This blog piece is a companion piece of sorts to the blog post written by one of our regular researchers about the ‘public nuisance’, i.e. public urination, on her own blog “Notes from 19th Century Birmingham: An Occasional History of the Mundane” entitled “‘Indecent Usages’: the nuisance of peeing in public” and also, to a lesser extent, the piece by fellow archivist, Michael Hunkin, on the Civic Centre.
The provision of toilets for public use is a perennial issue, and something to which the council have offered different solutions at different times. You will find much that has been written about the ‘temples of relief’, the highly decorative ornate Gothic iron work of pissoirs in Birmingham. You can still find a number of these knocking around the city centre (train stations are a good place to look with ones at Jewellery Quarter, Allison Street (under Birmingham Moor Street) and Snow Hill station. And these have their own interesting stories.
There are plenty of photos of these Victorian toilets to be found on the internet: the Birmingham Mail’s “See the lost loos of Birmingham” is a particularly good one. I would have gone and taken some photos myself but I didn’t fancy having to explain to curious onlookers why I was taking photos of toilets…
But the public toilets of the period just after the Second World War receive much less coverage. Which brings me, circuitously to the crux of this piece: when cataloguing a collection of architectural plans deposited at Birmingham Archives, Heritage and Photography by the Council’s Planning Department (accession number: 2008/027) I discovered two tubes of plans of different post WWII public conveniences around the city. The whole accession contains fascinating plans (including a number of plans for Civic Restaurants and the plans relating to the Civic Centre that fellow archivist Mike wrote about in his blog piece) but I was most interested to find the plans of the public conveniences. In brief the accession contained the following plans relating to public conveniences:
(2008/027) Tube 3:
- Stratford Road Fox Hollies public conveniences, 1953, 2 plans
- Bartley Green public conveniences, 1947 – 1963, 3 plans
- Colmore Row public conveniences, 1948, 4 plans
- Gostar Green public conveniences, 1955, 1 plan
- Kitts Green Road public conveniences, 1950, 3 plans
- Quinton Estates, Faraday Avenue public conveniences, 1 plan
- Spies Lane public conveniences, 1948 – 1958, 3 plans
(2008/027) Tube 6:
- Bournbrook conveniences, 1955, 2 plans
- Bartley Green conveniences, 1959 – 1960, 4 plans
- Kingstanding Road conveniences, 1951, 3 plans
- Navigation Street conveniences, 1952, 2 plans
- Sandpitts on the corner of Summerhill Terrace, 1 plan
- Hunters Road, 1951, 3 plans
While looking through the plans, I was particularly taken by the public conveniences planned for Colmore Row in 1948:
Whilst looking at the plans, a few things struck me about this particular public convenience:
- For the 1940s/1950s and the rise of modernism, it is quite ornate, in an art deco kind of way. The other public conveniences in this accession, though attractive in their own way, are much plainer
- Similarly to the Victorian pissoirs, it caters only for men
- It is labelled on the plans as ‘temporary’ – it certainly isn’t there now but it does seem a lot of work for a convenience that was only planned to be there for 3 years, as the minutes in the Public Works Committee suggested.