed and is still in force today.

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