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By Stewart Emmens on

For Your Convenience?

Street sign for urinal ('urinoir')
Sign indicating a public urinal ('urinoir') in Bruges, Belgium (Stewart Emmens 2010)

In Britain, closure of public toilets has become a cause célèbre in recent years. Such facilities first appeared in numbers following the Public Health Act of 1848. But many of these older sites and their modern counterparts – regularly vandalised and expensive to maintain – have closed their doors. Yet while these often substantial buildings still survive, albeit boarded up or changed in use, most of the old simple public urinals have long gone. 

This is less true in other parts of Europe. Despite the removal of many open urinals (aka ‘pissoirs’), they can still be found.  During my recent holiday in Belgium, referred to previously, these humble structures were occasionally sighted.

Street urinal ('urinoir')
Old street urinal in Bruges, Belgium (Stewart Emmens 2010)

This is the street ‘urinoir’ in Bruges indicated by the sign at the top of this post. Like most earlier public toilets they were built for the use of men only, but unlike traditional facilities provided in Britain, privacy is limited.

Urinal next to church
Urinal alongside a church in Langemark, Belgium (Stewart Emmens, 2010)

Similarly, this is the ‘W.C’ next to the church in the Belgian town of Langemark. I must admit when approaching it, in need, I assumed the door was round the back. There was no door… just the other side of the wall. I’m not sure where this leaves desperate female churchgoers.  

While I’ll put my expectations of an enclosed room down to cultural conditioning, things in Britain have and are changing. A bit.

Portable urinal
Portable 'four man' urinal unit in Bruges, Belgium (Stewart Emmens, 2010)

This final example is also from Bruges. But it could be from London’s West End or other British streets where such portable open urinals are laid on for late night crowds. Coupled with more elaborate offerings like the Urilift, they are a partial replacement for the lost facilities. But, as with an earlier generation of public urinals, they are for the convenience of men only.