Manor Place Convenience – media attention in 2020

Well I’ve had quite a week! Little did I know that one tweet  about my application for Manor Place urinals to go on Heritage NZ list would cause such interest.

Check out the media page on this site to hear and watch interviews. Below is the Radio NZ interview with Jesse Mulligan.

The Manor Place Convenience is on the Dunedin City Council Second Generation Plan and is 100% protected as a heritage structure. I want to get it recognised nationally by nominating it for the Heritage NZ list. It is significant as a “time capsule” into 1912 Dunedin and is our only tangible site linked to the long demolished undergrounds conveniences as it used the same tiles and fittings.

People are sending ideas through for reuse as restoration continues as budget allows. What do you think it could be used for? [and remember its not a tardis! It is quite small!]



Manor Place Toilets 1912

This week I got to see inside the interior of the Manor Place toilets that were built in 1912. These toilets had been completely bricked up sometime in the 1980s.

After a conservation report was completed, Council are looking at their options around the future of the structure.

What is so important about this structure is all the original fittings and fixtures still remain, some of which are identical to the fixtures in the original underground conveniences.

The original Twyfords Adament urinals and arts and crafts tiles are still a feature.

Unfortunately, due to the unstable foundations (over an old substation) the structure has suffered significant structural damage, with large cracks running through it. However, as it has been bricked up for the last 30 years the interior fittings and fixtures has remained intact and preserved.

London Street underground convenience – the last surviving space in Dunedin

This men’s convenience was built shortly after the Octagon and Custom House Square (now known as The Exchange) undergrounds in 1910.  The 1909 Finance Committee ‘special fund’ for the underground conveniences allowed for a third, but simpler, underground in London Street to be built. This was outside the Albert Arms Hotel and was in a more prominent location – on the street corner of a busy intersection (and nowhere near a monument). It provided urinals only and opened in 1911.

London Street Underground plans, 1910

Mr A. Ferry won the contract to build the convenience and he had recently built the Custom House Square undergrounds as well. It cost £565 13s, compared with £1130 the larger Custom house Square facilities cost to build.

City Engineers Report, Volume 18, 1919, DCC Archives

The underground style of toilets became under utilised in the 1950’s as rest rooms became more popular and vandalism became frequent in the underground spaces. One gentleman told me at a recent talk that it was a popular spot for school boys to throw their cigarette butts in to dispose of them before the school would catch them!

Underground substation, London Street, 2018

The London Street underground space was reported as “disused and “had reached the end of its economic life’ in 1962. “The modern trend is to provide such facilities above ground” stated the Town Clerk at the time.

Underground substation, London Street, 2018

A new convenience was built for men in Frederick Street and the Sanitation Department offered the space to other council departments. The City Electrical Department took over the underground space for a substation. All the convenience features were removed. The space stills remains there today and was recently a Delta asset and is now run by Aurora Energy.

Special thanks to Phillip Luyten, Delta for the photos of the substation

The Rise of the Restrooms

While the underground conveniences were modern and state of the art when they were first built in 1910, they were no match for the rest rooms which rose to prominence in the 1920’s.

The women’s undergrounds in the Octagon had a small waiting area with a seat and 4 water closets which you could access for a penny. The attendant could supply towels and there were electric heaters and looking glasses.

However, the stairs down into the conveniences were tricky to negotiate with tight twists and turns – prams would not have been able to get down. The charge for use would have put some patrons off as well.

DCC Archives, City Engineers 14/2/2b

During the 1920’s various women’s committees and groups lobbied the Dunedin City Council for a rest room and creche to be supplied in the city.  At the forefront was the Women’s Restroom Committee but others included Women’s Advisory Committee, Trained Nurses Association, National Council of Women, and the Ladies Citizens Committee.

Rest Room and Creche, Otago Daily Times,17 June 1926, Issue 19818
Letter written from National Council of Women supporting the Dunedin Women’s Restroom Committee to supply a restroom in Dunedin, DCC Archives, TC33 Series, 1925 W/2/1


The first restroom was organised by the Women’s Restroom and Creche Committee for the 1925-26 New Zealand & South Seas Exhibition held in Dunedin. The restroom was placed near the fun park section and provided a welcome space for women and children while visiting the Exhibition. When the Exhibition was dismantled in 1926 the Women’s Committee donated the restroom to the City and it was placed in the Botanic Gardens.

