Sunday, July 24, 2005

On the wonders of Victorian plumbing...

Hello, all. We've just arrived back to Cambridge after a mandatory weekend excursion to various sites relevant to the Victorian era. Yesterday, we went a place called the Abbey Pumping Station and Museum (for some reason this won't let me insert proper hyperlinks, so we'll do it this way ) in Leicester (home of the famous John Dudley, Earl of Leicester, for all of you Tudor fans out there). The tagline of this museum is: "Enormous steam beam engines and the famous talking loo!"

The Abbey pumping station was created at the end of the 19th century to pump sewage away from the industrial city of Leicester, where they had an absolutely atrocious infant mortality rate and a high number of deaths from disease due to water contamination. The steam beam engines are, indeed, enormous. The beams weigh over 22 tons. They speculate that they were brought to the pumping station from the ironworks a mile away using a cart pulled by a team of at least 44 horses. They still run the steam beam engines on certain days, and I'm sure that it's an impressive sight. The exterior is quite elegant and the ground floor of the engine room is ornately decorated, even though the workmen (and the occasional city councilman) were the only people that ever saw the interior. There are columns inside trimmed with gold leaf, the interior walls have glazed bricks, and everything is painted and lacquered. They sure took pride in their sewage pumps back then. It's amazing that we have all these municipal services now that we just take for granted. That said, the museum was remarkably dull- except for...

"Flushed With Pride!" Exhibit description: Ever wondered how the toilet developed and how it works or how much water we waste in a day; or how we get water and use it for washing? Then the 'Flushed With Pride' exhibition will answer these questions plus many others. The display, which features the county's only interactive toilet, [MY COMMENT: DOES THIS IMPLY THAT THERE ARE OTHER INTERACTIVE TOILETS IN VARIOUS ENGLISH COUNTIES? DO THEY EITHER GET THEIR OWN DUKE OR A TALKING LOO? THIS WASN'T ADEQUATELY EXPLAINED) showing you how a toilet works, tells the science, technology and social history of Leicestershire's public health. There are displays of sewers, water pipes, some from Roman times, soap, washing machines and baths. There's even a talking toilet! All come together to tell a story of immense importance.

That's right, folks- a talking toilet. Before you get excited, let me specify that it's a perfectly ordinary toilet that has a speaker attached to it. We heard about this exhibit several days before the trip and got all worked up about it, expecting perhaps moving eyes and the toilet lid opening and closing as a mouth, like some sort of W.C. version of Teddy Ruxbin. Let me tell you, it was a bit of a let down. Thankfully, the rest of the exhibit more than compensated for any dissapointment. There was a collection of toilet facilities ranging from an excavated Roman cess pit from ancient Leicester, to early bedpans and primitive water toilets. I learned of the wonders of the water trap and how it saved us all from noxious sewer gases, and I grew to appreciate the labors of the humble nightsoil men who removed waste from outhouses while everyone slept. And in case I was still in doubt as to the mysteries of all things toilet, there was quite a bit of information on our own internal plumbing. Sample display quotes include: "What is urine?" ,"What are feaces?" And "One thing we all have in common is that we all have to use the toilet," which I think is a humbling statement reminding us all of our unity as one human community, and far more likely to bring about world peace than "Can't we all just get along?" (Note: I took more photographs of this exhibit than anything else I've seen since I've been to England. I need to broaden my weekend travels).

Other features of Abbey Pumping Station: Antique tramcars, steamrollers, buses.


At 12:22 PM, Blogger stephan"i also excrete waste" m. said...

Poop+foreign situations= capital "F"unny

At 4:13 AM, Blogger Manish said...

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