Jul 23, 2012 - Washroom UK    No Comments

A Short History of the Public Toilet, Toilet Room, Washroom or WC

Public Washroom

An image of a public Washroom in the UK

OK so this post isnt going to be for everybodies tastes but i will discuss is none the less, as a wash room product company its good to understand the roots of the products you sell, where they came from how they are manufactured but more importantly how they came about and how they are used in our daily lives so today i want to share with you the origins of the public toilet yay!

So the washroom goes by many names from W.C (water closet), bathroom, latrine, toilet room, public convenience, public lavatory, bogs, loo’s to name just a few, there are far more vulgar names but i wont list them here.

Basically the washroom or insert name from above :) is usually a small room containing toilets or urinals available to be used by the general public (you and me) normally these places of public convenience are seperated by gender although there are unisex toilets around they are few and far between and only found in very small business establishments.

Along with the regular gender type Washrooms we have the accessible toilets available  with products and features designed specifically for people with disabilities who would be unable to use a regular toilet area for able bodied people.

A public restroom is often unattended and only checked at regular intervals throughout the day by staff of the establishment you are visiting to check if everything is running OK and there are no problems, some public conveniences are staffed by a janitor who normally sits in a separate room just off the main toilet areas and usually charges a fee to use the toilet facilities, these toilets are usually kept in a better state than the non staffed wash-rooms - if you visit a really fancy place you may encounter a person intended to help groom yourself after finishing your business, these types of toilets are usually found in night clubs, air ports,some railway stations and high end facilities.

Its been about 160 years since the first public toilets became available in the United Kingdom when the public health act of 1848 required public necessities to be provided to improve sanitation, the first record i could find of public toilets were at the great exhibition of 1851 at crystal palace and were installed by a  plumber from Brighton called George Jennings he felt strongly that there should be made available public facilities and to offset the cost the users were charged 1d and around 800,000 people used these facilities which netted around £1300 in profit in about 23 weeks (reference stoke museums)

The first on street “gents” public toilets was opened on 2nd february 1852 next to the society of art in London at 95 fleet street with the first “ladies” toilet opened on the 11th february 1852 at 51 Bedford Street, Strand in London.

These new facilities were brought about due to 2 high profile people of the time Sir Samuel Morton Peto who was a building contractor responsible for erecting nelsons column and Sir Henry Cole a principle promotor of the great exhibition, they brought the facilities to the public as they thought this new public service would be profitable, unfortunately for them the patrons hardly used the facilities (much like we avoid paying now) and the buildings were abandoned.

The first municipal toilets were actually also the first underground toilets outside the royal exchange in 1855, the contractor who built these was none other than George Jennings mentioned earlier and were chared at a standard rate again of 1d which became the standard rate until decimal currency was introduced into the UK in the 1970′s.

As you can imagine in the prudish times of the 1850′s discussing toilets was something out of harry potter “that shall which not be named” and George Jennings tried hard to introduce “halting stations” (public toilets) but since the topic was like the villain in harry potter it was extremely difficult, he didn’t give in though and by 1895 his public restrooms or “halting stations” were in 36 British towns and cities all over the world.

Moving forward a short bit the Victorian and Edwardian great architects and engineers were tasked with the construction of high quality facilities by local governments, these facilities were made from the highest quality materials available, like copper, brass and marble and their outward appearance was even better than the internal no longer were public toilets a place to hide underground as George Jennings facilities were.

It is worth noting for the hilarity more than anything else that the public facilities were provided for men only for the plain reason men were out and about more than women either at work or leisure (women should have been at home! the sheer cheek! – best not let my other half see this)

It wasn’t until the socialist writer George Bernard Shaw campaigned for facilities for women that they started popping up but he was fighting a battle since the general consensus was that it was not decent for a woman to have a public convenience.

And now onto the 20Th century where we have demolished the grand toilets of the Victorian and Edwardian era because they were too lavish and high maintenance, we seem to have gone backwards in our washroom experiences until recently when modern manufacturing allows us to produce fantastic products for the wash room environment but that’s a topic for another day.

Since we are a Business i feel it necessary to let you know that we have available a fantastic selection of wash room products available on a next working day delivery at our main website Washroom UK go check it out, tell your friends how you learnt about the history of the public washroom

Image provided by Joshua Eichorn

You can also win yourself a years supply of toilet paper click here for more info:

About the Author:

Hi, My name is Gareth, i run both the Washroom UK Blog & ecommerce website. I have been in the industry for 6 years and have learnt a lot about pretty much anything related to the public restrooms. Its not a topic i thought i would end up in after leaving school but its where i am and its extremely interesting believe it or not :)

Gareth Jones – who has written posts on Washroom UK.


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