This is the back garden of Thomas and Jane Carlyle's house on Cheyne Row, Chelsea. They lived here from 1834 until the end of their lives — turning it into a literary salon for the great writers of the day. The house was pretty unremarkable back then, although would fetch a bomb now. It's not the house we're interested in here though, but the small outhouse to the right.
Let's take a closer look.
It is indeed a privy — one dating back to the 18th century.
You may wonder at this point why we're so interested in an outside toilet. Well, for one thing, visitors to Carlyle's House are encouraged to use it (something we've previously found to be a no-no everywhere from the Churchill War Rooms to Honeywood Museum in Carshalton).
But it's the thought of who might have used this Crapper before now, that really gets us flushed with excitement. Among the frequent visitors to Carlyle's house were Tennyson, Thackeray, Forster and Dickens (whose blind admiration for Carlyle explains his penchant for rambling sentences). Even Charlotte Brontë may have parked her dainty derriere here. In fact, seeing as this was the only toilet in the house, it's likely that most, if not all, of the above actually did so. Who knows, perhaps some were struck with literary inspiration while on the job.
We should point out that although the privy is original, the toilet itself is a reproduction, fitted relatively recently. Although this one's been manufactured in Warwickshire, Crapper built his empire round the corner in Chelsea — first at Robert Street (now Sydney Street), and later moving to 120 King's Road, which now looks like this:
So it's plausible Carlyle's toilet would have been a Crapper too (though there's no evidence of this). You can read more about Crapper's legacy as you reach for the toilet paper...
...which, by the way, is genuine Crapper paper.
There's more reading material on the other wall, detailing the mechanism of the flush you're about to put into action. You may wonder why the National Trust hasn't bunged a couple of Thomas Carlyle's own tomes in here for reading material. Well, Carlyle's books were LONG and DULL. His history of Frederick the Great took him 12 years to write, and by all accounts takes most people that long to read. Bill Bryson accuses Carlyle's History of the French Revolution as being "one of the most unreadable books ever to attract the esteem of its age." That's no good with a queue of visitors hopping about outside the door.
Instead (if you're feeling daring) you can enjoy this view of the garden...
...this bush will protect your modesty.
Carlyle's House is open Wednesday-Sunday from March-October. Entry £6.50 adults, £3.25 children.