A 16th-Century Guide to Pooping at King Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace

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iStock

In King Henry VIII’s pleasure palace, Hampton Court, there was no escaping class—not even in the loo.

The King, of course, had a luxurious place to squat. According to the Hampton Court Palace website, he and other royals sat atop a padded chair "covered in sheepskin, black velvet, and ribbons" lofted above a pewter chamber pot. This toilet was private, located in a so-called "stool room" that was attended to by a high-ranking courtier known as the Groom of the Stool. It was a privileged, well-respected gig to handle the monarch's waste. (Apparently the groom would even take notes on the sovereign's movements. In 1539, Henry VIII's groom showed a flair for euphemism by writing that the King had taken laxatives and experienced "a very fair siege.")

Down a social peg, Henry VIII's highest-esteemed courtiers weren't nearly as coddled as their king, but they were still lucky enough to have their own private chambers—and, therefore, their own chamber pots. The same, however, could not be said for Hampton Court's many servants.

The smelly truth is that Hampton Court was not well-equipped to serve the bodily needs of hundreds of servants. During the king's boisterous banquets, busy servants regularly heeded nature's call by relieving themselves in hidden hallway corridors and on sizzling fireplaces. In the kitchen, the boys assigned to turning the spit were commonly found "interlarding their own grease to help the drippings." The walls reeked of urine so badly that, according to historian Lucy Worsley in her book If Walls Could Talk, "the palace management would have crosses chalked onto the walls in the hope that people would be reluctant to desecrate a religious symbol."

To fix the problem, King Henry VIII constructed a giant toilet block by the River Thames called the Great House of Easement. (The king was no slouch at deploying the occasional euphemism either.) The toilet had two levels and could seat 28 people at one time. As a common space, it had no stalls and no walls and greatly resembled the other public toilets in England, which were basically glorified benches with holes cut through them. (In London, there was an impressive 128-seater called Whittington's Longhouse, which was divided into two sections for men and women.)

The only thing arguably worse than using the Great House of Easement was cleaning it. The communal privy led to a tank that, after the King's festivities, had to be scrubbed by a group of king-appointed boys known as Gong Scourers. In 1995, Simon Thurley—then-curator of Historic Royal Palaces—told The Independent, "After the court had been here for four weeks, the brick chambers would fill head-high."

Cleaning your home's toilet doesn't seem like such a chore after all, does it?

How Seiichi Miyake and Tactile Paving Changed the World for Visually Impaired People

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iStock.com/RonBailey

More than 140 years after Louis Braille invented the Braille reading system, Seiichi Miyake came up with a different system based on touch that allows visually impaired people to navigate public spaces. Today, tactile paving is used by major cities and transportation services around the world. Miyake was so influential that he's the subject of the Google Doodle for March 18, the 52nd anniversary of tactile paving's debut.

The Japanese inventor designed the influential system with a specific person in mind. His friend was losing his vision, so in 1965, Miyake used his own money to build special mats with raised shapes that lead blind and visually impaired people away from danger and toward safety. Pavement with round bumps was meant to signal nearby danger, such as a street crossing or the edge of a train platform, while a stretch of pavement with straight bars was meant to guide them to safe areas. The tactile design allowed pedestrians to detect the features with canes, guide dogs, or their feet.

Originally called Tenji blocks, the tactile pavement was first installed outside the Okayama School for the Blind in Okayama, Japan in 1967. They quickly spread to larger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, and within a decade, Miyake's system was mandatory in all Japanese rail stations.

Seiichi Miyake died in 1982 at age 56, but the popularity of his invention has only grown since his death. In the 1990s, the U.S., the UK, and Canada embraced tactile pavement in their cities. Miyake's initial design has been built upon throughout the years; there are now pill-shaped bumps to indicate changes in direction and raised lines running perpendicular to foot traffic to signal upcoming steps. And even though they're often thought of as tools for blind people, the bright colors used in tactile pavement also make them more visible to pedestrians with visual impairments.

Why Are There No Snakes in Ireland?

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iStock

Legend tells of St. Patrick using the power of his faith to drive all of Ireland’s snakes into the sea. It’s an impressive image, but there’s no way it could have happened.

There never were any snakes in Ireland, partly for the same reason that there are no snakes in Hawaii, Iceland, New Zealand, Greenland, or Antarctica: the Emerald Isle is, well, an island.

Eightofnine via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Once upon a time, Ireland was connected to a larger landmass. But that time was an ice age that kept the land far too chilly for cold-blooded reptiles. As the ice age ended around 10,000 years ago, glaciers melted, pouring even more cold water into the now-impassable expanse between Ireland and its neighbors.

Other animals, like wild boars, lynx, and brown bears, managed to make it across—as did a single reptile: the common lizard. Snakes, however, missed their chance.

The country’s serpent-free reputation has, somewhat perversely, turned snake ownership into a status symbol. There have been numerous reports of large pet snakes escaping or being released. As of yet, no species has managed to take hold in the wild—a small miracle in itself.

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