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.

In Ulysses chapter four, known as the ‘Calypso’ episode, we first meet an early-risen Bloom in the basement kitchen of No. 7 Eccles street:

He felt heavy, full: then a gentle loosening of his bowels. He stood up, undoing the waistband of his trousers. The cat mewed to him.

– Miaow! he said in answer. Wait till I’m ready.

Heaviness: hot day coming. Too much trouble to fag up the stairs to the landing.


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?

Georgian houses did not initially have internal toilets. Chamber pots and bourdaloues were used and later emptied into an earth closet or cesspit in the back yard. These were then emptied periodically by people called ‘night-soil men’, who disposed of the contents sometimes as manure. The chamber pots were often kept in sideboards and this also led to use of commodes: there is a broken-legged one in the Blooms’ bedroom (4.382-3; 17.2102; 18.1137). Molly Bloom makes use of the ‘orangekeyed chamberpot’ in Ulysses (4.330; 17.2103; 18.1136).

Drainage in [Eccles] street would have been laid by the Board for Paving and Drainage, which came into existence in 1774 and the successor to which would have become part of the newly appointed City Surveyor's (City Engineer from 1857) department in 1851. The Board or Commission laid up to 30 miles of sewers and was certainly responsible for the one in Eccles Street, as proved by the legend "Underpinned in 1877" [on the maps]. This refers to the process carried out by the City Engineer on most pre-1849 sewers, when a stone or brick invert replaced the original earthen floor and support for the sidewalls was improved. All the houses in Eccles street would have had individual connections, usually four-inch (10 1.6mm) diameter pipes that came out from under the houses with a trap in or beside the front basement area.

Michael Corcoran, from correspondence with the author 26 August 2010.4

This improved drainage opened the way for internal toilets, so that by 1904 it is highly probable that there was an internal toilet at No. 7. One confirmation of that fact is the recollection of Joyce’s friend John Francis Byrne, who in his 1953 memoir Silent Years states:5

This house – this "omphalos" – at No. 7 Eccles Street was my last fixed abode in the City of Dublin. I resided there with my two cousins, Mary and Cicely Fleming – just the three of us – from 1908 to April, 1910. Mary Fleming, as always, was tenant of record, and her name as such, with the erroneous appellation "Mrs.", may be found in Thom's Dublin Directory for 1909 and 1910. During the time we resided in No. 7 Eccles Street, we did not have many visitors. But of course there were some […] and the visitor who came to see me the most often was James Joyce during the two trips he made to Dublin in 1909.

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:

I have two photographs of No. 7 Eccles Street taken in 1947, and, judging from them, the exterior of the house seems to be practically unchanged. The house is now subdivided into flats, but in my time it was a one‑family residence. There was a yard in the rear as wide as the house and about twenty feet deep. In this yard there was a supplementary toilet to the left as you went out; and a garden, which in my time was fairly good, extended behind the yard about two hundred feet to a coachway called Stable Lane.6

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:

Figure 2: cantilevered pushouts, RSAI glass negative 1880–c.1910.

Picture detail courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

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:

Figure 3: Anthony Burgess at the rear of No. 7 Eccles street in February 1965 (The Listener (1965), 6 May p. 661)

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:

Figure 4: removed cantilevered pushout in Eccles street.

Picture courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

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:

Figure 5: return at the top of a stairs in No. 53/54 Eccles street.

Detail courtesy of William H. Byrne & Son, Architects, 2004

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.

Ian Gunn


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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