What's the door for - taking the pi**.
Most people will be familiar with the coal house door- the small door at the top. But what is the other lower door for?
The dyeing of cloth was a big industry in Yorkshire in the 1800's. Natural materials like woad were used to dye and a mordant was used to fix the dye to stop it running when it was washed. One of the most popular mordants was human urine. Apparently the most effective mordant was urine that came from people who drank a lot of alcohol. The dyeing industry used to collect urine from big cities, with urine from Newcastle upon Tyne being reckoned to be the very best. Possibly the water was purer or maybe they just drank more beer!
"Taking the pi**"
Urine from around the country was shipped to Yorkshire and this is the origin of the phrase "taking the pi**'.
Captains were unwilling to admit that they were carrying a cargo of urine and would say that the barrels contained wine.
"No - you're taking the pi**" was the usual rejoinder.
The practice died out at the end of the 1800's as new synthetic dyes became popular. Houses built after this time did not have these little doors. Behind the door was a rectangular galvanized container that hinged near the door so it could be tipped and the contents would go whooshing out of the door. This house was built about 1850 I think.
Most of the information above came from Jess Dyde (ukhistory.com). The story about Newcastle being the originator of the phrase 'taking the pi**' was alluded to in the TV programme 'QI' but not explained.