Wednesday 29 August 2012

A Populous Wilderness

I can't keep away from toilets at the moment. Here's a ground-breaking plea for ladies (and men's) toilets, in full, from 1879 (referred to my previous post on the Ladies Sanitary Assocation):-


by James Stevenson, M.D. Medical Officer of Health for Paddington

The Ladies Sanitary Association, having addressed a letter to the Vestry of Paddington respecting the provision by the Parish of Water-closet accommodation for Women, the same was referred by the Sanitary and Public Health Committee to the Medical Officer of Health for consideration and report.

The subject of Latrine accommodation for women in the metropolis, if it be deemed one which admits of a practical solution, suggests three main questions for consideration:-

1. Is such accommodation necessary?
2. Is it the business of a Vestry to provide it?
3. How can it best be supplied?

1. As to its necessity. - London is the largest city in the world, and in size and in population it is yearly increasing. The natural increase of its population, from the excess of births over deaths, is little short of 50,000 a year, or nearly 1,000 every week. As this annual addition does not arise from immigration, but naturally follows from the self-multiplying power of its inhabitants, it is consequently liked to be maintained. In a word, London possessed and retains within its own borders a population increasingly capable of ading largely to the number of its inhabitants and, with the need of more house accommodation, of extending its area.

The population of London, exclusive of the outer ring, is estimated at 3,620,868 of whom 1,694,741 are males, and 1,926,127 are females. The estimated population of Greater London, which embraces the suburrban districts, with an area of 698 square miles, is 4,534,040 With its 1,500 miles of roads, London already extends from Fulham to Woolwich and from Hampstead to Norwood and in 1871 contained 417,767 inhabited dwellings. As from five to six thousand homes are annually added to the metropolis, ever lengthening streets of brick and mortar form new neighbourhoods and the distances from the principal thoroughfares of business and pleasre are increased,

Great, however, as has been the growth of London during the last thirty years, the causes which have contributed to that growth are still in operation, as well as others of more recent origin. Railways and steamboats, which have directly or indirectly supplied much of the impetus to the accelerated rate of movement observable in every sphere of human activity, have not yet done all that they are capable of doing in the way of adding to the metropolis and of revolutionizing society. Agriculture is yearly becoming a less profitable occupation, anbd more and more the recreative employment of monied commercial men, who, having found profit in business, now seek business in pleasure. Commerce and manufacture, though the application of steam power, have enormously increased; and whilst they have added largely to the population of some provincial towns and cities, they have also created new and important commercial and industrial centres.

It is said that half London does not sleep in London. During the day time only it is the gathering ground of the people. Comparatively deserted during the night, it is betwixt sunrise and sunset that multitudes flock to the metropolis. That hundreds of thousands of pesons in the metropolis are compelled to live at considerable distances from the sphere of their daily employment, and are thus subjected to many discomforts and positive evils, besides the expenditure of time, of money, and of energy in going to and from theirt work, is a fact which, however much for some reason it may be regretted, should for present purposes be distinctly recognised. It is an inevitable condition of life in London, necessitated by circumstances, and making the conveniences in question a metropolitan want.

It is alleged that there are in this country more than three millions of women supporting themselves by their own exertions*

* The number of women enggaged in the various industries, as returned by the Census of 1871, plus 7 per cent for the increase of population appears to be as follows:-
Under 20  . . . .  .1,219,000
20 and upwards ... 2,469,000
total 3,688,000 (Prof. LEONE LEVI.)

and with a growing population, and the greater struggle to live it is certain that, unless they are to starve, much paid labour must continue to be done by them. The gross earnings of the female population of the United Kingdom already exceed £100,000,000 a year*

* The total amount of gross earnings of the women of the working classes of the United Kingdom under a condition of an average amount of employment and at present rates, I ascertained to be:
Under 20 . .  . . . . £29million
20 and upwards ... £84million
total £113 million (Prof. LEONE LEVI)

and with increasing ability entitling their labour to a better reward, it is not improbable that for a time women will continue to receive a higher proportionate rate of increase of wages than men, as has been the case during the past few years - a fact specially noticeable in the sums now paid to educationalists, to schoolmistresses, to domestic servants, and to milliners and dressmakers.

