London councils have been trying to stem the flow of tinkle for hundreds of years. As early as the 1300s, you could be fined for tossing poo.
It’s also why today you can still find “Commit No Nuisance” signs in Southwark - there’s one on Great Guildford Street and another on Doyce Street just a minute’s walk away.
Though public nuisance laws are wide ranging, covering practicing medicine without a license, busking, gambling, prostitution, and having an aggressive dog, the meaning of “nuisance” in this context is a fine example of British politeness.
A clue can be found in the Fabian Society’s “Metropolitan Borough Council: Their Powers and Duties", 1900, which describes private nuisance as “effluvia” or “ offensive matter”.
This could have been anything from smoke to manure, and it ensured businesses could not just pollute public places with their waste.
An old sign on the south side of Waterloo bridge lists legal definitions from the 1892 London County Council (General Powers Act) stating “2. Committing Nuisance - No person shall commit any nuisance on any bridge or against the wall”.
The key word here is “against” which immediately turns “nuisance” into a euphemism for taking a pee - in the long list of nuisances there aren’t many that you could really commit against a wall.
Yes they might seem like relics of another era, but the nuisance signs are a helpful reminder to search for a more appropriate spot, preferably a toilet.
Two colour linocut. Printed on 135 gsm off-white paper.