Object Descriptions Tower House Privy (garderobe)

Privy a.k.a. garderobe or toilet

Archaeological remains from Spenser’s privy indicate an ample and healthy diet enjoyed by his household, including various game and high-quality wheat.

Moss could have served for wiping.  Waste would have fallen down a two-story chute, exiting out the south side (or back) of the castle, where it would have been shoveled away and/or disinfected with a covering of lime. 

Two-seater privies were not uncommon.  An example is found today in Barryscourt Castle, Co. Cork.  Newman Johnson refers to modern-day Kilcolman’s missing  “stone” privy seat although a wooden seat (as here) could also have been in place in Spenser’s time.

Placed on the seat for reading is a treatise on the flush toilet, A New Discourse of a Stale Subject, called The Metamorphosis of Ajax (1596) by the inventor of the device, the courtier poet and epic translator Sir John Harington.

Privy a.k.a. garderobe or toilet

Another privy lies on the east end of the Great Hall.

Literary Connections

In The Faerie Queene (1590), Spenser describes a castle, the House of Temperance, in figurative terms as like a human body.  There is a privy attached by “conduit pipe” to the kitchen, which represents the stomach in Spenser’s allegory:

But all the liquour, which was fowle and waste,
  Not good nor seruiceable elles for ought,
  They in another great rownd vessell plaste,
  Till by a conduit pipe it thence were brought:
  And all the rest, that noyous was, and nought,
  By secret wayes, that none might it espy,
  Was close conuaid, and to the backgate brought,
  That cleped was Port Esquiline, whereby
It was auoided quite, and throwne out priuily.  (FQ II.ix.32)


Eric Klingelhofer, Castles and Colonists:  an archaeology of Elizabethan Ireland (Manchester:  Manchester UP, 2010): 121 [fig. 5.8 shows cross-section drawing of Kilcolman tower ruin with garderobe and garderobe shaft indicated.]

—.  “Edmund Spenser at Kilcolman Castle: the archaeological evidence.”  Post-Medieval Archaeology 39.1 (2005), 133-54.

David Newman Johnson, “Kilcolman Castle.”  The Spenser Encyclopedia (Toronto:  U of Toronto P, 1990), 416-22.