top of page

“Monkey closets” in the Crystal Palace—the history of public toilets in England

Lithograph, 1851 Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace, London

The public toilet has a long and interesting (?) history in the western world. The ancient Romans built public toilets as part of their extensive efforts to provide sanitation infrastructure across the empire. During the Middle Ages, however, public toilets became less common, only to resurface again in rapidly urbanizing areas during the 19th century. In fact, “monkey closets” were included in the design of the Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. In fact, the Crystal Palace is largely considered to be the first installation of public toilets in modern society. (The color lithograph above showing Queen Victoria opening the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851 is in the public domain).

But while modern public facilities often are found to be dirty, graffiti-ridden, and in some cases unsafe, this post by Historic England shows that is not always the case.


9 Luxurious Listed Loos

By Historic England

July 20, 2017

bottom of page