• LOCATION 31 | At Your Convenience: A Lavatorial Walking Tour

    Underground Toilets

    Turn left into Covent Garden. Find the portico next to St. Paul’s Church. You’ll see Ladies toilets on the right and Gentlemen on the Left.

    Jennings petitioned to be allowed build underground toilets similar to these as early as 1958. He wrote a letter:

    “To the Honourable the Commissioners of Sewers for the City of London

    “Gentlemen, I observe in 'The Times' that certain matters of a Sanitary character have been referred to your Engineer.

    “I think it only right to call attention to the efforts I have made to prevent the defilement of our thoroughfares and to remove those Plague spots that are offensive to the eye, and a reproach to the Metropolis.

    “Having provided, and fixed the Sanitary appliances at the Exhibition of 1851 and the Dublin Exhibition of 1852, and also those in the present Crystal Palace, I can bear testimony to the Public application of conveniences, suited to the advanced stage of civilization.

    “I know the subject is a peculiar one, and very difficult to handle, but no false delicacy ought to prevent immediate attention being given to matters effecting the health, and comfort, of the thousands who daily throng the thoroughfares of your City.”

    He went on to describe his plans for underground conveniences and finished:

    “If you consider my arrangements bear the stamp of common sense, I offer through you to supply and fix in any part of the City every Sanitary appliance shown in my drawings free of any charge.

    “If the cost of Gas-lights Water Supply and respectable Attendants capable of understanding and answering a question, should be considered an expense too great to be encountered, I am willing to take every expense on myself, and carry out every detail, under your Engineer's direction, provided the attendants I furnish are allowed to receive a small gratuity for use of Towels &c. as at the Crystal Palace.

    “If this (which many would turn a speculation) should prove commercially valuable, I shall be quite ready at any time to resign my trust, or retain it, using the proceeds for the establishment of similar conveniences.

    “I have the honour to be My Lord & Gentlemen,
    Your obedient Servant,
    George Jennings”

    In fact it wasn’t until two years after Jenning’s death that these underground toilets finally caught on. They fit Victorian sensibilities of decency and discretion, often being located in the middle of roads.

    These ones now cost 50p as we are still in Westminster… but they are open 24 hours so you know you'll always have somewhere to go!

    Turn away from these toilets now. Head through the covered market area all the way out the other side.

    The first underground toilets, like the ones we have just seen, were installed in Bank Station near the Royal Exchange in the City of London. Jonathan Routh printed a poem reportedly written to commemorate their opening:

    "I'front the Royal Exchange and Underground,
    Down Gleaming walls of porc'lain flows the sluice
    That out of sight decants the Kidney Juice,
    Thus pleasuring those Gents for miles around,
    Who, crying for relief, once piped the sound,
    Of wind in alley-ways. All hail this news!
    And let the joyous shuffling queues
    For Gentlemanly Jennings' most well found
    Construction, wherein a penny ope's the gate
    To Heav'n's mercy and Sanitary wares
    Received the Gush with seemingly, cool obedience,
    Enthroning Queen Hygeia in blessed state
    On Crapper's Rocket: with rapturous ease men's cares
    Shall flow away when seated at convenience!"

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At Your Convenience: A Lavatorial Walking Tour