Sanitary matters at No. 7 Eccles street
U 7.494-5: It is meet to be here. Let us construct a watercloset.
The Dublin house of No. 7 Eccles street exists in two realms: one is factual and the other fictional. The fictional world started in 1922 on the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the factual one started in 1770 and became history in April 1967.
Joyce once stated to Frank Budgen that for him imagination was memory.1 Joyce was not adverse to altering facts, such as the date of the Mirus Bazaar, to suit his narrative purpose, but he still went to great lengths to ascertain the factual basis of elements of Ulysses, for example by requesting details of ivy and trees by the Star of the Sea Church in Leahy’s terrace from his Aunt Josephine.2 It is therefore interesting to look at the interface between fact and fiction in Joyce’s Ulysses as it pertains to No. 7 Eccles street.
Bloom then proceeds go up from the kitchen to the half-landing between the basement and the ground floor, where there is a door out and down steps to the backyard toilet.3 Bloom’s remarks indicate that in the fictional world of Ulysses there is an internal toilet in No. 7 Eccles. Molly Bloom also refers to an internal toilet in the final chapter monologue, when she talks of burning Leopold’s old copies of the Freemans and Photo Bits ‘and threw the rest of them up in the W C’ (18.602). So where might this toilet be and was there one also in the real No. 7 Eccles street, in the first decade of the 20th century?
Where verifiable, Byrne’s recollections are very accurate, and he appears to have been a very meticulous person who later developed a strong interest in cryptography. So, we can take his observations with a certain degree of authority when he states:
Byrne is referring to a ‘supplementary’ toilet in the back yard, indicating that there was another toilet somewhere in the main building.
Therefore, fact and fiction seem to be in agreement on the existence of an internal toilet. Where might this toilet be found? Bloom refers to a ‘landing’ in Ulysses and landings figure in both of the most common solutions to adding an internal toilet to a Georgian house. The most common solution was the installation of a cantilevered extension on the back wall, off one of the mid-floor landings. These ‘pushouts’, as they are sometimes known, are still visible in today’s Dublin.
Figure 1: cantilevered extension near Mountjoy Square. Photograph: Ian Gunn
The popularity of this solution at the turn of the nineteenth century can be seem from a picture in the Irish Architectural Archives, showing the rear of Upper Gardiner street and north Mountjoy Square:
However, there is no evidence that No. 7 Eccles had a cantilevered extension: in fact, the opposite is the case. In February 1965, the BBC Monitor team were filming the episode “Silence, Exile and Cunning” at No. 7 Eccles Street7 and Anthony Burgess was photographed, during the filming, in the window space of the back ground-floor room:
There is no sign of any ‘pushout’ being present at No. 7 and no sign there ever was one, as the scar from removal is usually very obvious:
The other common solution was to add a ‘return’ at the top of the staircase, and create a toilet in that top space. This was a case of putting a few steps off the top landing, as if creating a continuing stair, and then creating a room. An example can be seen from a detail of a modern plan of No 53/54 Eccles street:
So, in the factual world an internal toilet 'on the return' at the top of the stair would seem the most likely. In the fictional world of Ulysses either a cantilevered extension between the second and third floors or a 'return' at the top of the stairs is possible, with the latter being more distinctly a long way to ‘fag up’. With Joyce’s preference for memory over imagination, we can take our choice.
1 Frank Budgen, Myselves when Young (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 187.
2 James Joyce to Mrs William Murray, early 1920 in James Joyce Letters vol. I (London: Faber, 1957/1966), p. 136.
3 No. 7 Eccles street consisted of three storeys over a basement. For clarity I will use the following terms: basement – ground floor – first floor – second floor.
4 Michael Corcoran is the author of Our Good Health: A History of Dublin’s Water and drainage (Dublin: Dublin City Council, 2005)
5 J. F. Byrne, Silent Years (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Young, 1953), pp. 154-5.
6 J. F. Byrne, Silent Years (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Young, 1953), p. 155.
7 See Ian Gunn, ‘Mr Burgess Goes to Eccles Street’ in James Joyce Broadsheet, no. 97 (February 2014), p. 1.
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