Thursday, 23 July 2009

Piccadilly Circus, W1

Originally Published in Time Out London, July 23-29, 2009

The original toilets in Piccadilly Circus station, though now closed and replaced by some impressively clean and modern facilities, were to many people the archetypal London public toilets due to their combination of appalling sanitary conditions, used heroin needles and peculiar grunting noises coming from the cubicles, and tourists from all over the world visited them to see a slice of authentic London life. For many years, school trips would include a visit to them in their itineraries and children used to enjoy collecting the used needles they found on the floor until health and safety-obsessed killjoys put a stop to the practice in the mid 1990s.

  On a state visit to the toilets in 1998 Prince Charles praised their 'wonderfully quaint and authentic charms' and when their closure was announced in 2001 he led a campaign to keep them open by attempting to have them declared a World Heritage Site; the closure went ahead, but many people felt that a part of London's history had been lost forever. However, Prince Charles, always keen to preserve Britain's heritage, bought the original fixtures and fittings in 2002 and had a life-size replica of the toilets made, which can now be enjoyed as part of the Buckingham Palace tour.


  1. I assume all of it is untrue, except for the bit about appalling sanitary conditions, used needles and strange grunting noises?

  2. I'm afraid that since I crossed the line that divides truth and fiction I no longer know where it lies. But for the record, the truth behind this piece is that the old toilets at Piccadilly were notoriously foul and the best example of an old-school London lavatory, where needles could indeed be found on the floor. And whilst I haven't been able to confirm if Prince Charles did buy up the old fittings, I'm informed that there's an elaborate Victorian public lavatory on display at the V&A that was originally in Holborn.