The historical development of public toilets

Studying the passed
This chapter constitutes a brief history of ‘public conveniences’ up to the start of the twentieth century to show how the present day toilet problem results from deeply held taboos and mores embedded in our civilisation that affected assumptions and decisions made about location, design, likely users and propriety in the past. Historic toilets are important architectural artefacts and townscape components and often the subject of urban conservation policy (Bath, 1993, 1997; Greed, 1996a). The story will then be taken forward into the twentieth century in the next chapter, which discusses the legal context of public toilet provision, which has so constrained subsequent development. Public toilets are part of the heritage industry. This study is mainly centred upon urban development, because this is where greater need has arisen owing to the pressure of numbers of people. Local studies such as a history of Cotswold privies by Harris (1998) provide a parallel account of conditions in rural areas, where the problem of waste disposal was less fraught. One could simply build a privy over the local stream, or spread the nightsoil on the fields as fertilizer (Binding, 1999). Many a quaint, pretty privy is to be found in rural areas, such as the one owned by the National Trust at Killerton House, Broadclyst, Exeter, which has pink walls and a thatched roof. But some quaint toilets are not as old as they appear to be. For example, in Poole Park, Dorset, a refurbished 1930s public loo has been provided with a dovecote in the pitched roof, and looks truly medieval (AMC Newsletter, Winter 1995). Also of interest is the Theatre of Small Convenience, a council-owned building in the Malverns, which seats about 10 people and is nowadays used as a theatre by the owner who runs one-actor plays. Quaint historical examples, although fascinating, are the exception rather than the rule, and part of the whole ‘eccentric Britain’ heritage that is of such interest to tourists (Le Vay, 2000). But we should always be thankful for public toilets of all sorts, great and small. Such romanticised rural toilets should not be seen as a true reflection of the hell hole many a cottage-dweller used at the bottom of the garden, albeit environmentally sustainable (Pudney, 1954). Let us now trace the history through the ages.

The ancient world
There have always been public toilets. Public latrines, as against private dwellingbased closets, were the normal, and only, form of provision for most, except the rich, until the nineteenth century (Cavanagh and Ware, 1991: 9–17). In India this is still the case in many villages (Pathak, 1994), as discussed later. Ancient cities such as Pompeii and Herculaneum contained public latrine blocks, the seats consisting of a continuous slab of stone with, on average, eight holes for users. A shared sponge was passed around as ‘toilet paper’. Such arrangements were generally used only by males. One of the earliest existing latrines in Britain is at Housesteads Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, which provided communal provision for 20 soldiers (Hart-Davis, 1995, 2001). Roman cities and villas were famed for their advanced sewerage, drainage and heating systems. There was a gap of many centuries from 410AD when the Romans left Britain (they arrived in 56BC) before sewerage and plumbing came back into their own again in the nineteenth century. Devotees of Cloacina, Roman goddess of the sewer (and sewerage), would be puzzled by the demand for ‘privacy’ and individual facilities, and by negative modern attitudes towards ‘the sable streams which below the city glide’ (commented on in Trivia Part II, Gay, 1975, originally 1716).

ancient excrement – is a growing specialism in archaeology. organised a session on the ‘Origin of faeces’ at the Theoretical Archaeological Group Conference held at Oxford University in December 2000 (Times Higher. 1988. and population growth. the toilets were centrally placed and accessible. 12. including women. Communal bath-houses were developed. The nineteenth century Urbanisation and public health At the beginning of the nineteenth century. 2001). Greed. who apparently frequented this establishment in 1480. often with unsavoury reputations. lecturer in archaeology at Bournemouth University. . because of lack of public toilet provision. provided they first call out ‘en paine’. At the time of the midnight Millennium celebrations. Queen Mathilda. In creating the inclusive. ordered a latrine to be erected for the use of the citizens in Queenhithe. Industrialisation was accompanied by the expansion of towns and cities. mainly sited over rivers. There was an 84-seater in Greenwich Street called Whittington’s Longhouse after Dick Whittington. shop doorways and alleyways. Mayor of London. Miles Russell. 