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Baroque, built out of hard stone of an unsympathetic quality, but the front is interesting
with its narthex and trumpeting angels. Seen in the fading light of a grey autumn evening
with the lavatory rails in front, it creates a curious sensation, but under these conditions,
the church is more attractive, a sort of Canaletto-like view strayed somehow into London.)
The lavatory is reached by steep, narrow stairs, and the 'conveniences' inside are of boldly
marked marble in brown and white. A tiled frieze of yellow-green acanthus runs above
the white tile walls. These classical motifs have been made to suit some unusual purposes
since they first saw the light of day, purposes that would have caused some consternation
to the designers of the Periclean age. The Victorians were strong-minded enough not to
bother their heads over incongruous ornament, and made the Victorian lavatory, if not a
thing of beauty, certainly a joy forever. This Brompton one has a mosaic floor with a run-
ning leaf pattern in the border that gives one the feeling of behaving rather too freely in
some corner of the Alhambra or in some delicately glimmering room in old Baghdad.
Other touches that give the place a comfortable period flavour are the cast-iron plates
fixed in the walls, with a hand pointing the way out. I like those pointing Victorian hands,
often showing a nice bit of linen cuff, which showed (or shewed) so many ways to so
many Victorians. They invariably occur in advertisements for patent medicines and cocoa,
where the hand points to a warning against fraudulent imitations. The attendant's room has
the windows covered with that transparent oiled paper in imitation of stained glass, which
was a characteristic invention of the Victorians who were addicted to semblances and sim-
ulations. Over the door is the final touch, a lace curtain - a badge, like the aspidistra, of
conformity and utter respectability.
The cast-iron lavatories of London (I mean those entirely of cast iron, of the type illus-
trated here, drawn in Star Yard, Holborn) are very decorative. This example has an intric-
ate pattern of ornament to offset the starkness of this strictly utilitarian structure, provid-
ing standing room only. The royal coat of arms appears in several of the panels; no doubt,
the manufacturers had a royal warrant for their other productions - greenhouses, perhaps.
Birmingham and the surrounding Black Country was the home of these iron conveniences,
and they are all of them more solid than their slight French counterparts. One can never
hope to see in London the little scene enacted so often in Paris - a man inside the lav-
atory carrying on a conversation with his girlfriend on the outside, a scene at once both
logical and stimulating. There are several of these lavatories remaining in London, most
frequently down dark alleys, lit by the zinc yellow light of a gas lamp, the whole scene be-
ing unchanged from the period of Jack the Ripper and the Houndsditch murders (of which
more in a succeeding chapter), a relic of the days when London policemen had walrus
moustaches and hearts of gold. Probably the greatest aesthetic pleasure is obtained from
the cast-iron urinal at the far end of Cheyne Walk. This also is lit by a ghostly gas lamp,
and behind are the curious assemblage of boats, converted wartime craft, ancient Thames
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