DCC Archives, NZSS Series, The Fun Factory, New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition Souvenir Booklet, Page 110
More Rest Rooms Needed in the City, Evening Star newspaper, 21 April 1926, Issue 19229

Two further rest rooms were established in the main street of Dunedin in the late 1920’s – one in Princes Street and one in George Street.  A 1930 report outlined the services they provided.

DCC Archives, TC33 Series, 1930 GEN C/2, 7 May 1930

All these services were paid for and run by the Women’s Restroom Committee who also paid attendants wages, supplied uniforms for them and provided all the furniture in them. Dunedin City Council funded them annually and assisted in securing sites. The Council thanked the Committee for their valuable services in the interests of the comfort, health and convenience of women and children in Council Annual Reports. They also consulted the Ladies Advisory Committee when discussing further women’s conveniences across the city.

The new Women’s Rest Room in the Athenaeum Building (across the road from the women’s underground) in the Octagon was opened on the 29 August 1950. The central building on the ground floor was reported as a vast improvement on the old rest rooms in Princes Street. With this opening the Princes Street Rooms were closed and the only women’s underground convenience in the city closed.

1947 Calendar showing lower Octagon


The Attendants

As with other cities, Dunedin City Council employed attendants to run and maintain the underground conveniences. The Attendants were employed by Dunedin’s local authority as early as 1861. The Dunedin Town Board employed a man to clean the Princes Street and Jetty Street urinals, although this was largely ineffective judging from the continual complaints!

The construction of the undergrounds enabled attendants to be stationed onsite to clean, maintain, and attend to the public. The attendants had to be “old servants of the corporation” or widows of ex-employees.

Extract of plan for Octagon undergrounds, showing Attendants offices, 1910. Dunedin City Council Archives, City Engineers Series, CE 14/2/2b

There were four male and two female attendants initially stationed in the Octagon conveniences and male attendants at the Custom House Square conveniences, who worked shift hours. Dunedin’s other facilities had visiting attendants. The original job applications remain in the Dunedin City Council Archives.

Application for position of Attendant, 1910. Dunedin City Council Archives, Town Clerk Series, TC33 1910-1911, GEN U/1, 1572

The attendants were essential in keeping the undergrounds in a hygienic state. They also managed behaviour and security within the subterranean spaces. They were required to work 8 hours a day, 7 days a week and received 12 days leave a year on full pay. Their role was essentially “caretakers work and not arduous” reported the Town Clerk in 1912. After World War II returned servicemen were favoured in these roles.

However, the position did come with issues and risks, as this City Engineers report noted in 1919:

Extract from City Engineers report, 1919. Dunedin City Council Archives, City Engineers Series, CE Correspondence 1918-1928, Vol 18 “Custom Stations”

There were also incidents where the attendants were assaulted and the Police assisted Council in monitoring the behaviour in and around the underground conveniences.

These staff were always proud of their work in keeping their stations and surrounding areas clean. After the Customhouse (Exchange) undergrounds closed in 1961 the brass plaque and decorations on Cargill’s Monument (which sat just above ground) were very much neglected. An attendant had always polished these!

Conditions of Appointment: Attendant, Mens Conveniences, Octagon 1945. Dunedin City Council Archives, Town Clerk Series, TC33 1945 GEN A/3

During and after the 1940s, Dunedin City Council struggled to retain good staff and found it increasingly difficult to employ attendants.

Extract from General Committee in Dunedin City Council Departmental Report, 1949-50. Dunedin City Council Archives, Town Clerk Series

An ongoing issue for the Council was vandalism and misuse that occurred regularly resulting in increasing maintenance costs. The undergrounds were especially vulnerable due to being out of sight.

Dunedin City Council Archives, Town Clerk Series, TC33 GEN C/2, Letter 7528

In 1964, difficulties of employing staff and vandalism led to Council’s decision to discontinue the practice of employing staff to clean the men’s conveniences.  A contract cleaning company was employed to clean Dunedin’s toilets instead. The London Street and Customhouse (Exchange) undergrounds had already closed by this date.

Bond Street toilets, Evening Star, 7 January 1969