Caversham Public Convenience

Edwardian Toilets

Edwardian public toilets from tramstop

  • The toilet block was originally located near a tramstop in Caversham, Berkshire.  It was put up in 1906.
  • It is made from decorative panels slotted into cast-iron poles which were made at the Saracen Foundry of Walter MacFarlane & Co in Glasgow.
  • The building was closed from 1980 and Reading Borough Council were unsure what to do with it.  It was moved to the Museum in 1985.
  • Many of the fittings, including wash-basins, urinals and WC bowls, are original.   The Museum stocks the toilets with traditional carbolic soap.
  • The toilets were used for filming a murder scene in the television program Grantchester.

Things to do:

  • You can see the penny fee slots on the cubicle doors which inspired the phrase “spend a penny”!
  • Listen for the sound effects of trams, horses, carts and the general sounds that would have been heard outside the toilets during the Edwardian period.
  • Use our carbolic soap, the type of soap that would have been used during the early 1900s.

History and Construction

The toilets were constructed in 1906, originally for use by the passengers on the tram, which terminated at Caversham Bridge.The component parts were manufactured at the foundry of Walter McFarlane & Co., Possilpark, Glasgow. Most of the sections can be seen in their catalogue of 1880, but the building as a whole appears to be custom built. The toilets were built due to a lack of sanitary conveniences in the town. The plans for toilets at Caversham were submitted in October 1904. The Building would be of ornamental ironwork providing 3 WCs in the Ladies, and 3WCs and 8* urinals stalls in the Gents, with apartments for attendants in each. (* Only 7 were in fact put in) The building was purchased for £301 in 1906, and cost £750 to erect. The conveniences were opened on 4th June 1906, and were open from 6 am until 11.45 pm.

The toilets had been abandoned for some time when the Museum came to dismantle them, They had lost most of their splendor and were frequently vandalised. Finding the best way to dismantle the building was largely by trial and error; removing individual panels was abandoned, being too destructive and too time consuming, in favour of removing complete wall sections. The toilets were dismantled by volunteers, helped by members of the Berkshire Industrial Archaeology Group. They were dismantled at weekends from 5th August – 8th December 1985; a total of 27 working days. Many of the panels were damaged beyond repair and so had to be re-cast.

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