La garde-robe

Taxonomy: 

Location

France
47° 34' 54.6528" N, 2° 39' 31.2876" E

My schoolboy humour and enjoyment of vocabulary get equal kicks from the medieval toilet suspended on the back wall of Trapeharde. Although the date over the front door is 1809, it’s fairly likely that the shell and structure of parts of the place pre-date that. The toilet alone is suggestive of this given its rough and ready design.

The long drop toilet (or garde-robe)

These days we name such features for laughs: the long-drop or plain crapper come to mind. In their day, they were usually refered to as une garde-robe, or in English a wardrobe. A closer look at these words is intriguing.

I’ve not found a definitive account of this, so I’ll wing it with the following:

  • open toilets of this nature were not places to linger, not least because of the smell
  • this smell may have been sufficient to dissuade various insects, in particular moths
  • these toilets therefore became good places to keep clothes (nearby)
  • and this explains the origin of the name garde-robe or wardrobe (think Dickens’ Bleak House and wards of court for the guarding/protective aspect)

Be that as it may, the white streaks beneath our long-drop tell a different and more interesting story. Although we have equipped the thing with a plate of glass at floor level and mounted a plate-glass door across the access to it from the internal alcove, when we moved in to the house, neither of these existed. Indeed, the alcove had originally been boarded up completely. When we started work, the plate-glass door went in first and for several weeks the outer glass was left unfitted.

In this short interregnum, I remember being woken by a fearsome noise one night and was eventually delighted to see a complete family of barn owls inside the crapper, wings flapping, beaks working away at feeding their young. I’m not sure which of us was the more surprised!

Happily, although the crapper is these days uninhabited, evidence of barn owls elsewhere on site is not hard to find.