Book could help give toilets a brush-up

Jane Williams meets a woman determined to re-share the stories of the only lavatory attendant to be given an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography

Kerris Harrop is on a mission to breathe some life back into the toilets at Ladies Mile on Clifton’s Durdham Downs. She was fired into action after she showed some friends the site where redoubtable toilet attendant Victoria Hughes worked from 1929 to 1962 … but felt appalled at the rundown state of the facilities. 

“I was embarrassed at the state it was in,” says Kerris. “The guttering was awful and it was clean inside but the outside needed a great deal of attention. People know the building and they think the provision of public loos is incredibly important, which it is. There’s nothing else close by. Even if they rebuild the toilet block by Sea Walls, that’s a mile to trek to.”

So Kerris set about wondering how she could raise some money to revitalise the dilapidated toilets and came up with the idea of reprinting Victoria’s long-out-of-print memoir Ladies Mile, which was published in 1977 and tells “the remarkable and shocking story of twilight Bristol” through the eyes of this unflinching woman who helped women trapped in the sex trade, whether they were women who just needed a warm cup of tea and a smile, or the shocking story of a woman who gave birth to a stillborn baby in a cubicle. 

Victoria Hughes, who died in 1978, has a blue plaque to her achievements on the toilet block, and is the only lavatory attendant to have an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

Kerris calculated she would need to crowdfund £6,000 to buy the Orphan Works Licence – necessary to reprint a book for whom the author or estate cannot be found – and pay for design and printing costs. She has chosen to self-publish so that every penny of profits can be ploughed into regenerating the toilets. Kerris is setting up a website where people can buy the reprinted Ladies Mile direct from her, and she hopes to have the book, with two new forewords, ready by October or November in time for the Christmas market.

Kerris to now close to her £6,000 target although donations are still welcome. 

“The donations come in dribs and drabs and several people have been very generous with bigger donations, but they’re mostly small donations that mount up,” says Kerris. “The story of Ladies Mile is very important. The story of the sex workers, written by Victoria, is very important. She was 80 when she wrote that book but, if she hadn’t kept those notes and diaries, there wouldn’t have been those stories, a blue plaque, or a memorable and iconic loo.”