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Cabbie’s Curios: Victorian Relief

Cliffords Inn

Just off of Fleet Street,tucked between Chancery Lane and St Dunstan in the West church runs a little alley named ‘Clifford’s Inn Passage’.

Northern entrance to Clifford's Inn Passage

Northern entrance to Clifford’s Inn Passage

Now overlooked by streams of commuters this quiet thoroughfare once held a greater purpose in that it formed the main entrance to Clifford’s Inn of Chancery, one of several institutions which, until the 17th century, provided a centre for training barristers.

Clifford's Inn hall picture in September 1934, shortly before its demolition (image: London Illustrated News)

Clifford’s Inn hall pictured in September 1934, shortly before its demolition (image: London Illustrated News)

By the 19th century the lane leading to this forgotten relic had morphed into a dark and claustrophobic little haunt… exactly the sort of place where a Londoner, having made merry in the surrounding multitude of taverns and gin palaces, would drunkenly stagger for a pee.

'Sunday in London'... debauched London in 1834 by George Cruickshank

‘Sunday in London’… the debauched capital in 1834 by George Cruickshank

Back then of course London’s sanitary arrangements were grim to say the least and folk relieved themselves wherever they could– especially in the city’s labyrinth of alleyways which provided some discretion.

Clifford's Inn Passage, 2015

Clifford’s Inn Passage, 2015

More often than not though the walls forming such passageways were private property, the owners of which did not take too kindly to having their cherished brickwork eroded by copious flows of steaming urine.

'London Bathing Season'; cartoon from 'Punch' magazine, 1859

‘London Bathing Season’; cartoon from ‘Punch’ magazine, 1859

One way to overcome this problem was to bolt a deflector shield to the wall; an angled length of metal which would guide pollutions into the gutter rather than the grouting.

An old Victorian urine deflector running along Clifford's Inn Passage

An old Victorian urine deflector running along Clifford’s Inn Passage

During the Victorian era such shields were a common sight across London but, as public lavatories were built and sanitation in general improved, they began to disappear.

A somewhat ironic sigh attached to a door within Clifford's Inn Passage

A somewhat ironic sign attached to a door within Clifford’s Inn Passage

The sturdy urine deflectors on Clifford’s Inn Passage are the best remaining example of these early sanitary attempts… just make sure you don’t mistake them for a bench!

Please note, 'View From the Mirror' and 'Blackcablondon.net' does not endorse relieving one's self here...there are perfectly adequate facilities a short walk away, right outside the Royal Courts of Justice!

Please note, ‘blackcablondon.net’ does not endorse relieving one’s self here…there are perfectly adequate facilities a short walk away, right outside the Royal Courts of Justice (although they do charge 50p for the privilege!)

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11 responses

  1. Very cool story. Thank you.

  2. Thank the stars for the arrival of skips on London’s streets. The perfect height!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. I also follow this site, which you might like.
    https://thestreetnames.wordpress.com/
    Great snippets about London streets and history.
    Cheers, Pete.

  4. Or go INSIDE the Royal Courts of Justice and take a leak for free.

  5. “which would guide pollutions into the gutter”

    I was hoping you were going to say guide it back to the culprit

    1. I imagine that did happen from time to time 😉

  6. Endorse it or not, I bet it still sees a steady “stream” of use on a Friday and Saturday night. 😉

  7. Really interesting thank you! Would you be able to tell me what year this image was used in the Illustrated London news as I would like to mention it in a piece of work I am writing!

    1. Hi Zoe, I believe it was taken in 1934.

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