At Your Convenience: A Lavatorial Walking Tour
George Jennings and The Great Exhibition of 1851
See the bridge on your right? Turn towards it and start walking.
The Great Exhibition of 1851 was a chance for Britain to show off its splendors to the rest of the world. Architects, Manufacturers and Engineers came together to create The Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.
A Brighton born sanitary engineer named George Jennings proposed a set of Public toilets to be open to the public in the Crystal Palace.
The idea was met with great skepticism and Jennings later wrote “I was told no one would come to the Crystal Palace to wash their hands.”
But in the end perseverance paid. The conveniences, which Jennings called “Monkey closets” received 827,280 visitors during the course of the exhibition and raised £2441, 15 shillings and 9 pence due to their penny entry fee. To this day “spending a penny” remains a popular English euphemism for visiting the toilet.
Jennings’ Success sparked an entrepreneurial interest in the idea of providing potentially profitable public conveniences, and the remainder of the 1800’s became a golden age of the public toilet.
Modern Toilet Providers have argued that when you account for inflation, 50 pence today is approximately the same value as a 1851 penny. However it’s highly unlikely that a lot of our modern conveniences live up to the standards of Jennings’, which were beautiful brass and marble, and where you could often get a shoe shine in addition to attending to your other business. However the next toilet I’m going to show you is one that I think is well worth the entry fee.
The next part of our journey begins when you get to the entrance to the Jubilee Gardens.