The census of 1871 showed that in the cpaital of the empire nearly every one of the multifarious forms of laobur had its female representatives. Of the 1,731,109 females of all ages then residing in it, about one half were returned as belonging to the domestic class, comprising wives and domestic servants engaged in household duties, less than one third were scholars and children of no occupation; and, with the exception of abbout 30,000 who were described as gentlewomen or annuitants, the remainder, numbering upwards of 300,000 were engagaed in professional, commercial, agricultural or industrial pursuits. From recent returns is apepars that there are 143,341 women enrolled in the trade societies of the metropolis alone, many of whom, as well as thousands additional similarly employed who do not belong to any society, have daily to walk long distances to and from their workshops.

The number of women of the wage-earning classes engagted in the various ways above indicated must now be very much greater, as the occupations which furnish subsistence to women are more numerous and since 1871 the estimated increase of the population considerably exceeds one third of a million. This throng of women, whose avocations of necessity dailyy take them into the streets, is increased by the much larger number who go out of doors for the purposes of shopping, or for the sake of their health, or for recreation; and it is further supplemented by the crowds of women who come to town for the day by river, road, and rail, and by the thousands of female visitors from the more distant parts of the country, and from abroad. Of the number of women who daily pass along our streets, I have seen no computation. The actual number of persons carried during the year 1878 by the Metropolitan and by the Metropolitan District Railways was 88,217,536;*

The Metropolitan : 58,807,038
The Metropolitan District 29,410,498
total 88,217,536

by the tramcars 54,361,147

The North Metropolitan Tramways Company     28,569,639
The London Tramways Company 19,732,528
The London District Tramways Company  6,058,980
Total  54,361,147

and the estimated number by the omnibuses 74,719,060

The London General Omnibus Company 56,039,295
Estimated number carried by other Omnibuses 18,679,765
Total 74,719,060

giving a total of 217,297,743 for the year.

It will be conceded that a large number of these passengers were women, and that they had to leave their homes for a longer or shorter period; whilst they again were outnumbered by the crowds of their own sex who did not use any form of conveyance. The number of passengers poured into the streets from steamboats, omnibuses, tramways, underground and over-ground railways, as well as from the cabs and carriages used by wealthier citizens, is less than the stream of pedestrians who avail themselves of none of these means of locomotion.

No longer satisfied with mere accomplishments, the mind of the nation, moreover, has undergone a change with regard to the education of the wives and mothers of the next generation. The demand has been made and been admitted, that the resources of the Universities and the benefits derivable from academical education, which hitherto have been exclusively enjoyed by men, shall henceforth be shared by women. In fact, such are the exigencies of the day, so great is the supposed necessity in the world's onward progress for the utilization of all available forces, so urgent are the calls to the youth of both sexes to be up and doing in order to earn a livelihood, and more particularly to insure success in their respective callings, that society, recognising no distinction of sex, is no longer disposed to tolerate those barriers in respect of education which have hitherto prevented women of the middle ranks from actively engaging in the struggles of life. Whilst thus exemplifying and accentuating the doctrine of the survival of the fittest, women are becoming with their more complete equipment the helpmates as well as the helpmeets of men, and are so ensuring for themselves anothher title to our respect - that of being, in their several spheres, efficient working women.

As a consequence of all this material and mental rearrangement, and of the close relation between town and country in these days, the number of female workers is likely to increase; and with the prospect of the more remunerative employment of women, it is not impossible that men may ere long have to compete with tem in channels of business, and of professional life, from which the latter have hitherto been excluded.

Thus the facilities for travelling, the creation of new industrries, the enlargement of old ones, and the spread of education, both general and technical, have, together with other causes, the most imperious being the necessity to live, induced among large masses of the population migratory habits unknown to their forefathers. One very obvious result of all these social changes and movements is, that young men and women are leaving the rural districts in quest of employment, whilst the more ambitious of them gravitate towards London.

The preceding facts and figures cannot be deemded irrelevant or unimportant, as the circumstances which they disclose, if thoroughly understood, are, or should be, the cardinal factors in determining the question now under consideration.

Whilst they reveal the daily needs and conditions of metropolitan life, which are altogether different from those of smaller communities, they at the same time justify the adoption and emphasize the necessity of exceptional measures. No one would think of proposing latrine accommodation for women in a town where most of the inhabitants are known to one another, and are within an easy distance of their own homes. London is a populous wilderness, and nowhere is the sense of solitude at times more keenly felt. London is the heart of the world; and whilst its pulsations are felt at the extremities of civilization, at its base are growths and chronic adhesions, and other abnormal conditions, which require courage as well as skill in order to their successful, and altogether, peculiar treatment.