1987) and others did so at the time of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. all of which put greater pressure for better sewerage and drainage systems. Likewise the law still requires all cab-drivers to carry a bale of hay (for the horse). still has the right under medieval statutes to squat in the gutter within the boundary of the Ancient City of London.Ceremonies in Spain honouring ‘Our Lady of the Sewers’ christianise such ancient deities (Richardson. and have not been reopened since. calling out ‘gardez l’eau!’ which made this anti-social action legal (hence the word loo from l’eau). Anyone. Dr. The Middle Ages In medieval times. it is most important that such facilities should be copiously provided as an integral component in urban regeneration. ’Studying the passed’ – that is. It is rumoured that women did this at the time of the great suffragette marches at the beginning of the twentieth century (which attracted half a million marchers) (Tickner. Nowadays large processions in London can result in complaints of urination in front gardens. overcrowding. as its contents give information on human settlement. most of the public toilets were closed in central London. Some underground toilets had been closed because of the need to extract soil for the excavation of the Jubilee Line.01: 19). It is still legal for a taxi-driver to relieve himself on the inner wheel of his hackney carriage (taxi-cab). still applies (although Westminster City Council has been seeking to bring in strict anti-street urination laws in 2002). this law has not been enforced or put to the test for many a year but. public communal latrines were common and 13 have been identified in London. ideally. wife of Henry I. In 1355 the River Fleet in central London choked up altogether from effluent from latrines overhanging this tributary of the Thames.01. 1968). Britain was undergoing major economic and social change (Ashworth. Disease. As the public toilets were located over rivers and many town centres were focused around the main bridges. a quay near London Bridge. lack of clean water. Presumably shared toilet facilities engendered a sense of community among users that would be the envy of modern town planners trying to regenerate the inner city. and insanitary conditions and smells led to demands for greater state intervention and town planning controls (Cherry. in theory. It was customary to empty chamber pots out of upstairs windows by throwing their contents into the street. Many medieval houses were designed with overhanging upper floors to protect passers by from this unsavoury downfall. regenerated 24hour city. diet and life style.

especially for those with pushchairs or wheelchairs. This may be summed up in the following table (from Greed. Not only were there changes in the quantity of people in towns and cities. Most people continued to dispose of their sewage by piling it up outside in the garden in a midden or waiting for the nightsoil man to collect it. some with trap doors to collect it all underneath.3 Underground toilets do not provide equality of access. It was also the main means of collection in Japan before World War 2 (1939–45) (JTA. An interesting account of nightsoil removers in County Durham is given by Kilroy (a descendant of the ‘Kilroy was here’ chap who did exist) (Kilroy. Many people in working-class communities considered it dirty to have a toilet in the house. Presumably people . Even as late as post-World War 2 times. 1984: 43). Cesspools were commonplace within London. many ‘better’ houses had earth closets. Laporte (1968) gives a French version of excretion history. but inevitably there was a decline in the quality of their lives owing to disease and overcrowding (Ravetz. Then with urbanisation. particularly in colonial cities. Conditions and standards were not that different from the situation in rural areas of the time but. Table 3. Australia.I: Population growth 1801–1901 UK Date Total Population 1801 8.2 and 3. such as dropping it in the river. These toilets are located at the Monument. recounts how nightsoil used to be collected in the suburbs in the outskirts of Melbourne. The rapid rate of urban growth and the parallel urban concentration of populations are shown in Tables 3.5 million (See Ashworth. nightsoil men were active in some areas. 1968: 7. Victorian prudery and obsession with hygiene had not yet kicked into people’s consciousness. large movements of population from one part of the country to another. Methods of human excrement disposal. as stated. many of whom nowadays are women. as stated. For example. 2000a).9 million 1851 17. 1986). He recounts carts going along the alleyways between the backs of the houses at night collecting the soil from the hatch under each outhouse at the bottom of each backyard. before sewers. THE PROBLEM OF PUBLIC TOILETS While there was an overall growth. where there is a very heavy footfall of commuters and office workers. there were also. or piling it up outside the house. Human excrement was a valuable commodity for agriculture and industry.2000a). the sheer concentration of numbers in the new cities increased the likelihood of disease developing in the crowded alleyways and tenements. Clive James. and a migration to the towns from the countryside.I. This waste was called ‘nightsoil’ and ‘nightmen’ came around every night and collected it. which might have worked for a small village of a few hundred people. before mains sewerage was installed. 3. on a regional basis. 1996). Such approaches were to prove unsanitary and impractical with the growth of urbanisation.3. In rural areas everything 35 CHAPTER THREE • THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC TOILETS Figure 3. could create major public health problems when repeated by hundreds of thousands of people in close cramped urban streets.9 million 1901 32. The following table shows the tremendous rate of urban growth which was occurring in the new industrial towns and cities. in the City of London. for fuller details) had been spread on the fields and used as manure. which were doubling and tripling in size. although people could get away with fairly elementary methods of sewage disposal in small villages. the television presenter.

