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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!