Urine Deflectors of Fleet Street
One of the few remaining examples of 19th-century London’s attempt to clean up its reputation.
Just off London’s famous Fleet Street runs a small, unassuming alleyway named Cliffords Inn Passage. In medieval times it served as the main entrance to Clifford’s Inn of Chancery, an institution for training barristers. By the 19th century, the passageway became little more than a small shadowy alleyway off a street filled with various drinking establishments—precisely the place where those frequenting such establishments would drunkenly stagger for a pee.
In a time when sewage still filled the streets and the Thames itself ran with death, urination in a secluded alley was certainly not surprising. Over time, however, the persistent pummel of piddle began to take a toll, corroding the brick walls that made up these alleyways. To prevent further damage, urine deflectors were installed along the length of Cliffords Inn Passage. There are long strips of metal, angled to drain the urine into the gutter (or onto the shoes of its source).
Although this effectively combatted the unsanitary practices of the time, many “gentlemen” were miffed at the urine deflectors introduction. One reportedly commented in 1809: “In London a man may sometimes walk a mile before he can meet with a suitable corner; for so accommodating are the owners of doorways, passages, and angles, that they seem to have exhausted invention in the ridiculous barricades and shelves, grooves, and one fixed above another, to conduct the stream into the shoes of the luckless wight who shall dare to profane the intrenchments.”
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