5: Dansey Place

Pre-war and interwar

The entrance is almost the building with the Costumier Perruquier Clock, which used to house Willy Clarkson, a theatrical wig maker.

Cottaging (the act of having any kind of sexy time with a stranger in a public toilet) began in earnest during Victorian times when massive social reforms brought hundreds of public toilets to the city's streets.

One of London’s most popular cottages used to be here in Dansey Place. It had two entrances, contained four or five stalls, and had grey iron walls with no holes or perforations. The perfect place for a bit of privacy. Or so you hoped.

Those rare opportunities to explore sexual desire were always tainted by the possibility of being observed by either an astute member of the public, a policeman, or a potential blackmailer.

In 1912 actor Alan Horton was sentenced to 10 weeks with hard labour after he was seen by plainclothes police officers entering the public toilets here, and the toilets in Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square, within the space of just a couple of hours. He did not make contact with anyone but according to police evidence “while in said lavatories and also while in the street he smiled in the faces of gentlemen, pursed his lips and wiggled his body.”

Because of the reputation of the area, a man apprehended by police in or around Piccadilly Circus could be convicted with a lot less “evidence” than someone caught elsewhere. We’ll see more of this persecution when we get to the 1950s. And the 1980s too.

Next stop: York Minster/French House