Every day thousands of Londoners should bless the name of George Jennings. Few history books will let you into the secret, but Jennings was the Victorian entrepreneur who built London's first public conveniences.

Before the Victorians, Londoners were free and easy as to how and where they relieved themselves, But by the middle of the 19th century, gentility demanded more privacy.

Jennings' coup was to install the loos at the Great Exhibition of 1851. He then suggested building 'halting stations all over London with a small fee for their use - hence the phrase 'to spend a penny'. Sadly, few of these are still with us. One survivor is the urinal in Star Yard, behind the Law Courts, which features the royal coat of arms on several panels. Also still with us - just - is this cast-iron creation (right) which stands outside the disused Con-naught Tavern in Beckton, east London. Its prefabricated panels, ornamental grille, conical roof and iron lamp fittings remind us that spending a penny was once an aesthetic as well as a functional pleasure.

(Photograph omitted)

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