Quick thinking by archaeologist Ron Brown has saved another part of the North East’s netty heritage for posterity.
During a historic building survey of a Regency townhouse on Beach Road, South Shields, by AAG Archaeology, Ron spotted what is thought to be the best-surviving example of a classic North East netty door .
It was sticking out of the rubble of a demolished backyard toilet.
The site is within walking distance of the original location of the public Westoe Netty, which was made famous when painted by South Shields artist Bob Olley in 1972.
With the Westoe netty due for demolition, it was dismantled by Bob and his friends and stored at Hawthorn Leslie’s shipyard in Hebburn.
Now the toilet door found by Ron has joined the Westoe Netty at Beamish.
It is the type of outside toilet door portrayed in another of Bob Olley’s paintings, his 1977 The Day Dreamer.
The door is painted in the traditional shade of “toilet green” and has a row of one-inch holes across the top for light and ventilation.
The word “Toilet” has been painted on the door in a scrolling script. As well as a latch and an external bolt to stop the door banging in the wind a pin still remains on the inside to hang toilet paper.
Bob said: “So many must have gone on bonfires over the years, it’s good to know there’s one left to make it into a museum.
“In the old days, people with these good wooden toilet doors used to get nervous just before Bonfire Night.
“But it’s a similar situation to when everybody used to have four china ducks flying up the wall and then nobody did.
“They and the old toilet doors were once so common.”
Prints of Bob’s Westoe Netty painting sold out at Beamish just before Christmas.
The original Westoe Netty was rebuilt at Beamish but, despite having a notice saying that it was not plumbed in, was still used by visitors and so had to be dismantled and put into storage.
“We hope to rebuild it and this time fit the plumbing,” said a museum spokeswoman.
“We will keep the toilet door in storage until we can use it in an appropriate setting when we develop our 1950s town.
“The door is the type of object which was once an everyday sight but then most are lost.”