Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Iron and Marble
I have always been a keen connoisseur of Victorian lavatories, and consider myself an ex-
perienced conveniologist, i.e. one who appreciates their aesthetic qualities. London has a
select number of them, though there is an ever-present danger of their modernisation and
consequent loss of character. Some of the small ones of cast iron are of a high artistic qual-
ity and form part of the symposium of London's metallic pleasures, the extent of which
will be indicated in this chapter. The men's lavatory in Holborn, which still retains its fine
gas lamp in the street above, dates from 1897, and is one of the few with the original fit-
tings. The interior is somewhat cavernous and gloomy, and the roof, cast iron and stained
with glistening orange patches, is supported on iron columns sprung from the mosaic floor.
Lavatories are solemn places. They are, perhaps, the only true democracy, for in them all
men are equal in the sight of the lavatory attendant. Many of these places for standing room
only have exceptional collections of graffiti engraved on the walls, particularly those where
the stalls are of slate. Such scratchings are worth a book to themselves; no doubt somebody
will devote one to the subject sooner or later. Drawings on lavatory walls have an ancient
lineage, and were found at Pompeii. In passing, it is worth noting the universality of these
drawings; I mean, in style. This applies not only all over London, but also to the rest of
the British Isles and all over the Continent; all the drawings might have been done by one
man. This, of course, points to something basic in the lower recesses of the human mind -
paleolithic, if you like - but why the drawings are so alike in style is to me a mystery. It
is not easy to throw light on the problem, in view of the difficulty in obtaining information
as to the artists; they have an objection, like the elves in fairy tales, to being seen at work.
The urge to express oneself on the walls of a public urinal is worth further study; it differs
materially from that which obtains a cheap immortality by carving on the walls of other
public buildings or that of prisoners in the Tower who occupied themselves in this way to
pass away time. In this connexion, it is worth adding that, as the months passed towards
the outbreak of the last war, the scribblings in London lavatories gradually became more
belligerous. This was most notable in the larger conveniences such as those at Hyde Park
Corner, and perhaps represent the folk mind letting loose the dogs of war.
To return to Holborn. I made friends with the attendant while I made the drawing illus-
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