Durdham Downs is an area of leisure and enjoyment in Bristol used by families, nature lovers, joggers, fitness groups, football clubs and those attending events on this protected park on the northern edge of the city.
The Victorian toilet building on Stoke Road is the only public convenience in this area of Bristol, and is notable for its Blue Plaque, one of the highest civic honours, awarded to Victoria Hughes.
Victoria was a cloakroom attendant between 1929 and 1962, during which time she met, befriended and cared for the many people she encountered. Often these characters were women working in the sex trade: kind and non-judgemental, Victoria always had the kettle ready to provide these women with a cup of tea and to support them as best she could.
Victoria kept diaries of all the comings and goings during her time as the toilet’s attendant, which she published in her 1977 book “Ladies’ Mile”. It was a simple and extraordinary, if at times horrifying, social document of one small area of Bristol during the Great Depression and post-war years. Victoria died just a year after the book was published.
The book was out of print for many years, which encouraged Kerris Harrop to set up a crowdfunding campaign so that this important snapshot of 20th century Bristol life would not be forgotten. SMV members were keen to support Kerris’s campaign to reprint the book, which retained all the text and the front cover from the original 1977 version. As a result, some of the language is old-fashioned – even disturbing – to modern ears, albeit highlighting the unpretentious and compassionate nature of the author. In the book’s original foreword, local journalist David Foot called Victoria “a first-class observer with a natural turn of phrase, wry and happily unsophisticated.”
The book can be purchased at BristolRead Books. All proceeds from sales of the book will go towards the refurbishment of the Victorian cloakroom, the valuable public convenience on the Downs that is the setting for this “remarkable and shocking story of twilight Bristol” of so many years ago.
The 2023 edition is reprinted with the original front cover. Although still in use, the exterior of the Stoke Road toilet is now in a particularly run-down state, with money needed to halt further deterioration.