TWO North-East rare early public toilets, which helped women slip the “urinary leash”, have been given listed protection by the Government.

Public toilets were introduced in the second half of the 19th Century, but the majority of them were for men only.

Historic England says there are two theories why women did not get their own public toilets until about 50 years after men.

One theory says it is because Victorian women were considered too modest to want to answer the call of nature when they were away from their homes and so there was no demand.

A second theory says that the male-dominated society tried to control women’s movements and ambitions so it didn’t provide them with public toilets. This lack of facilities meant that women were forced to stay at home – they were tied by a “urinary leash”.

Things began to change when shopkeepers realised that women would spend more money if they didn’t have to dash home to spend a penny. The first female public toilet probably opened in 1884 in Oxford Circus in the heart of London’s shopping district, but it wasn’t until after the First World War, when women gained greater freedom, that toilets for them began to become common.

And so the two in the North-East are pretty special.

The oldest is in Berwick. It is extremely quaint, and opened in March 1899 when 62 ladies paid a penny to use it on its first day (or perhaps it was just one woman with an extremely weak bladder who used it 62 times on that first day)..

“Resembling a miniature rustic cottage, the design of Bank Hill Ladies public convenience artfully obscured its purpose to shield sensitive Victorians from the reality of public urination,” says Historic England, which advises the Government on the listing process.

It closed as a toilet in the 1950s when it was used for council storage but later it became an ice cream parlour called Loovre.

The second newly-listed toilet is beneath the tram shelter at Seaburn in Sunderland. It, and the adjacent men’s toilets, were built between 1901 and 1904. They closed in the 1960s but were restored and reopened in 2018, and retain many of their original feature toilets, handbasins and decorative partitions.

Veronica Fiorato, Historic England’s team leader for listing in the north, said: “Many people often think of listed buildings only as churches, castles and grand stately homes but buildings like toilets are also an important part of our nation’s rich history.

“The lavatories in Berwick and Seaburn reflect the emerging changing social status of women at the beginning of the 20th Century.

“The appearance of toilets like these represented the gradual opening up of a world of new leisure and work opportunities previously unavailable to women.”