Privy chamber

Campaigners for the Clerkenwell Green toilets are calling on Islington Council to preserve and open the historic underground facility

Last month, a prankster drew attention to Clerkenwell Green’s disused and hoardedup toilets in novel fashion – by putting up fake art captions. In one, it labels the hoardings top be as an artwork called Black on Green and says that rather than be an ‘eyesore’, it has become ‘part of the environment itself’.

The artist, who wishes to remain anonymous, has serious intent. “The toilets have been shut and hoarded for years,” he says. “Although I’m joking, there’s a serious point there. The other day, I heard a film crew complaining about the hoarding. It is an eyesore.”

Now veteran campaigner Ann Pembroke is also calling for the historic underground toilets to be opened. Pembroke, the founder of the Clerkenwell Green Preservation Society, wants the toilets to be restored and the hoardings removed so that they can be revealed in their historic glory.

“These public lavatories were made by the designer George Jennings in the 19th century,” says Pembroke. “I’ve been shown around inside and saw brass plumbing, porcelain fittings, marble slips, Italian tessellated flooring and pine panelling.” These contents are now said to be in storage, adds Pembroke, but the wooden palisade around the site for two years, cuts off views of the 18th century Old Sessions house, now a venue. Worse, Pembroke says there was an attempt to pour cement down the Victorian tiled steps, with a view to preventing access.

It’s a shame, says Pembroke, as the Society’s approach to Islington Council has led to four new heritage-style benches placed beside the toilets. “The lavatories are historic,” she adds. “Jennings was a pioneer who also made underground public lavatories at the Hyde Park Exhibition of the 1850s.”

The toilets have long been a fixture at the Green, with the ‘liberty cap’ placed on their central post during Mayday celebrations.

Previous, the toilets had been on the market for conversion but hadn’t sold. Islington Council acknowledges that the hoardings have been in place for almost two years, and they are there for protection of the site but are “temporary”