The Rise and Fall of the Outside Toilet


The ‘privy’, or ‘dunny’ (if you are Australian), was within living memory generally an outside feature of the house. Until late Victorian times, houses were not constructed to include toilet facilities. Mains water and sewage systems hardly existed and one’s toilet was a function carried out using a chamber pot stored under the bed. If there was a toilet room it would be easier and less smelly to site it in the garden where the disposal of waste (often using council-run dung carts) was easier to manage.

Here’s an unappealing example.

So when the flushing toilet did arrive it was normal to add it on as an optional extra to the standard house layout, as a lean-to. It took Government action as late as the post-war era to see indoor toilets be made a minimum requirement for a new dwelling, and council grants in the 70s spurred many indoor conversions into bathrooms and shower rooms that incorporated a toilet. The cold and dingy outdoor facilities became sheds, or were swept away in favour of a conservatory or a kitchen extension.

Better Out than In?

But according to a 2010 article in The Guardian, it is estimated by the Halifax that 40,000 homes in the UK still have an outside loo: and attitudes are changing. Fred Cawood talks in the article about his 1902 through-terrace house in Manchester which was seen as quite ‘the thing’ for having been built with any form of privy. And long before the rise of the New Man, many husbands were only too happy to escape their wives with a trip to the pub, the shed – or the privy. Mr. Cawood actually combines the latter two functions in his.

The fact that it is not now an indicator of social deprivation can be seen by the fact that estate agents say well-kept privies can take sale prices above the local average: assuming there is an indoor WC as well.

We are today encouraged to live the ‘indoor/outdoor life’ (when the weather permits) and whether it be for children running around the garden, barbeque functions, parties or for ‘tradesmen’, the outdoor toilet is extremely handy to have. And even for your own use when the family are hogging the bathroom: there is quite a refreshing wake-up to be had from stepping a few yards outside in the chill of the morning and doing one’s business to a soundtrack of birdsong.

In our internet age, no trend would be complete without an eHow article on how to build your own: their privy is a wood-and-ply affair designed for the Great American Outdoors, and no plumbing here: we’re talking two 5-gallon buckets: one for the waste and one for the sawdust – be sure to add a scoop to complete the equipment…

‘Out there’ toilet humour

And another indicator that something has arrived is when a TV show is made about it. In a March 2013 episode of ‘Bob’s Burgers’ (a Simpsons-like cartoon) the star guest is ‘OT the Outside Toilet’ – so toilet humour has now extended to a spoof of ET and science fiction.

If you are going to renovate, or create anew, an outside toilet, think retro – a high-level cistern and matching basin are de rigeur. You could go the whole way and build in a traditional wooden plank-with-a-hole seat above a modern toilet base, although maybe that is going too far for some.


This photo shows a miniature recreation of a classy outside loo by Sussex Crafts, which makes it all very appealing. Make sure if you follow this template that you build in insulation, and heating from a thermostatically-controlled radiant electric panel or skirting heater, assuming you cannot get central heating pipes into there. Then supply yourself with a few good books on a shelf, and you have an appealing retreat from the world…Oh, and arm yourself with an umbrella for the return to the house.

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