Humble history of South Shields toilet is marked

They didn’t count the pennies a century ago when they built seafront public loos in a Tyneside town


They didn’t count the pennies a century ago when they built seafront public loos in a Tyneside town.

The toilet block in South Shields, built exactly 100 years ago, was no bog-standard effort but instead was given a Tudor-style half timbered look.

Civic chiefs were so proud they included a commemoration stone in the loos which bears the name of the mayor, John Watt Henderson, and mentions the council chairman, borough engineer and the contractors.

Yesterday the current mayor of South Tyneside, Ernest Gibson, celebrated the centenary of the Bents Park conveniences in Sea Road, which now hold the title of the town’s oldest public convenience.

This follows the dismantling of the South Shields Westoe Netty and its rebuilding at Beamish Museum in County Durham.

The Westoe Netty was declared open in 2008 by South Shields artist Bob Olley, who had immortalised the loo in a painting of the same name.

But it has had to be dismantled as visitors continued to use the loo despite signs warning that it had not been plumbed in.

“It was unfortunate but necessary. The signs asked people not to use the loos but they did,” said a Beamish spokeswoman.

“The Westoe Netty is now in storage but we hope to rebuild it in another location at Beamish and this time plumb it in. Toilets like this are part of our heritage.”

Bob Olley, who painted the Westoe Netty in 1974, had occasionally used the facilities while waiting at the adjacent bus stop bus on his way to his work as a miner.

When it was due for demolition, Bob and friends dismantled the loo, numbering the bricks, and stored them along with the five urinals before the unit was eventually resurrected at Beamish.

Prints of the netty painting have now gone to exiled Geordies across the world through Bob’s website.

He said yesterday: “The netty is well over 100-years-old and is part of our working class history.”

Coun Gibson said: “We no longer have the Westoe Netty but Bents Park conveniences should also be recognised in the same way. We should be proud of our heritage, however big or small.

“There’s heritage everywhere you turn in South Tyneside, from our beautiful coastline through to first class architecture.

“We’ve got tourist attractions like Bede’s World and our very own Town Hall that is rich in tradition.

“But heritage doesn’t have to be glaringly obvious. The Bents Park conveniences have been serving people for almost a century.”

The contractor for the job was Stephen Sheriff and the first toilet attendants were Mr JC Hughes of Stainton Street and Annie Harlow, of Denmark Street in South Shields.

But class came at a price and a charge of 2d (two old pennies) was levied for people wanting to use the toilets – double the going rate at the time.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer