Friday 21 June 2013

Filthy Impurities

Sir - "They order this matter better in France," observed Sterne, and never was there a more forcible illustration of the remark of the sarcastic sentimentalist than can be witnessed in Trafalgar-square, which you but a day or two ago, with justice, pronounced one of the handsomest squares in Europe. On the contemplated throwing open of St. Paul's, it was objected to by the witty Sidney Smith, on the ground that the public would make this superb and sacred edifice a grand "cabinet d'aisance;" and already has Trafalgar-square been polluted by some brutes in human shape, and urinals are being there formed in every direction, and this without any plea of necessity, as in proper places behind the National Gallery the wants of nature are duly provided against, without any offence to common decency. Nevertheless, dirty boys, besides, are suffered to disfigure the reservoirs, and fill them with orange peel, wood, dirty rags, and paper. Meanwhile, the police, whom we pay so well, are idly looking on, or engaged in the elegant employment of ogling the women. Could not a couple of sentries be spared from a place where they are of no use to this sitaution, "where they might d some service?" You, Sir, have shown that you possessed the power to pull down one Ministry and set up another, and through the medium of the all-powerful press the life of an unfortunate woman has lately been saved from the gallows; do, therefore, raise your voice as public monitor against the noble arena formed in honour of England's immortal hero becoming a complete eyesore, and the common receptacle for all the most filthy impurities, instead of being an ornament to the metropolis.

    I remain,

The Times, 6 May 1844


  1. So did people actually use St Paul's as a toilet, or did Sidney Smith just say they would? I've heard it as an example of the way religion fell into disuse in the mid-18th century.

  2. Very skeptical about this, having read the original quote, from inquiry about opening the building more widely to the public, to which the church authorities were opposed. Smith, questioned closed, said he had seen 'the marks' of such abuse, and implied prayer-books torn up for toilet paper. Hardly likely, I think, this was an endemic problem inside the building - more likely some unfortunate incident which he extrapolated for effect. Admittedly, however, this is only my instinct. Outside, yes, people frequently urinated against walls and in churchyards.