The link between public conveniences and pandemics
May 30, 2023 | Stories

By Rosemary Baird 

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s listing advisor in Dunedin, Alison Breese, recently published an article based on her M.A. research into the connections between public conveniences (public toilets) and public health trends with the New Zealand Journal of Public History

In the article, Alison discusses how disease outbreaks and scares influenced the design of Dunedin’s public conveniences. “With Covid we saw many concerns around public toilet sanitation.” 

According to Alison, this is nothing new. “Diseases such as the Bubonic Plague in 1900 led to increased calls for more, and cleaner, public lavatories.” 

In 1909, Dunedin City Council decided to build two underground conveniences. They were more costly, but the subterranean spaces would hide these unsightly facilities. The conveniences featured urinals and closets from the Twyford Company in England, who were one of the leading companies in sanitary equipment. One of the facilities was the first public women’s convenience in Dunedin. 

Alison Breese outside the Manor Place Conveniences.

These two underground conveniences have been since demolished, but the aboveground Manor Place Conveniences, built in 1912, is still intact. Alison has been working on a listing proposal for the Manor Place Toilets for the New Zealand Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero. 

“The building is a valuable insight onto how these once common structures were originally built and used,” says Alison. “For example, there are no washbasins because it was not until the 1920s that handwashing with soap was promoted for disease prevention.” 

“When we see current articles bemoaning the terrible state or lack of public toilets, I always think that nothing really changes. Despite new technologies there are always issues of public sanitation, fear of disease, and claims of antisocial behaviour connected to public toilets.” 

Read Alison's article here.

Manor Place Conveniences
Baird, Rosemary (author)
New Zealand Heritage List
Rārangi Kōrero

Rosemary Baird | Outreach Advisor
Stay up to date with Heritage this month