Saturday, 30 October 2010

The White Palace

There are lots of catalysts for nostalgia and one that I have previously neglected, nay, ignored totally is the Gents conveniences.

When I was a lad public toilets were all over the place; you almost tripped over them in every town centre and at major crossroads. Admittedly there were very few motorway services in those days, mainly because there were no motorways. Roadside cafes with a jukebox and a knife and fork chained to the side of your table and a plate of lovely fatty chips cooked in beef dripping... I still feel the same way I did when I first saw an advert for Spry Crisp and Dry cooking oil... why on earth would anyone want dry chips?!? To judge by many public eateries these days the successful chip should be little more than a crispy shell with a hint of mashed potato inside - WRONG!!!

But, forgive me for wandering off subject - let's move to the opposite end of the digestive tract for our topic...

I seem to remember quite some years ago that a photographer had gone on a mission of taking photos of Gents toilets because the majority of them were being knocked down and replaced with office blocks - "'Ere Cheryl, what's that funny smell near the coat stand?"

In fact I remember that the photographer in question was a woman, though I'm unable to recall her name or the name of the resultant book which I'm sure would have been of the nostalgic wallowing opportunity - if the subject topic and wallowing are allowed to reside in the same entry...

What made Gents toilets so architecturally and aesthetically pleasing was the well-designed urinal. There were loads of Armitage Shanks white mediocre ones - as I have to class this otherwise fine example of the White Palace - yes, you see where the title of the piece comes from?

But many were of coloured stone, green, grey-blue, marbled, different stones used to great effect and with loving artistic finials, separators and splash-backs, oops, sorry...

Anyway, this example comes from a railway hotel - the Royal in York actually, where I happened to be for work the other week. Ah... I can hear the friends now... "Why do you go about photographing toilets?!?"

Yes, but just look at that flooring! Does it not fill you with delight that someone should have gone to so much trouble to lay down mosaic designs on something destined to fulfil such a basic function? With so many public toilets having disappeared because the authorities consider that Sainsburys and the like will furnish their stores with public conveniences, I should devote myself to a survey, flashgun in hand. Ah! Sorry! er... no... I... [THUMP!]


  1. Hi John, the doyenne of the gentleman's public convenience, who escapes your memory, is that well known eccentric and toff,Lady Lucinda Lambton - wife of the former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. What a name!

  2. Brill! Cheers Alex! I seem to remember there may even have been a TV programme about this - or it may just have been a slot on Nationwide or its ITV equivalent.


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