Idol Lane City Bollard | Look Up London

A Peculiar City Bollard on Idol Lane

I might have reached peak geek with this blog post but I’m very happy about it.

Along Idol Lane – right by the gorgeous St Dunstan-in-the-East Garden – you can find an extravagant bollard.

Not only is it decorated with the City of London crest and painted red, black, white.

Idol Lane City Bollard | Look Up London

But if you look closely, it’s hollow.

Idol Lane City Bollard | Look Up London

There is a date at the bottom declaring it was erected 1886 but it’s not a lot to go on.

Given these holes, I had assumed it connected to an underground sewer. Or maybe was linked to some other ventilation for the nearby Billingsgate Fish Market.

However, I found the true answer in the brilliant book, Bollardology by Cathy Ross.

Bollardology by Cathy Ross | Look Up London

Her sleuthing revealed that in October 1886 the City of London Corporation unveiled a new public urinal at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Eastcheap.

Here’s a view of the light blue railings surrounding the former public toilets today, looking up towards Gracechurch Street.

Gracechurch Street Public Toilets | Look Up London

It was hard to find any 19th century images of the public toilet, but you can see the urinal (circled in yellow) on the 1893-96 OS map below. – OS maps 1893-96

To further visualise it, there’s a description detailed in Bollardology. It comes from William Haywood, an Engineer and Surveyor who was the City of London’s Commissioner of Sewers (think of him as the Joseph Bazalgette, specifically for the City).

In his report in 1887 he notes there is a ‘large five light lamp standard placed at the centre of the refuge, the base of which forms a ventilating shaft.. The other lamp standards and dwarf posts [bollards] placed hear the footway curbs are so designed to assist the ventilation.’

As mentioned, although I couldn’t find any 19th century images of the five light lamp standard, I imagine it was similar to the remaining one by the public toilets outside the Royal Courts of Justice.

Five Light Lamp Standard, Royal Courts of Justice | Look Up London

Happily, you can see an image of the Gracechurch Street toilets from 1969 where (if you zoom in) you can spot the identical bollards to our Idol Lane one.

Today only the base of the original large lamp remains and it’s still an attractive bit of street furniture, now painted black and cream.

The public toilets are no longer in use but there’s a tell-tale miniature stink pipe which would’ve also help ventilate unpleasant smells.

Gracechurch Street Public Toilets | Look Up London

The Idol Lane bollard is a 5 minute walk from the public toilets. However the date (and reason) it was moved is still a bit of a mystery. What do you think happened?

If you’re interested in Cathy Ross’ Bollardology (I highly recommend it!) You can buy a copy here

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  • This was a very interest post and I also became interested in the book that you mentioned. Thank you.

    January 11, 2023 at 7:11 am
  • Ian Page


    Hi Katie,
    My inner (outer?) geek was intrigued by this. I spent a few hours searching, and found another old photo in the London Picture Archives, this time of Idol Lane: You can see the hollow bollard outside St Dunstan in the East church. This photo was taken in 1962, seven years before the one of the public toilets in Gracechurch Street. If the dates are correct it suggests that the bollard wasn’t moved, but already existed there before the ones around the public toilet were taken away. I assume they were removed when the the roads were changed and the entrances to the toilets themselves were moved.
    Thanks for another interesting post!

    January 11, 2023 at 1:53 pm
  • Ian Page


    Of course there could have been more bollards at the public toilet originally, one of which was moved before both photos were taken!

    January 12, 2023 at 9:23 am
  • Fascinating! And you can use the top as a lemon squeezer…

    January 15, 2023 at 12:11 pm

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