The 1847 Sanitary Act required sewers and drains to be provided in all new residential areas. Much early town planning was defensive legislation against disease. and to use the money to employ professional and administrative staff. Concepts of public health and social hygiene were closely linked (Jones. desire to clean up the lifestyle and breeding habits of the working classes (Greed. In the early twentieth century. headed by Chadwick. 1968). and the early rudimentary sewerage and drainage measures were comparable to the ‘sites and services’ approach adopted in third world shanty-town emergency situations nowadays. The words unhygienic and immoral seemed to be used interchangeably when describing the lower orders. Many local builders cashed in on building substandard tenements and terraces. took the concept of efficient. 1976. It put an end to . 1842). In 1844 the Health of Towns Association was founded. there being a major outbreak in 1832 (and another in 1849). leading to the ‘Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Population’. 1990). 1994b:90–1). i. The 1848 Public Health Act was the first to give local authorities general powers for the provision of public toilets. The sewerific roots of modern town planning Sanitation problems could not be solved by personal individual efforts but required civic initiatives and national solutions. often combining this with a classist. 1986. and on ‘the Means of its Improvement’ (Chadwick. Richardson’s model town plan. laws against public (male) urination both in Britain and North America were generally the result of not wishing to offend public decency. The roots of modern town planning are firmly in the sewers. In 1840 a Select Committee. enabling the creation of locally elected urban councils. a racial hygiene engineer in Nazi Germany (Green. Ostler. In 1843 this was followed by the establishment of a Royal Commission on the Health of Towns (Hall. This Act also intervened into domestic hygiene arrangements for the first time. at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. They located there because. with emphasis on healthy design in the construction of houses. which might coordinate both land use patterns and provide a framework for massive public infrastructural investment in new sewerage and drainage systems. even eugenic.e. in order to carry out these improvements and building programmes. germless living to the limits as described by Bell and Bell (1972: 284). administrative structure. local authorities. as well as ‘town planning’. on the ‘Conditions in Towns’ was established. rather than concerns with hygiene or the convenience of women (Kira. Early planning reformers saw ‘the urban problem’ in terms of germs and disease. especially ‘fallen’ women. The problems occurred chiefly in areas where there was a concentration of large numbers of working-class people in poorly built housing around the new factories and mills. 1960) as were immorality and assumed unsanitary conditions.were culturally tolerant of such practices and smells and thought nothing of it at the time. ‘Hygeia’. 1989). To implement reform there was a need for an effective. more severe forms of this thinking were advocated by Poetz. State intervention and provision became more acceptable because of the need to establish a city-wide drainage programme to stamp out diseases such as cholera. G. Curiosities such as Dr. but appear entirely logical when seen against the wider public health context of the time and its often condemnatory equating of immorality of the lower orders with lack of hygiene. The spread of cholera and other fatal diseases made intervention necessary. so people were huddled together in proximity to their workplace (Ashworth. The 1835 Municipal Corporations Act laid the foundations for this. prior to the development of the modern public health movement. and drainage and sewerage reforms were seen as an integral component of town planning for disease control. Wright. which had the powers to levy rates from householders and businesses. there was very little money or time for commuting and the transport systems had not yet developed. 1996). Significantly.

has commented. known as ‘The year of the big stink’. a watchmaker. Another Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvement Act in 1875 further increased local authority powers to deal with whole areas. there was a particularly hot summer. The engines are housed in a magnificent Romanesque building. Paris’s magnificent spider’s web pattern of squares and boulevards designed by Haussmann was mirrored underground by a splendid new system of sewers and drains (Sutcliffe. In the nineteenth century. thus sanitation reform helped shape urban design. Likewise the city fathers. the 1868 Artisans’ and Labourers’ Dwellings Improvements Act (the Torrens Act) increased government controls further. Civic pride and public building works went hand in hand with reform as manifested in ‘gas and water socialism’ – that is. could sit back and distribute their bounty in the form of public works (Bell and Bell. On the Continent many other major capital cities invested in sewers. Sir Thomas . the sanitary engineer. 1972). and designed by famous architects. In 1858. Bazalgette was responsible for establishing the modern sewerage system in London at a time when most people depended upon nightsoil collection. 1988). investment in public works to build up the necessary infrastructure. Cholera was a waterborne disease. 1970). beyond Woolwich on the southern bank of the Thames. bravely dined in the new building as part of the opening celebrations. Clayton. with a range of dignitaries. which is now a Grade 1 listed building. e. Snow showed the relationship between a major cholera outbreak and a single polluted pump in the Soho district of London.g. in 1775 Alexander 1968). having made their pile out of the Industrial Revolution.back-to-back houses by requiring a back alleyway for ventilation and nightsoil collection purposes. it could spread anywhere along the unsanitary water systems of the city. the Victorians’ pride in these four steam engines overcame their prudery and they were named after Victoria. org. but the need for citywide rather than just individual dwelling orientated reforms was seen to be primary in stemming disease. which was no respecter of persons. As Peter Hall points out (1989: 27). and it was decided to do something drastic about the situation (Halliday. The Metropolitan Water Act 1872 established the principle that the London sewerage system should be water-based. No expense was spared: public toilets were built of the finest stone. were opened to discharge London’s waste out to the sea (see http://crossness. Under the city streets The Victorians put a vast amount of investment ‘under the city streets’ in the forms of sewers and drains. Albert and two of the royal children. 