Upon the medical aspect of the question it is not necessary to enlarge. Of this aggregate of moving feminine humanity referred to, of all ages, and belonging to every grade of society, it is sufficient to wsay that every unit of it has in common with men the same physical necessities. For the maintenance of life, it is not more necessary to take food and drink, than subsequently to get rid of what the system cannot appropriate. The one organic necessity involves the other. They are correlated. It is a mistake to suppose that there are such differences in the female organization, that these primal requirements of physical being can be disregarded by women with less suffering than by men. There are periods and conditions peculiar to sex, when latrine accommodation would be specially convenient; and as at such times the requirements of nature are apt to be more urgent and more frequent, women would be spared much unnecessary mental and physical distress, were the accommodation provided.

It is true that by the exercise of the will we can control for a time the muscular openings which serve as inlets or outlets to the body; and that we thus have the power of resisting to a considerable extent the calls of nature, when inconvenient. This power is not possessed by infants, or young children, or by the aged, or the infirm. But such resistance, which circumstances too frequently impose upon women, if habitually practised, is sure to be followed by injurious results. Apoplexy is an every day consequence of constipation. Much of the cerebral and cardiac disturbance of the present day - and it is alleged to be on the increase - is probably due to the same cause. It is certina that almost every form of disease, whether local or constitutional, is likely to be aggravated by constipation; and that, whether it be the cause or effect of other diseases, it is sure to occur if the evacuation of the bowels, from choice or from necessity, be persistently delayed. It should also be borne in mind that diseases of a grave character, induced by constipation, are apt to continue their course independent and unchecked, long after the cause may have ceased. The same remarks apply, in great measure, to retention of urine, which is the other condition most likely to arise from the want of the provision in question. Again, persons of both sexes and of all ages suffer at times fro diarrhoea and irritable bladder, and must be greatly inconvenienced by the want of the required accommodation.

There is abundant testimony from medical men and others, available if necessary, to prove that this is no imaginary want, the creation of sentimentalism, but that it is really a great and growing one, which calls for the prompt and careful consideration of those who business it is to make provision for it, and at the same time deserves their beneficent efforts seeing that it is experienced by those whose natural reserve upon such a subject, and whose positions in life for the most part prevent them from making themselves heard. Modesty suggests that nurses should have the opportunity of privately performing thier duties to their little charges. Ladies who are interested in the welfare of those below them in the social scale are ready to declare that poor women have often told them, with tears in their eyes, of the agony and shame they have endured in circumstances which it is not necessary to particularise. Sir James McGarel Hogg has recently expressed himself as quite alive to the want, which he considers to be a real and a serious one. "There is no doubt," the Lancet has remarked, "that the establishment of retiring rooms for ladies will prove a great boon." To obtain this much-needed accommodation, some ladies go to restaurants and order refreshments which they do not require, and others to milliners' and confectioners' shops. It may be safely assumed that the money thus spent, even when it is only a few pence, cannot always be conveniently spared.

In the foregoing observations, if their full meaning and significance be thoughtfully considered, it must be candidlyy admitted that the conditions are shown, which make latrine accommodation a necessity, as it also the extent of that necessity; and that, in the nature of things, until it is provided, it must continue a great and urgent present and prospective want; and that, with the ever enlarging area of the metropolis, there must be a proportionately increasing demand for such accommodation, which it will at length be impossible to resist.

The question next arises-

II. Is it the business of a Vestry to provide such accommodation?

The answer is supplied by the Public Health Act of 1848* [*"And be it enacted that the Local Board of Health may, if they think fit, provide and maintain, in proper and convenient situations, water-closets, privies, and other similar conveniences for public accommodation, and defray the necessary expenses out of the district rates to be levied under the Act." 11&12 Vic.,57 Sect. c.63] and by the Act 18&19 Victorian 1855.* [*"It shall be lawful for every Vestry and District Board to provide and maintain urinals, water-closets, privies and like conveniences, in situations which they deem such accommodation to be required, and to supply the same with water, and to defray the expense thereof, and any damage occasioned to any person by the erection thereof, and the expense of keeping the same in good order, as expenses of sewerage, are to be defrayed under this act."  88 sect. 120 c.]

