Sunday, 15 September 2013

Birmingham's Temple of Relief


Just outside the Jewellery Quarter station in Birmingham is a rather special piece of street furniture, in Victorian cast iron. Known as the 'temple of relief', it is a public toilet which has stood here since 1883 and is Grade-II listed. 

The facilities are now closed. A look through the railings which keep out passers-by shows that they were divided into two sections - but these hold urinals not cubicles. It's an interesting choice in an area where many women worked, and suggests that public order rather than users' convenience alone was a significant motivation for placing them here.

Like so much excellent and ambitious Victorian cast iron, this is the work of Walter Macfarlane & Co, made in their Saracen Foundry in Glasgow. There were a number of similar conveniences in Birmingham, several of which survive. Indeed, it seems that one is still in use (although another has been lost!).


9 comments:

Ralph Hancock said...

I have actually, um, relieved myself in that ornate structure, and can confirm that the interior is as you say. Public urinals are still being built, at least in London. Here is a fairly new one at Paddington Station. It has three sides, all open to view so that the user is shielded only by his own back.
http://tinyurl.com/q6ad2bk

Matt Bannister said...

I love the fact that the Victorians managed to add a pseudo-mystical angle by calling it a temple. Well found, Caroline.

Hels said...

Love it :)

Public order rather than users' convenience. Interesting! I wonder how public order might have broken down, had the public toilet not been provided.

And even if public order was indeed the top priority, the cast iron work was very detailed and probably quite expensive.

CarolineLD said...

Thank you for the confirmation, Ralph! It was definitely rather more dignified than the Paddington model...

Hels, I think civic pride (and the lure of Walter Macfarlane's catalogue) worked magic here.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Fascinating. Those old catalogues are marvellous. I have a Victorian one produced by Boulton and Paul's of Norwich that includes wooden public conveniences but not these iron temples.

CarolineLD said...

I'm fascinated by Victorian catalogues, too - the idea that you could buy anything from a urinal to a church by mail order. It makes internet shopping seem rather tame, to be honest!

Ralph Hancock said...

The crowning example of Victorian prefabricated cast iron buildings must be the Bulgarian Church of St Stephen in Istanbul:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_St._Stephen_Church

Shame it wasn't made by a British ironworks.

CarolineLD said...

Oh, fabulous!

Linda said...

What a beautiful "bathroom" :) I am always amused to find such things as listed buildings or designated landmarks, but they all had their place, I'm sure.

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