Traveller's tales

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Victorian toilets of Bute: 'jewels in the sanitarian's crown'

Visiting the Victorian Toilets situated right next to the landing point of the ferry from the mainland, puts a whole new slant on the phrase, ‘I’ll just have to pay a visit!’

You should really pay a visit to this ‘jewel in the sanitarian’s crown’ as Lucinda Lambton referred to it in her celebrated, and highly original documentary on the loos of Great Britain – whether Nature calls or not. The chances are that Nature will be given a helping hand anyway, particularly if you aren’t a very good sailor.

The helpful, informed staff inside are helpful in more unconventional ways than you would normally expect from people maintaining public conveniences – they have a lot of pride in their work – and in the place they keep in mint condition, and they are extremely knowledgeable about it.

And for a very good reason; as Lucinda said, this is a jewel – the whole interior is amazing – though the building itself, while being stout enough to stand the rigours of an island winter, is fairly unprepossessing.

Like I said, echoing the sometimes giggling Lucinda, the interior is amazing – it gleams, despite its age – the place was built in 1899 and the urinals and washbasins were installed by Twyfords of Hanley – one of the five towns – centred on Stoke on Trent and the flourishing pottery industry of the last century and the one before that.

The urinals – gleaming white – are ‘Adamants’ – a well known model, apparently, though the significance of the odd name escapes me – perhaps some more enlightened reader will throw some illumination on this.

Even the floor is splendid, with a ceramic mosaic of the crest of the Royal Burgh of Rothesay.

To me, apart from the splendour with which the Victorians relieved themselves, the thing that mostly struck me when I saw them, was their number – obviously reminiscent of a more populous tourism industry in bygone years.

In a similar way, though nothing like as spectacularly, the public conveniences on railway stations in resorts along the Lancashire coast – Morecambe in particular – spell the demise of the British tourist resort – or was it called ‘holiday resort’ back then.

The other thing that struck me in the Victorian toilets of Rothesay, on the island of Bute, was what we have lost, both as a manufacturing nation, and as a civilized race of people.

Few manufacturers from Staffordshire, or anywhere else, would put in so much work, and few corporations would be willing to foot the bill at the end of it.

Sadly, left to its own devices, so to speak, the Victorian edifice wouldn’t last two minutes these days – it would undoubtedly be vandalized – though not by the people of the island, I grant you, and nor by the gentile folk who visit this former popular resort, but by those anonymous ones we all have to ‘thank’ for desecrating all that is good and grand about our island home – be it Scottish, Welsh or English.

Robert L. Fielding

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