In Glasgow, Nottingham,* [* In Glasgow there are three Female Lavatories, which the Sanitary Inspector reports were used during 34 weeks of last year by 7981 persons. In Nottingham there is one lavatory for females, with five closets and one wash-stand on the ground-floor, for the use of which one penny is charged. Upstairs there are four wash-hand basins with additional toilet articles, for the use of these two-pence is charged. During the year ending 30th December 1878, 1040 females used the lavatories, and 18,649 the closets, at a total charge of £82 2s 11d. Dr. Seaton, the Medical Officer of Health for Nottingham says, "In speaking of the success of public closets, I am more especially lookingto the very sustantial sanitary advantages which have resulted from their establishment. They are generally regarded as a great public boon."] and some other provincial towns, and in Paris, and other continental cities, the conveniences in question already exist; thus furnishing presumptive evidence of their necessity, and of the practicability as wellas of the great propriety of establishing them in London. To prevent obstruction of the public pavements, the owners of omnibuses might fairly be required to provide at their offices, and other recognised stopping places, waiting rooms for their customers, as is done in Paris, and by the Tramway companies of the metropolis. To these shelters, necessary in our variable climate, closets might with advantage be added. It would be unreasonable to expect the Railway authorities in the metropolis who are already hampered by the want of room at their different stations, or Omnibus companies, to provide accommodation free of charge for the general public. If the former would extend the existing accommodation to other than their passengers, and thus do their part towards satisfying a want which they have helped to create; and if the latter would provide it for their customers in both instances at a fixed charge, the necessities of a large section of the public would be met more particularly in this parish, in which there are so many railway stations. But inasmuch as there are railway stations in some parts only of the metropolis, and some of them have not accessible waiting-rooms, there remains the multitude to whom public closets are a necessity, whichonly a Vestry or District Board can be expected to supply. Of that multitude, whilst many are poor women who minister to the wants of others in a parish and therefore deserve some consideration, not a few are ratepayers; and inasmuch as women, by the payment of rates, contribute to the parochial funds, justice demands that they should share the conveniences procurable by the expenditure of those funds.

Many vestries recognise the need of conveniences for women, but do not see their way to carry out the recommendations of their Medical Officers of Health in the matter. Hitherto, whenever attention has been directed to the question, it has been sympathetically discussed, and has afterwards been quietly shelved. Surely the time has come, when the problem should be solved. Its solution, which must happen sooner or later, does not involve any great expenditure; and that expenditure, if judicious, would in all probability be amply remunerative. The closets at the Waterloo Station yield £1000 each year, and those at Cannon Street and Charing Cross each a still larger sum. Much will depend upon the completeness of the arrangements and upon the management and care subsequently bestowed upon them.

Intimately connected with this question is that of urinal and water accommodation for men. In the matter of the first mentioned, the Londoners of today are much worse off than those of preceding generations, Owing to the removal of the conveniences which formerly existed outside every public house, there is nowadays, with a greatly increased demand, a greatly diminished supply. Here again, the remark holds good that publicans cannot fairly be expected to provide accommodation for the general public. It is enough for them to meet the wants of their own customers. In the parish of Paddington, with an area of 1,280 acres, with its 44 miles of roads, and with a population of 110,000 inhabitants, which is augmented during the day by tens of thousands of persons passing to and from no fewer than six railway stations, and in close proximity to others, there are only eight public urinals. As a general rule, at every cab rank there should be a urinal, with W.C. accommodattion of two kinds, and for two classes, in charge of an attendant during the day, and of a policeman during the night. The  convenience of this arrangement must be obvious to everyone. Some years have elapsed since a Sub-Committee of the Vestry adopted Dr. Hardwicke's recommendations and reported that at least 5 more urinals, as well as W.C. accommodation for both sexes, should be provided. Suitable sites were selected, and other valuable suggestions were offered by my predecessor, which it is not necessary to recapitulate.  Little, however, has been done in the matter of the one, and nothing in that of the other.

Respecting that accommodation, the question remains:-

III. How can it best be supplied?

The nature of the accommodation is understood. Besides closets, there should be a retiring room, in which children could be attended to, and another supplied with wash-hand basins and other toilet requisites.  To meet these requirements in the metropolis, in some instances special erections would be necessary, in others existing buildings could be reconstructed and utilised. In some parishes waiting rooms might perhaps be conveniently placed within the precincts of the workhouse, or of almshouses; or they mighht be attached to the public baths and washhouses, or other buildings which belong to to the parish. In the form of lodges at the entrances to parks, of public gardens, of public recreation grounds, of cemeteries, of burial grounds, and of bridges, there will be found suitable situations. In some streets there are recessess or small vacant plots of ground, which might be turned to account. At all churches and chapel necessary accommodation should be provided for worshippers. This is done by the Presbyterian, and to some extent, by other denominations.