2001. resulting in further major sewer construction and changes in toilet design. reflecting the technological and cultural achievements of the era. These were built by Joseph Bazalgette.ndirect. patented the U-Bend and the S-bend. 2001). 1995). The Royal Family. Parliament closed because of the whiff from the adjacent Thames. Increased state intervention and investment in public works was needed to provide better sewerage and drainage systems to prevent the spread of disease (Cherry. Flushing it away In 1596 Sir John Harrington had invented the first modern lavatory using water (the self-emptying slop pan). great-great-grandson of the engineer. who was responsible for much of the re-sewering of London (Halliday. Subsequently.tanton. 2000: 51).uk and http://www. as against individual buildings (Ashworth. although it might originate in working-class districts. with expensive fixtures and fittings. Flushing toilets were a symbol of scientific and technological progress in the nineteenth A Royal Sanitary Commission was established between 1869 and 1871 which resulted in a series of further acts and improvements. a cathedral to sewage. In 1865 the Crossness Engines. like computers nowadays (Edwards and McKie. within the context of public health reforms. in 1854 a Dr. As Peter Bazalgette.

Many cities are still dependent on Victorian sewers. ‘Sanitation and drainage’. This was established with a Lottery Grant of 1. In the nineteenth century. 2000. But at the same time the shift from cesspools to flush toilets led to the sewers and water courses being swamped with human effluent. in spite of increased state intervention and national wealth. The Victorian enthusiasm for building large public buildings such as museums. 2001). This grant caused anger locally. Many a museum has suffered from inadequate public toilets. plus European money and manufacturer sponsorship.Crapper perfected and widely marketed modern WCs with siphonic cisterns with evocative names like the Deluge (Reyburn. and sewage works were being built throughout the land. He was also the inventor of the . libraries and art galleries. pumping stations. The 1875 Act was to cast its shadow right over the twentieth century in introducing baseline standards and principles in all sanitation matters. George Jennings. Stoke on Trent. Such devices are included in a museum exhibit of historic public toilets entitled ‘Flushed with Pride: the Story of the Toilet’ at the Gladstone Pottery Museum. as this is the heartland of traditional ceramic sanitary ware (toilets) manufacture (Blair. and were provided by the toilet manufacturer and inventor. The emergence of modern public toilets Within this context it was inevitable that public toilets should also contain waterbased flushing systems. as at the same time vital local public conveniences were being closed in the area because of lack of money. and that they should be conceived as an integral component of the great sewerage and drainage revolution of the nineteenth century. some of which are quite discriminatory towards women by today’s standards. The first public toilets were at the Great Exhibition in 1851 at Crystal Palace. 2000) (see Appendix). The 1872 Act was a turning point for Crapper.3 million pounds (15. Dyos. 1983.2001). sanitation. especially for women (Candlin. 1989). Subsequently huge programmes of sewerage and drainage system construction ensued in London in the wake of ongoing legislation (Clayton. and town planning were all nascent professions which still overlapped and interlinked (Greed.1. has made a valuable contribution to setting standards for visitor toilets (National Trust. resulting in the need to build yet more sewers to cope with the increase. 1968: 334). 2001). Vast sewerage systems. all led to greater demands for better public toilets. housing. there was no turning back. This gave the public toilet movement greater strength than it has today as provision was part of the wider sewering process. and the Victorians left an immeasurable heritage of public investment which has not been continued into the present day. In contrast. ‘gas and water socialism’ and related ‘public health’ issues were key components of the agenda of nineteenth-century town planning (Wohl. plus their fondness for exhibitions and fairs. The 1996 Loo of the Year Award went to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard public toilets. The National Trust. London. municipal engineering. so it is in a sense one of the first true town planning acts. whereas today public conveniences seem to be dealt with in isolation from mainstream municipal policy. as elements of this Act have never been superseded or repealed to this day. drains. This was achieved by giving local authorities themselves the power to introduce by-laws controlling the layout of new streets and housing schemes. Once the commitment had been made to water-borne systems. surveying. too. toilets and water supply. 1991: 50–1). The 1875 Public Health Act is a landmark in the development of state intervention into the built environment. This important Act set minimum and more stringent standards on the design of houses and also on the layout of streets. It contained many provisions related to sewers. successful ‘heritage’ sites incorporate good toilets as a high priority in wooing visitors. increasing the demand for his government-approved flushing system as water-based sewerage systems were adopted as government standard. Chapter 3). public health.

