So I told you that last Saturday I went on a very unusual tour of Bloomsbury. I met Hannah through the Network of Nice, as she was looking to meet people while visiting London and when she said she was planning to go on The London Loo Tour, I knew I had to tag along!
As their slogan says, this is not your ‘bog standard’ London tour. Instead of snapping selfies in front of Big Ben and learning the history of Buckingham Palace, your friendly guide will take you around a London neighbourhood to learn all about, you guessed it, loos.
London Loo Tours was started by American expat Rachel after finishing her Theatre Studies degree in London and becoming one of the first Graduate Entrepreneur Visa recipients.
And while it’s certainly unconventional, this was a surprisingly entertaining and informative way to spend a couple of hours wandering around Bloomsbury (Rachel also offers tours of Waterloo and Portabello Road).
From the history of public sanitation to how access (or lack thereof) to public toilets has close links to issues of class and gender, I never knew there was so much one could learn about loos! We even had the chance to peek inside some of London’s most historical and picturesque toilets.
Above are the gentlemen’s toilets in the Princess Louise – one of London’s former gin palaces, which was recently restored to all of its former glory – complete with original tiling and marble urinals!
And while women historically women have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to having any public toilets whatsoever, the lush ladies facilities at the Knights Templar pub in Chancery Lane (pictured below) go a far way in making up for it. Yes, you can even lounge around on the sofas rather than waiting in a ghastly queue.
I don’t want to give away all of her secrets, but here are a few of my favourite things I learned:
The term ‘loo’ came into use after being shortened from “gardyloo” – an English warning cry used before emptying their chamber pots from windows into the streets (actually a mispronunciation of the French “garde à l’eau!” meaning “look out for the water!”)
The City of London has a Community Toilet Scheme, which means that the borough pays pubs and restaurants to use their toilets. So if you see one of their stickers in a window, you can waltz right in and down to the toilets without even pretending you’re going to meet a friend or buy a drink.
Sadly Rachel must leave the UK when her visa expires in November and the tours will end. So if you’re up for a bit of toilet talk, be sure to book in before 19 November and use promo code “thelaughingmedusa” for a cheeky 15% discount. You can tell the loo lady I sent you!
If you can’t make it in time, Rachel hopes to continue the tour with new guides and an audio version will be available from the end of November, so just keep an eye on her website.
Now I’m just waiting for some of my new loo learning to come up at a pub quiz or on University Challenge!
What’s the quirkiest tour you’ve ever gone on? And what hidden corners of London should I visit next?