Famous Westoe netty finds home at Beamish

ONE of the North’s iconic structures is to enjoy a fresh flush of glory as a tourist attraction.

westoe netty

ONE of the North’s iconic structures is to enjoy a fresh flush of glory as a tourist attraction.

But visitors to Beamish Open Air Museum won’t be able to spend a penny when they visit Westoe Netty.

That may be inconvenient to some, but the netty was nevertheless hailed yesterday as a welcome new facility to the museum at Stanley, County Durham.

A chain-pulling ceremony signalled the re-birth of the public loo, immortalised in a painting by Tyneside artist Bob Olley.

The gents’ public toilet from Westoe in South Shields was built around 1890.

Although entirely unspectacular in itself, its inclusion in Bob’s painting made it into a notable cultural symbol.

The artist had turned the Netty into a symbol of the North-East’s working class culture in 1974 with an oil painting depicting men in flat caps standing shoulder to shoulder at a urinal next to a small child – with humorously unfortunate consequences.

Originally the netty was recessed into the embankment of the Harton Coal Company railway to Westoe Colliery, adjacent to the abutment carrying the railway bridge through Westoe.

It was taken down by an enthusiastic group of Bob’s pals in advance of demolition for regeneration in Westoe around 1996.

It was stored in a shipyard in Hebburn until last year when it was donated to Beamish Museum by South Tyneside Council.

It has now been rebuilt near to the museum’s 1913 railway station, placing it in as near as possible to its original context.

The rebuilding of the netty, which will serve as an exhibit only and not for the public’s convenience, was made possible by a donation from Northumbrian Water, whose managing director John Cuthbert said: “We are proud to have been able to help preserve this unique and famous North East building.”

Mr Olley, 67, from South Shields, said: “My association with Westoe Netty began in 1974 when I used it as the inspiration for a painting I did. From there it gathered momentum and became famous. But 10 years ago it was going to be demolished, so a group of my friends and I asked if we could take it down and keep it safe.

“It just looked like an ordinary public toilet, but there was something special about it. It had that saucy kind of humour you find on a seaside postcard and now it is getting a second lease of life like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Beamish director Richard Evans said: “I’m certain it will be a great, if somewhat off-beat, attraction for our visitors.”

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