the RSA sought to establish a system of public lavatories in London for health reasons.fiendish ‘penny in the slot’ lock for Ladies toilets. 1997 Newsletter. For example.) These facilities were politely called ‘public waiting rooms’ a phrase still used occasionally in North America for public toilets. In parallel. To this day manufacturer support and sponsorship is still an important component in the fight for public toilets. with an entrance fee of tuppence. There were several other private schemes built in the second part of the nineteenth century. public provision was not initially provided for women. and divisions between public and private provision. William Haywood. Under this scheme. Pall Mall was the first street in the world to be gas lit and others rapidly followed. The 1891 Act stipulated that the area of the ‘subsoil’ beneath the public highway should be used for such toilet facilities and for sewer routing. it should be noted that men already had a vast array of ‘private’ facilities in clubs and pubs according to their social class. Martin’s Lane. and comprised two classes of toilets. and most of the underground ones date from 1884 to 1925. although they served as valuable advertising sites for new products. and ‘watching’ (emergent ‘police’ patrols). a range of street works and improvements were being made throughout the early nineteenth century. Mr. and a meeting of the RSA (Royal Society of Arts). provided 5 compartments for women. in February 1852. Likewise one in St. Bedford Square. to establish a system of underground conveniences (BTA. was hurriedly convened to provide more (AMC. signage. hence the phrase ‘got to spend a penny’. This has created . It was strongly ‘classed’ with poorer ‘women’ being offered a cheaper option of standing or squatting over a ‘hole in the ground’ behind a curtain known as a ‘urinette’. London. It was left to the City Engineer. presumably to keep the lower classes out. The RSA requested that the police visit these establishments from time to time. and 25 urinals and 12 compartments for men (Robinson. The River Fleet had exploded (alongside Fleet Street) in 1846. The 1891 Public Health (London) Act gave local authorities the power to use the subsoil of any road for the purpose of building public lavatories. only men. refuse collection. January). Clearly the rightful ‘place’ for public toilets was to be under the auspices of local government too. 2001: 5). Minton (the China manufacturer) donated some of the sanitary hardware for the venture. and with a separate charge for washing and brushing. As to location. bandstands. the organising body. unless there is a servant attendant who will rush in after the user and clean the seat. Apparently. (Significantly men had to pay too. whereas ‘ladies’ might sit upon mahogany lavatory seats in imperial splendour. in respect of lighting. horse troughs inter alia (albeit the latter was chiefly the result of early animal rights campaign activities). Civic improvements included provision of public parks. 2001: 6). as will the infamous history of the ‘urinette’ and the possibility of women ‘standing’ over a hole rather than sitting or squatting. A public lavatory just for men followed at 95. It was found that these private ventures could not pay their way. paving. Fleet Street. creating more hospitable city streets. Likewise. In 1807. the first flushing public toilet for ‘ladies’ opened at 51. Such toilets were supplied with a superintendent and two attendants each. a public toilet established in 1900 in Leicester Square provided 27 urinals and 13 cubicles for men. and this had clearly been a busy location since medieval times when it also exploded in 1355 because of the build up of noxious fumes. In 1851 it set up a committee of ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ to establish this. After the success of the Great Exhibition. for gentlemen and the masses. in the 1898 Great Exhibition in Paris (of which the then new Eiffel Tower was a centrepiece) there were major queues for the public toilets. public benches. thus funding the modern system of ‘public facilities’. but only three urinettes and 7 cubicles for women. Sitting on the same seat that someone else has just sat on is seen as dirty by many. The ‘sit or squat’ debate continues in the world of public toilet provision and will be returned to in later chapters.

