Restoration of Victorian Cast iron public toilets by Ironart of Bath

‘Temples of Relief’ Restoration Project

The Ironart team were lucky enough to restore two Grade II Listed cast iron toilet structures here in Bath. They both sit in Bath’s lovely public space Sydney Gardens which is right behind the Holburne Museum in the city centre, and is the only remaining 18th Century Pleasure Gardens in the UK.

In 2018 Bath and North East Somerset Council sought a charitable grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to fund improvements to the park. Part of these improvements was the planned restoration of the Gents and Ladies cast iron toilet structures, which were both in poor condition and on the ‘Listed Buildings at Risk’ Register. It is unusual to find a complete Listed building made out of iron.

The Ladies Toilet structure was manufactured by famous historic foundry Messers Walter Macfarlanes & Co of Glasgow. The makers nameplate on the Gents Toilet Structure is The Star Foundry, Birmigham. It’s assumed this is the Star Foundry of William Harper, Son & Company of Willenhall, Birmingham however the Scottish Ironwork foundation attribution says : Gents urinal, unmarked but pattern illustrated in Wright’s catalogue. It is possible that Wright’s sourced this item from Lion Foundry Kirkintilloch, Scotland.

These structures would have been batch produced and advertised in catalogues. A few examples are listed around the UK Museum Records attribute the first of the two toilet structures as being installed in Sydney Gardens, Bath in 1913/14, this structure was classed as ‘mixed use’ until the appearance of the Ladies toilet in 1920, at this point the original toilet was converted to Gents only.

In February 2018 the Ironart team provided a condition report on these cast iron toilet structures for Sally Strachey Historic Conservation as part of the HLF funding application. Once funding had been successfully secured, Ironart was asked to tender for the restoration work to the toilets based on an agreed schedule of works, with aims and objectives. We were successful and started work in August 2020 alongside the main building contractor and under Conservation Architect James Cusick of BBA Architects, Bath. 

Please take a look at the gallery of images – the two toilet blocks had been overtaken by nature and debris! The Ladies block was dismantled and taken off site to our workshop for a full restoration. The Gents block was restored in situ under a protective canopy. There was so much to do, repairing cast iron requires skill and patience. Two full replacement panels were cast by Ballantines Foundry, and replacement ‘Bear Head’ gutter spouts copy cast by James Hoyle & Son from a genuine sample which was loaned to us. 

The Ladies loo roof was re-glazed with colourful glass panels and the cubicles left empty so that it can be used as an educational space for children. Some of the damaged missing panels on the Gents structure were replaced with etched glass. Both structures are kept locked for security so the addition of this glass has given visitors to Sydney Gardens a valuable opportunity to see the original interiors. 

This project took nine full months from start to finish. The restoration team was led by Ironart’s Andy Thearle, Martin Smith, and Gareth Cryer with the whole team involved in the various details of the project. This was a prestigious public restoration project, which was both rewarding and educational for the whole Ironart team. Have you seen them? Go and take a look and let us know what you think.