ST GILES’, OXFORD

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Public Conveniences in St Giles’


Gentlemen's toilets in St Giles

 

This underground toilet in St Giles’ (left), which has two separate entrances, was built in 1895, and was for gentlemen only.

 

 

There was no question in Victorian times of building a public convenience for women: indeed there was outrage in London in 1900 when proposals were put forward for a ladies’ toilet in Camden Town.

 

 

Work had started by 17 August 1895, when the following report appeared in Jackson's Oxford Journal:

DISCOVERY OF RELICS.— During the excavation which has been made in connection with the new underground public convenience in St. Giles's the workmen came upon a large quantity of bones and horns, apparently those of oxen and deer, at a depth of about 7ft., a pair of horns being in excellent preservation; they also found a stoneware jug, minus the handle and broken at the spout, and two small cups made of red pottery and glazed, both much damaged.

Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 12 October 1895 reported:

Corporation works
An underground convenience has been built near the southern end of St. Giles-street, containing two w.c.’s and four urinals. These are reached by a flight of York stone steps from the surface of the street, and the structure is surrounded by a strong cast-iron railing on York stone base. The fittings are in the best white glazed ware, and the whole of the brickwork is lined internally with white and buff glazed bricks, the floor being of vitrified tiles laid upon concrete. The convenience is roofed with cement concrete carried upon steel girders, with pavement lights, cast-iron ventilators, &c.

In 1998, the city council installed new stainless steel cisterns, toilet pans, and cubicle doors.


The “indecent” women’s toilets nearby

The women of Oxford had to wait until 1909 when the nearby Magdalen Street East underground toilet was built as a project for the unemployed (see Oxford Chronicle, 8 October 1909, p. 9). This toilet is at the side of Balliol College, and in her memoirs Mary Leslie, who worked for Oxford’s Public Health Department, describes the disgust felt at this indecency:

A very different “novelty” that our Department inaugurated was Sanitary Conveniences for Women. Strange to say, such comforts were open to men, but women were too modest to mention such a need. George Bernard Shaw wrote a pamphlet on this much-required service and about that time Oxford City Council decided to supply the need. Quite an agitation arose when it was announced that the first unmentionable contrivance was to be put, mercifully below ground, under the windows (the side windows) of Balliol. Even one of my sisters, visiting me and being shown with pride my latest boast, turned-away with disgust and called my work “indecent”.

 


The toilets were closed in 2008 because of health & safety fears (they are in the road, and there is no crossing to them), and the Oxford Mail of 19 September 2011 reported that they might never reopen.

They were put up for sale with a guide price of £65,000 in February 2014.

St Giles’ home

Stephanie Jenkins

Oxford History home