Unless in the form of lodges when more space would, in general, be available, the closets should be in the rear of a building, and on a level with the street, thus avoiding stairs, and facilitating ingress and egress. The yard containing the closets, and admitting of their ventilation, shoul be covered in with glass, as at the railway stations, in order ot keep it always dry, and to secure privacy, as well as to prevent anything unsightly to the neighbours on either side. On the ground floor should be a private waiting room, and also a room for the accommodation of nurses; upstairs there might be a lavatory, with hot and cold water, for the use of which a separate charge could be made.

It is imperative that the provision made should be of two kinds, and for two classes - for those who are willing, and for those who are unable, to pay for the accommodcation. It is only reasonable that those who directly contribute to the cost and maintenance of public conveniences should have better accommodation, if it be attainable, than those who do not pay anything. Moreover, women of the middle class will not be willing to company, for however short a time, with a promiscuous crowd, even of their own sex.

The first-class closets should be lined with white glazed tiles, the doors having a patent registering lock to show how often the closet has been used. The free closets should be lined with dark glazed bricks. A common stoneware glazed pan, with flushing rim and S trap fixed to the neck of the pan above the floor line, would probably be the best arrangement. The control of the water supply might, possibly with advantages, be let in the hands of the care-taker, whose duty it would be to examine and to flush the closets every time they were used.

At first the closets might be ranged on opposite sides of the yard, which should bge divided lengthways, by a stout glass screen, and afterwards if necessary they could be placed in a row back to back down the middle. Separate drainage should be provided, for the two classes of closets, lest one or other of them should at any time be blocked.

"Public lavatories for women," or "Waiting rooms for women," or by whatever name they may be designated, should have separate entrances, marked 1st and 2nd class, the latter leading to the free closets. Subject to frequent inspection on the part of the Sanitary Authorities, they must be under the constant care of a reliable woman, whose duty it would be, to keep them scrupulously clean, to preserve order, and to acount for the money received from those who pay for the accommodation.

The buildings might be made readily distinguishable by a coloured lamp, and should be situated in the main lines of traffic, or within sight of them; such being, indicated by the omnibus routes. If they are placed in too prominent situations, in the middle of the streets, as has been suggested - like the cabman's shelter - or next door to a public house, or if they are hidden in back streets, they will be of little use, or will be frequented by those chiefly who will find a pleasure in making them additional nuisances to the parish.

Whether the premises required by a Vestry for the contemplated conveniences should be leasehold or freehold, whether they should include a shop for the sale exclusively of articles of feminine attire, or a cloak room, or a tea room, or a room supplied with newspapers, and writing materials, or for any other purposes, such as a servants' registry &c. are questions which must be determined by the different circumstances of different localities.

In Paddington the principal lines of traffic are the Edgware and Uxbridge Roads, which on two sides form the boundaries of the parish; and Praed Street, Harrow Road, Bishop's Road, and Westbourne grove, by which it may be said to be intersected. To these thoroughfares all others in the parish converge; and in them, or in close proximity to them, these conveniences should be placed. Suitable places for waiting rooms might be found, within sigh of the Edgware Road, in Star Street, or Titchborne Street; in the Uxbridge Road, at the entrances to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens; in Harrow Road, at Paddington Green and at the Workhouse; and for the accommodation of persons, when in the neighbourhood of Bishop's road and of Westbourne Grove, in Pickering Place, or at the Public Baths and Washhouses in Queen's Road.

In certain parts of the country, primitive habits are sitll practised, and the calls of nature are obeyed sub frigido Jove. Water closets, cattle troughs, drinking fountains and other similar contrivances are the expression of an advanced civilization. Is it too much to ask, that the Parish of Paddington, which claims a place in the forefront of that advance, should in a spirit of honourable rivalry, show to other localities, less richly endowed, how, not only to its own parishioners, but to all who wait upon its wants, every reasonable obligation can best be discharged? Such a rivalry in its inception, in its progress, and in its results, would be alike creditable to the parish and advantageous to the country.

In legislative matters, parochial, municipal, or parliamentary, the wisdom of statesmanship is seen in the prompt adoption of measuresbased upon a just appreciation present necessities, and upon a correct estimate of future proababilities.

Medical Officer of Health for Paddington

March 1879


  1. But I thought women didn't have jobs till the 1970s... oh, that was /middle-class/ women.

  2. I love everything about Victorian London, thanks for feeding my Neo-Victorian addiction! I nominated you for a lovely blogger award.

  3. This amused me no end. How awful to have to admit that ladies have to go to the toilet! I particularly liked the reference to apoplexy being caused by constipation and all manner of other dreadful things. Keep up the good work.
    Cheryl Sharpe (Closet Victorian)