Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bristol


 A gentlemen’s to relish

My route to Bath the other day took me around the edge of Bristol. Emboldened by my recent post of an ornate lavatory in Worcester, I decided to seek out an even more interesting example: the late-19th-century gents in the corner of Mina Road Park, in the northern part of Bristol.

The building was made, probably in the 1880s, at the Sun Foundry in Glasgow, a business founded by George Smith in the late 1850s. The Sun Foundry became prolific producers of architectural ironwork, together with such items as drinking fountains and bandstands. They described themselves as ‘Art Metal Workers, Iron Founders and Sanitary Engineers’, so they were clearly well suited to the manufacture of structures like this iron pissoir. They certainly lavished as much attention on its details as they did on projects like ornamental fountains and cast-iron Corinthian columns.
Lovely pierced panels covered with floral ornament line the upper parts of the walls, combining ventilation with decoration. The sprays of flowers, scrollwork motif, and small round finials are similar in design to the terracotta panels on many contemporary buildings. The openwork theme continues in the dome. This is a delicate and intricate network of flowers, leaves, and arabesques.

This tiny gents, practical and elegant, is an asset in the corner of the park, and it was good to see that it has been carefully maintained and painted. It’s not so good inside – the graffiti vandals have been at work – but the view up into the openwork dome, with the resulting view of the sky and breath of fresh air, is uplifting. As in Worcester, this amenity proves that a visit to the lavatory can be interesting, architecturally. It’s a pity the burghers of Bristol did not supply something similar for the ladies.

11 comments:

Hels said...

The pierced floral panels in this ironwork, and the green exterior colour, make the architecture perfect for a garden setting. Since drinking fountains and bandstands are often in garden settings as well, I couldn't think of anything lovelier.. or more suitable.

worm said...

you still see pissoirs exactly like this in France and Germany - and in exactly the same shade of green too - was this design copied from france do you think, or were we first?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: You are right: these green structures do look good in a garden setting – although of course a broad pavement or street corner is probably the most familiar setting for such pissoirs.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Worm: A good question. I invited it by using the French word pissoir. I'm not sure of the answer. I know there were French pissoirs by the 1840s, while I understand public loos to have become common in England after 1851. But the early French pissoirs weren't cylindrical – they were the old open variety, in which the users' heads and legs were visible, with just a modesty screen around the central part of the body. The cylindrical urinals came in later in France, but I'm not sure exactly when – maybe the 1880s, when they were also being introduced in Britain.

calmgrove said...

Though I now live in Wales, this Bristol pissoir is very familiar to me! Looking forward to exploring your other posts.

By the way, I shall be posting a review of your Pocket Guide to English Architecture on my WordPress blog http://wp.me/p2oNj1-QF on 19th April. I'm enjoying it very much.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Calmgrove: Thank you very much. I'm planning one more pissoir post soon!

The Greenockian said...

Very unusual!

James Russell said...

Have lived in Bristol for years and never visited this establishment - now I have a new mission in life!

calmgrove said...

There was, the last time I looked, another one at the top of Blackboy Hill in Clifton, just before you get to the Downs. I wonder if this is the subject of your "other" pissoir post?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Calmgrove: I moved on to Bath for my next post, but I'm aware that there are other interesting conveniences in Bristol, and hope to return, at some point, to make further investigations. Over the years I've done a handful of other posts on Bristol, on more conventional buildings - if you're interested in the city, these can be found by typing 'Bristol' into the search box on the top left of the blog's main page.

Philip Wilkinson said...

James: Bristol has so much interesting architecture!