Colin Grainger

Revealed: The whereabouts of the Iron Lung…who took the pissoir?

Copy of Connaught

New York, London, Paris … people in Newham have wanted to know for nearly 25 years what happened to one of their local landmarks – a listed cast iron ornate gents’ urinal.

It was said to have been admired by the Americans who wanted it as a tourist attraction. Rumours have also abounded that the circular structure had been demolished.

But now the answer to the question: “Who has taken the pissoir” can be revealed.

And it is a lot closer to home.

The Grade II listed Victorian cast iron urinal weighing over a tonne, was officially called The Rotunda, but was known locally as the Iron Lung. Used by generations of dock workers and pub goers, it got its title because of the appalling stench inside.

The gentleman’s pissoir by CS McDowell 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 for £1.

The body 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 Iron Lung stood outside the Connaught Tavern, now known as The Fox @ The Connaught bar.

It 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.

It can now been revealed that it was transferred to the London Development Agency when the LDDC was disbanded.

And then it was transferred to the Greater London Authority who tracked down paperwork to say it was in storage… but in January they did not know where!

Now, thanks to some detective work by Ben McKnight at the GLA its latest home is in fact…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 been since being 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 Newham docks waterfront, in the same way that the cranes in the Royal Docks have been kept as part of the landscape.

This is a trend that originated in Australia when their former docks areas were redeveloped and has happened in East London and also Buenos Aires.

Newham councillor and former mayor Bryan Collier 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.”

Copy of Urinal1985

5 Comments

  1. Graham Bond
    December 11, 2015

    I was an apprentice fitter at R&H Green and Silley Weir dry dock and frequently used the Iron Lung, and you are quite right about the smell – you didn’t need coffee in those days to wake you up in the morning, just a quick nip into the ‘lung’ was enough to keep you running around all day.

  2. Greg Scott
    July 24, 2016

    I worked on the restoration of the pissoir for many months, preparing drawings and visiting the iron foundry in Lancashire where it was lovingly restored. I was so sad that it ended up in a container and always hoped it would be reconstructed. I may be able to dig out some restoration photos if you are interested.

    • Colin Grainger
      December 20, 2016

      Hi Greg

      Many apologies but I have only just seen our email from July.
      If you want to get in touch on my other email colingrainger@btinternet.com I would love to see some restoration pictures and have a chat about the restoration.
      My phone number is 07572 545491. I am just going out to a charity event tonight

      Many thanks
      Colin

  3. Mark Freeman
    March 2, 2018

    Hello,

    I am a master’s of architecture student, for the past 4 months my project has been focussing on public toilets around Newham. Most of the boroughs council toilets have closed as a ‘community toilet scheme’ has been introduced; my work has since explored the problems with these schemes and the gradual disregard for public conveniences. However, I have only just discovered the story of this urinal which has both delighted and saddened me. Thanks for the information.

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This article was written on 22 Jul 2015, and is filed under community, History, Iron Lung, pissoir, Rotunda, Royal Docks.

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