‘When you needed the loo, you looked for the nearest man or woman with a cape and a bucket’
As successive British governments have closed Britain’s once great wealth of public lavatories–London’s loos, until the 1950s, were famous the world over.
London’s magnificent Victorian public toilets were built after The Public Health Act of 1848, called for ‘Public Necessaries to be provided to improve sanitation’.
London’s first public on-street convenience was a gents at 95 Fleet Street; it was opened in February 1852. Another, for ladies, was opened on 11 February at 51 Bedford Street. As well as being a public service, these Public loos had water closets in wooden surrounds.
The reason London’s magnificent Victorian public loos were built in the first place was simply that governments of the time saw them as essential to the well-being of Londoners. Parliamentarians who knew their history far better than today’s legislators no doubt remembered that right through the Middle Ages and well into the seventeenth century, one of London’s biggest problems was the lack of public loos.
In their houses people simply used a bucket or pot and then threw the contents into the gutter or the Thames. There is much evidence to suggest that many householders–this was certainly true in aristocratic households–simply relieved themselves in the corner of any room they happened to be in.
Out in the streets people relieved themselves wherever they liked, but the more delicate-minded and, of course, women found this unacceptable–the solution was provided by human loos. These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket.
When you needed the loo, you looked for the nearest man or woman with a cape and bucket and gave them a farthing. You then sat on the bucket while they stood above you, still wearing the cape but also surrounding you with it.
These were men and women who wore voluminous black capes and carried a bucket. I think you might be ahead of me here, but I will go on. For a farthing you sat on the bucket while they stood above you and enveloped you with their cape, thus protecting your modesty.
Now over 150 years after those pioneering Victorians built public “Halting Stations” your choice is now limited, do you:
1. Go to McDonald’s
2. Illegally use a suitable wall or hedge
3. Brazen it out and use a hotel’s facilities; or
4. Go back to the tried and tested method of a bucket.
Just don’t expect to find a caped crusader.
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