An urban view — 08 January 2016

In an age of ever more automated – and expensive – public toilets a few early examples of late Victorian and Edwardian conveniences remain in London.

The Regency Place urinal is one of the few ’open air’ pissoirs and much used by cabbies.

Now unused and recently sold as storage for the refurbished adjacent £4.4 million house is a Grade II Listed urinal in Star Yard.

An archive photo from Historic England shows the toilet open for use in 1986, with what looks like the remains of a gas lamp bracket mid-way along the back wall.


This green rectangle of cast iron with open lattice for ventilation proudly displays the manufacturer’s logo (McDowall Steven & Co – Milton Iron Works). Once common on London’s streets, this example with its attractive panel designs was featured in a episode of Rumpole of the Bailey when the late Leo McKern is seen to enter its portal.

Another listed early loo is South End Green which had a pop idol connection. The toilets also appear in the comedy film Make Mine Mink from about 1960, Terry Thomas is being chased by the Police after a robbery, enters the toilets at one end and exits at the other in a different outfit to effect his getaway.


The Jewel Tower must be one of the least known royal buildings in London. The ‘Privy Palace’ as it was dubbed is a precious survival from the medieval Palace of Westminster, the residence of the medieval kings and their families from 11th to 16th century. It was well supplied with garderobes [toilets], with one on each of the three floors. But its main function was not as an elevated khazi but as the tower that securely housed the royal treasure.

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(4) Readers Comments

  1. The Jewel Tower is one of my favorite places. It is so unexpected when you find it – if you even do. Westminster Abbey and Parliament overwhelm that area. I didn’t know about the 3 privies though.

    • Toilets are closing down all over London, councils seem to find better, more politically correct ways, to spend our money, so it’s good that some are listed to stop them being turned into a commercial venues of dubious benefit.

  2. Is the Clochemerle model pissoir still on Horseferry Road?

    Is my boyhood memory of the subterranean gents at Holborn having glass cisterns with live goldfish true to history?

    • The Regency Place/Horseferry Road pissoir is still open and regularly floods. I try to stay in the shallow end, which also has the added bonus of avoiding the cistern above dripping on one’s head.
      Like you I vaguely remember the goldfish in Holborn. Working in Clerkenwell in the 1960s we would go to Gamages in our lunch break. The underground gents was almost opposite.
      If you want to know more a book and DVD documentary narrated by James Mason, both are available from Amazon, entitled The London Nobody Knows by Geoffrey Fletcher who makes mention of the toilet – though clearly we both know of the goldfish so the title that ‘nobody knows’ is a little misleading.

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