for example. Lyons Corner House restaurants. but these along with many others were subsequently closed ostensibly because of tramps and homeless people settling in the access areas. Incredibly. In historic Bath. public health had the status of a prestige science. Subsequently. were left to fall into a state of disrepair. were popular with women because they provided toilets. functional edifice to a Georgian ‘conservation area’-style pavilion. so strong is the urban conservation movement that. In this case money was found for cosmetic ‘lavatorial gentrification’ of the toilet block when usually ‘lack of money’ prevents even the most basic maintenance. sanitary engineering too was highly regarded.000 miles of railway (there is less than half that amount today). especially for the disabled and those with pushchairs (Cavanagh and Ware. other alternatives grew up. They were closed in early 2001 to be used for an art exhibition of items from the Arnolfini. were built in 1893 opposite the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand. London. industrial and business districts developed within cities. and men. which were displayed in the Gents. Nowadays some public conveniences are listed buildings. generating a . and this is reflected in the resources and detail which is lavished upon the building and design of public toilets. Increasingly people lived further from their work and distinct residential. 1991). Following Watt’s invention of the steam engine (significantly a water-based power system). when the 1930s Larkhall public conveniences were refurbished. in the late 1990s. as they had a statutory authority to build underground loos but not pedestrian underpasses. and ‘tea rooms’ in general. They constituted a new and worthy component within the built environment. Growth continued. and they are now designated Grade 1 listed buildings. At present (2001) the Ladies is frequently closed while the Gents remains open. 1978). with no expense spared. for example in Park Row. in Victorian times. the first main passenger railway constructed was the Stockton to Darlington which opened in 1825. as supported by the precedent of the case Westminster Corporation v London and North Western Railway Company 1905 Act 38 (Appeal Case. underground lavatories in the 1960s were built by Westminster City Council in order to build underpasses. many public toilets were built on the surface. in the days when women would not go into a pub or traditional restaurant on their own. Changing land use and transport patterns Demand for public toilets is a component of wider town planning. although right beside the University and on the tourist circuit. Bristol. The Park Row toilets. Since there were inadequate public toilets for women. transportation policy and overall urban design agendas. Nevertheless. The first permanent public toilets for women. and they were designed in a classical style to complement the surrounding Victorian or Edwardian architecture. their appearance was changed from that of a twentieth-century municipal ‘concrete block’. History repeated itself in the 1960s when some new public toilets were built underground as part of motorway and pedestrian underpass programmes. House of Lords). 1994: 27–9). Lyons served the purpose that McDonalds does nowadays in this respect. The Industrial Revolution was accompanied and facilitated by a parallel transport revolution.great inconvenience for generations of women. until at the peak in the 1870s there were nearly 16. they were renovated as part of conservation area improvement. such as at Centre Point in London. The fountain set into the exterior and proudly declaring construction in 1907 was in fact moved back into the wall from an adjacent free-standing location (Stringer. an edifice which still retains its original porcelain sanitary ware. such as Bristol and Bath. the Victorians should be commended as builders of palatial public lavatories and proponents of improved sanitation standards and toilet technology (Lambton. 1978). Mid-twentieth century toilets tended to be more utilitarian in design (Smedley. But in provincial cities. Because. for both goods and people.

The campaign for public lavatories for women was a key component of the Suffragette Movement. 1989:231). and the smell of school toilets (and often the bullying experienced in them) was a significant aspect of the modern school child’s growing up experience (Greed et al. Housing for workers typically consisted of two up and two down terraced houses for many families of six or more with a toilet out the back if they were lucky (Ravetz. as moral standards and ‘manners’ became more prudish. In the nineteenth century. Many early railway stations provided wrought iron urinals at platform level for men. a common arrangement in the ‘Triple Decker’ Board schools built in London towards the end of the century. from her research on the evolution of public toilets. In 1884 the Ladies Lavatory Company opened its own private public conveniences at Oxford Circus for ladies who had to spend the whole day in London (Adburgham. in the new industrial towns. to that of ‘amenity’ and ‘health’ (Cavanagh and Ware. Thus it may be argued that women benefited as ‘citizens’. Robinson (2001) comments that it was considered an abomination and an assault to decency for women to be provided with public toilets. Women had difficulty being ‘heard’ in governmental circles as few women were involved in decision-making bodies. 1986). from public works inspired by civic pride and gas and water socialism (Edwards and McKie. 1986: 139. as were infant mortality levels. Birth rates were high. 2001). But at least in Victorian times. generated further demand for better facilities for all. The situation would be much worse today for women were it not for the ceaseless efforts of ‘sewers and drains feminists’ (Greed. but women received less. Therefore the women’s agenda coincided with men’s and they made progress. Early state schools were likely to have poor toilet provision too. commuting to work over long distances. Increasing numbers of women worked in factories and went ‘out’ to work like the men.greater need to travel. Cheap mass travel. for many hours at a time. separating out and decentralising land uses resulted in the creation of the ‘journey to work’ and made it more difficult for women to combine home and work duties in spatial proximity. Julia Edwards. and Chapter 13). 