Milky white porcelain, claw-footed roll-top baths, elegant tiles and taps — no wonder so many people aim to retain the period features in their Victorian house.
So much the better if you can preserve the original fixtures and fittings but what should you be looking out for to give your home a little extra Victorian style?
The truth is, personal hygiene was not a big issue in poor Victorian houses. In fact, Victorian architecture did not make provision for bathrooms and most Victorian terraced houses in cities such as London didn’t even boast a bathroom.
For many, the weekly ablutions meant a trip to the public baths. The lucky ones took their weekly wash in a tin bath filled from a standpipe in the road and heated in front of the fire in the kitchen or lounge. The whole family had to bathe in the same water, dad went first, then mum and the children followed in order of age, the eldest going first.
The water was pretty rank by the time the whole family had washed and it inspired the phrase “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.
It wasn’t until the 1880s — just a couple of decades before Queen Victoria passed — that indoor plumbing with water tanks and gas water heaters were included in Victorian house features. It was then that late Victorian era houses began to be built with indoor bathrooms and cast iron, full-length baths.
Those first bathrooms were decorated just like any other Victorian room, with bold colours, practical furniture, wood panels and clinically styled tiles.
Until baths became part of the furniture, washing for the gentle classes generally involved a wash stand which would have been in the bedroom. It was basically a piece of wooden furniture with a hole in the top for a heavily decorated bowl. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the jug and bowl was replaced by a sink and taps — the first proper wash basins.
Similarly, the sanitary arrangements in Victorian times were far from ideal. Most homes didn’t have a toilet and entire streets, perhaps 100 households, would have to share a single loo, which was rather inconvenient for the poor Victorians.
Forget ornate ironwork and delicately painted sanitary ware, the majority of Victorian toilets were little more than a wooden bench with a hole in it over a brick built ash pit.
The waste would be emptied into communal cesspools, which were built to be porous so that the liquid waste would seep into the ground, leaving a residue of solid matter which was removed by the night soil men who would climb into the cesspool, shovel out the muck and cart it away to be used by farmers as fertiliser.
The Victorian bathrooms we dream about today are largely the realm of the more opulent Victorian townhouse or Victorian mansion.
Here are six ways to get the vibe without compromising on your creature comforts in an old Victorian house.
If you want to bathe in the style of the rich Victorians, a freestanding bath should be top of your wish list. Look for a cast iron bath with claw feet and floor-standing taps. You will need an expert to check your ceiling joists can take the weight of a filled cast iron bath.
If the joists, or the budget, are not up to the job, there are other options available such as resin baths or baths made of a lighter metal, such as copper, that retain that Victorian feel.
Aim for a floor covering which will withstand heavy traffic and water. Black and white tiles are a classic option, which will complement any colour scheme.
A huge range of more decorative tiles is also available, although it’s worth bearing in mind that choosing a colour will limit your choice of wall coverings in years to come.
Another option is to have a wooden floor – reclaimed or original boards look fantastic if they are either varnished or painted and then varnished to help repel water.
The Victorians loved their tiles and were keen to create a clean, germ-free environment in which to perform their daily ablutions. The most common colour was white or ivory and tiles were laid above a wainscot.
Bathroom colours were heavily influenced by shades found in nature and included deep reds and blues, earthy browns and forest greens. Don’t be afraid to hang art in bathrooms in the same way that Victorians would have, although do consider the effect that condensation may have on them.
Toilets in wealthy households were often highly-decorated with hand painted designs to further show off a device which could only be afforded by a handful of people. Tanks were generally made of tin-lined wood, cast iron and china.
Although high-level toilets fell out of fashion as water pressure improved, they have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years and are now readily available from high street bathroom outlets.
Vintage pieces can be picked up at antique and salvage firms, although make sure they can be used with modern plumbing systems before you buy. Traditionally, toilet seats should be polished dark wood.
There are a huge number of high street stores offering replica Victorian-style towel rails and radiators which offer an authentic look with modern efficiency. If you have a fireplace and have the possibility of having an open fire – after your chimney is checked by a professional – little more would be as decadent as enjoying a winter bath in a fire-lit room.
Add accessories to anchor your theme securely in the Victorian era: think over-the-bath racks, glass shelves with chrome fittings, freestanding or wall-mounted soap dish holders, medicine cabinets, chrome and wooden toilet roll holders, hooks, towel rails and mirrors.
Download Victorian Homes, a free ebook created by Adrian Flux insurance services. It is full of Victorian house facts, tips on how to create a Victorian style house — even if you live in a new-build home — and advice on where to source original Victorian and reproduction fixtures, fittings, furniture, accessories and art.Download ebook