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Excuse me, are you taking the pissoir?

PUBLISHED: 12:00 02 August 2015

The Connaught Urinal (picture: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library)

The Connaught Urinal (picture: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library)

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The fate of Newham’s Iron Lung – an ornate Victorian urinal used by dock workers – has long been a mystery. But now, after some detective work, its whereabouts can finally be revealed...

The Connaught Urinal in 1971 (picture: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library)The Connaught Urinal in 1971 (picture: Newham Archives and Local Studies Library)

It was said the Americans wanted it as a tourist attraction. Other rumours abounded that the circular gentleman’s pissoir had been demolished.

But the real answer is a lot closer to home than expected.

The Victorian urinal, which weighed over a tonne, was officially called “The Rotunda”, but became known locally as the “Iron Lung”.

Standing outside the Connaught Tavern (now known as The Fox at The Connaught bar) on Connaught Road, Sivertown, the urinal was used by generations of dock workers and pub-goers. It got its title because of the appalling stench inside.

Designed by CS McDowell, the Iron Lung is the only surviving circular public urinal in London and was listed in 1983.

After the closure of the docks in the 80s it gradually deteriorated and Newham Council eventually sold it off to the now defunct London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) for just £1.

The LDDC received bids from many areas for the pissoir, including interest from the USA. Back in the 60s, 70s and 80s, many London buses and indeed London Bridge was sold to the States.

The urinal disappeared in the early 1990s and was dismantled and refurbished at a cost of £47,000. But that was the last it was seen or heard of.

Questions about it went unanswered and locals believed it had been disposed of.

In fact it was transferred to the London Development Agency (LDA) when the LDDC was disbanded.

Then it was transferred to the Greater London Authority who tracked down paperwork to say it was in storage, but an enquiry made in January revealed they did not know where.

Now, thanks to some detective work by Ben McKnight at the GLA, the antique urinals latest home has been revealed to be in Newham.

Said Ben: “I have been informed that the Iron Lung was restored by the LDA and is currently stored on GLA land in the Royal Docks, where it has since been restored.

“It is apparently secure within a container to protect it until a future home can be found for it and is regularly inspected by the GLA’s managing agents.”

Many locals now believe it should be returned to the docks waterfront, in the same way the shipping cranes have been kept as part of the landscape.

This is a trend that originated in Australia when their former docks areas were redeveloped.

Newham councillor and former mayor Bryan Collier said he would support any campaign to take the pissoir on a journey to the Newham landscape.

He said: “It is great that we now know it is still in our area and let’s hope a bit of local heritage can be returned to a suitable spot on the landscape in the docks area.”

This is one pissoir that Newham doesn’t want to be taken.


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