1995). especially on the new railways. who campaigned for public lavatory provision and sought to change the discourse from one of ‘plumbing’ and ‘disease’. and toilets. women. But paradoxically. with men. Early ‘feminist’ groups such as the Ladies’ Sanitary Association established in the 1850s campaigned for better toilets. almost with equal importance to attaining the vote. The emphasis in early town planning upon zoning. Public toilets were seen as a sign of modernity and technological advancement like computers nowadays. There used to be an 800 ft-long gents toilet at Waterloo Station equipped apparently with a plenitude of urinals (this is . and the likelihood that people would be away from their homes. patriarchal. in particular. albeit to a lesser degree. concluded that campaigners for toilets have always tended to be women because of this blatant inequality. male sanitary engineers predominated. 1991: 14). although nowadays this is not necessarily the case (Saunders. despite the prudery on such matters. 1995). there was a climate of willingness to build public toilets as there was a celebration of sanitation as the new technology. A 1998 survey found that there were still over 600 primary schools in England without inside toilets. with toilets ‘outside’ on the other side of the playground. Presumably there was a greater tolerance towards children simply ‘going’ in the gutter in those days when both private and public toilet provision was limited. The need for public conveniences for women was greater than before as more women were travelling about in the city. were inconvenienced. 1987: 279) such as members of the Ladies’ Sanitary Association. still waiting to be improved a hundred years later. Some railway companies quite intentionally refused to provide them for women (Richards and Mackenzie.

affects what they expect to be provided with in public toilets. After 200 years of assumed progress based on water-based systems. soil/earth and/or ash. and the coming of urbanisation. industrialisation. So wide skirts were no extravagance but another case of form (and fashion) following bodily function. In contrast. There was more limited ladies toilet provision at Waterloo with different toilets and waiting rooms for first class ‘ladies’. Apparently no-one saw this as unladylike. In other countries there was a much wider array of station facilities including a crèche at one of the Moscow stations. 2001). Nevertheless. some cultural issues need to be discussed briefly as what people have in their homes. and then matters were made even worse by such facilities being closed down with no alternative being provided. While water-based flushing systems were very popular and the established way ahead adopted in Britain. the WC&P (Weston. Alternative means of disposal. up until it was closed by the Beeching cuts in 1965. usually using sand. Water-based flush lavatories and other ‘mod cons’ are extremely recent in terms of historical perspective. But before proceeding to the next chapter and the modern day. 1983). there were always other alternatives based on dry. But such arrangements were a long time coming. Clevedon and Portishead Railway) south of Bristol. and think is ‘normal’. and women were not made welcome – an attitude which arguably persists today. it was common for gentlewomen with large hooped skirts simply to stand or squat over the gutter when they wished to urinate (a personal Portaloo!). provided Ladies and Gents wooden toilets on its small rural platforms (Vincent. nor to get caught up in domestic housing toilet issues. as can be seen from studying exhibitions of underwear of yesteryear at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Domestic toilet culture It is not the purpose of this book to get side-tracked into the intricacies of plumbing. as discussed later. Modern plastic backings to sanpro products imported from the West in post-Communist Moscow are non-biodegradable and make this system increasingly unhygienic. Henry Moule of Dorchester patented an earth closet in 1859 which absorbed and neutralised human waste after three days. Prior to the coming of Victorian concepts of hygiene and prudery. A more ‘natural’ easy-going approach prevailed for centuries. earth closets using dry systems do crop up again and again in the history of toilets. sometimes in the most unlikely places – for example. With long skirts being the norm. 1986: 285). the wearing of knickers was not a social priority in the past. Answering nature’s call was not such a problem for centuries until it became culturally unacceptable to ‘go’ anywhere except in the public toilet. environmentalists are now re-evaluating the worth of traditional dry systems. Even Victorian ladies were likely to wear pantaloons with a split crotch arrangement. is seen as the ‘normal’ type of domestic toilet. and second and third class ‘women’. Incidentally. For the rush hour passageway to the Northern Line). with a sit-down toilet bowl. It is significant that nowadays the flush lavatory. ‘progress’ and more restrictive attitudes towards bodily functions created problems that had not existed previously. Further accounts of the horrors of wet and dry systems are to be found in the toilet classic. although his toilet was rejected. and quite different moral attitudes and manners. Clearly the railway station builders imagined the commuters they were serving to be predominantly male. resulted in quite different approaches to ‘going to the toilet’. and kennels for hunting dogs in some Scandinavian stations (Richards and Mackenzie. . The Specialist (Sale. non-water systems. he has a street named after him on a housing estate in Dorchester (Hart Davis. 1930). Some Russian high-rise flats still run on the dry earth toilet system with earth chutes provided to serve all floors. Australian outback picnic sites.

Lord Lever. He is an influential figure in the field of urban design. But internal toilet provision was not necessarily equally provided for women as well as men. 1968). Some such housing was built with upstairs bathrooms and inside toilets. until it was renamed the British Toilet Association (BTA). W&G Audsley. had his official apartments refurbished and spent £3000 on an Arts and Crafts medieval-style toilet with carved oak panelling which bears a resemblance to fin-de-siècle commode design. built his Sunlight soap factory there in 1888. and collected commodes and chamber pots (see Wood. Ostler.In the Victorian home. often with the water supply outside. Ashworth. 1995). in 1894. 1997). the provision of inside toilets (and bathrooms) in domestic dwellings was increasingly seen as essential (among the middle classes. skilled artisan and respectable workingclass housing consisting of miles of little terraced houses built on a grid layout. therefore. Owners of large country houses liked to have ‘the gentleman’s garden’ for guests to relieve themselves. a far cry from the modern fitted kitchen when ‘fire and water’ (ovens and sinks) (and. Such items are nowadays valuable antiques. In Victorian England. It was common to have a separate kitchen. and there was much opposition to the early public health acts in working-class areas. albeit much of it built with outside toilets but with potential for future installation of ‘all mod cons’ (inside toilets and water supply. and commodes among the more affluent. But privies were not an absolute necessity. Versailles had no internal plumbing to speak of as was the case in many a château too. was also an advocate of improved commode design. The nineteenth century was a period of a vast amount of house building. de Bonneville. 1996. 1976. It is significant. plus gas and electricity) (Ravetz and Turkington. in 1997 Lord Irving. for that matter. 1994). one did not have to join a queue with 200 of one’s neighbours every morning as the use of chamber pots among the working classes. recounts. A Bristol Women’s Architects Newsletter September 1994 shows a ‘gentlemen’s room in the ideal suburban Edwardian villa downstairs with a water closet. Also. and provided a ready market for sanitary ware and plumbing fixtures and fittings. and an absolute necessity in the New World of the United States of America (Kira. small dressingtable and cloak-stand’. but no such facility for the women as designed by the architects. As many a foundational town planning book. so increasingly housing legislation required individual ‘closet’ provision for the labouring classes too. 1988. that the public toilet pressure group set up in the 1980s to campaign against the decline of provision should be named ‘All Mod Cons’ (AMC). there were large areas of better quality. In France. the Lord Chancellor of the new Labour government. for that matter. Incidentally. water and electricity) are integrated alongside each other. which was not completed until 1934. it was not uncommon in working-class tenements for 200 people to share one privy. town houses and substantial terraces which still occupy large tracts of our cities. Lever (1851–1925) had bought 52 acres on Merseyside. . or book on the evils of nineteenth-century social conditions. and this included the construction of middle-class villas. scullery and wash-house. The scheme follows garden city principles but he appeared ambivalent about the value of internal toilets or. endowing the first Chair of Town Planning at Liverpool University (Cherry. and then started his model village in 1889. separate kitchens replete with a sink. philanthropic town planner and designer of Port Sunlight garden city near Liverpool. Many a smart French lady would carry a bourdelieu (a lady’s travelling pot). There were always some who considered the idea of having toilets inside the house as most unhygienic. Traditional methods of disposal that had worked well for gentry and peasantry in the countryside did not work in the context of large urban populations in the new industrial cities. if not the working or upper classes). toilets inside the dwelling would protect the modesty of ‘ladies’ and save individuals the trek ‘out the back’ in the rain and the dark. was commonplace.

the story of public toilet provision is taken up to the present day with particular reference to the legal context which so constrains progress. In the next chapter. replacing facilities at grade in situ where possible ➥ Not removing them altogether but adapting old toilets to new standards .mainly because AMC was an incomprehensible term to foreign toileteers. Principles ➥ Respecting the past ➥ Conserving toilets as part of wider townscape and fabric of the city ➥ Seeing public toilets as architectural features in their own right ➥ Using existing patterns of toilet provision as template for refurbishment ➥ Seeing public toilets as a valid component in urban design and streetscape ➥ Avoiding steps down.

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