Pantastic! Toilet plan for Edgbaston tower ends 263-year wait to spend a penny

Edgbaston's most striking Georgian landmark is to get its first toilet after 263 years - thanks to a chain reaction.

Visitors to the 96ft tall Perrott's Folly have been waiting since 1758 to spend a penny on the now Grade II* listed site.

Even Thomas Crapper, Victorian inventor of the U-bend, was 122 years too late for the building's opening by John Perrott from Belbroughton.

The 1905 view of Sarehole Mill that inspired JRR Tolkien

But after 21st century visitors to the site kept asking for a loo, Birmingham conservationists have won backing from the Culture Recovery Fund and Severn Trent Community Fund towards financing the dream.

The long-awaited lav should be all cisterns go by next spring.

The plan for a pot has left members of the arts and architecture group Re. Future Collective feeling flushed with success - and overflowing with joy at the prospect of being able to uncross their legs.

Director Lizzy Jordan has helped to create a chain of command to get her No 1 - and No 2 - priority job sorted so that visitors should finally be able to go with the flow in good time for next summer's Commonwealth Games.

“Unfortunately, John Perrott wasn’t thinking about accessible toilets in 1758 when he built the tower," she said as she lifted the lid on the plans for the canny khazi.

"So, it’s been quite limiting for us, more than 200 years later to not have a loo on site.

"Both Re. Future and all of our participants were ecstatic when we heard we had been funded by Severn Trent.

"We can’t wait to be able to use the building to its full potential.“

Because the loo will be positioned on the side of the folly facing Edgbaston Waterworks ornamented chimney stack (1870), built in the form of a campanile, cheeky visitors busting a gut to use the new loo might want to think of it as the Two Towers Toilet.

And the neat, colourful garden outside? How about... Flushing Meadow?

Historians who love to sit down pouring over time and motion studies know that the towers have dominated the local landscape for more than 400 years between them.

From 1884, the folly became known as the Edgbaston Observatory offering one of the world’s first regular weather forecasting services

Although the estate of the late author of The Lord of the Rings has never endorsed the idea, one popular theory suggests the monoliths must have inspired the fertile young mind of JRR Tolkien who spent four years living at 25 Sterling Road in the early 1900s.

Tolkien previously lived on Wake Green Road (1896-1900), but although Moseley Bog is still a popular visitor attraction behind his former home, the majestic woodland area doesn't have a loo for visitors despite its name.

Also known as The Monument, The Folly is the one tower you can climb on Waterworks Road and the chances of being able to do that will vastly increase once the loo is installed.

The incredible turret staircase has some 139 steps.

There are publicly-accessible rooms off most of the six floors that could be used for everything from community-led arts spaces to photo shoots and even recording rooms thanks to their unique acoustics.

You can even squeeze through a smaller three-foot high door to go onto the roof for the best possible views of familiar landmarks from the BT Tower to the Oratory (south-east) and Old Joe clock tower at the University of Birmingham (due south).

The roof in particular offers an unrivalled view of the city centre where notable buildings include The Library of Birmingham, 3 Snowhill, 103 Colmore Row, Paradise and The Cube.

You can also see the two Bank tower blocks on the corner of Sheepcote Street and Broad Street and its even taller near neighbour still under construction - Moda Living's The Mercian.

With funding from English Heritage, Birmingham Conservation Trust helped to save the building from collapse in 2005, acting as project manager for the then Perrott's Folly Company.

The charity Trident Reach bought the building for £1 in 2013, but the folly freehold now belongs to a non-profit arts and architecture group called Re. Future Collective.

In a bid to create a sustainable visitor attraction, they decided to try to commission the toilet after it became the most requested suggestion on visitor feedback forms.

Re. Future hopes the addition of an onsite toilet would not only increase access for the local community but also help to take the Folly off the Historic England at Risk Register.

Pantastic! Toilet plan for Edgbaston tower ends 263-year wait to spend a penny

A Severn Trent spokesperson said: “We’re proud to have been able to support the iconic Perrot’s Folly tower by providing funding of £17,970 to that will go towards creating washroom facilities.

"The funding will help ensure visitors and the community have access to facilities, that will ensure a more enjoyable visit and providing more accessibility.”

Members of the local community led by Becky Belcher's Sundragon Community Pottery group - based at the former Moseley School of Art in Balsall Heath - have been collaborating on a new range of self-designed clay tiles that will be fired before becoming part of the installation.

Members of the public can apply to join the next session from 1pm-3.30pm on Sunday (Sep 12) by emailing

But do note the need for the usual Covid-19 precautions and the fact that it will not be possible to go up the folly this time.

If you don't mind holding on for just another six months...

The path through the garden off Waterworks Road to the folly's side entrance is about 20 yards long.

As you approach the building, there is a space on the left.

This is where the new loo will be built.

It has been co-designed by the Birmingham collective working with Studio Polpo, a Sheffield-based social enterprise architectural practice that 'encourages transformative social change'.

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One proviso of the plan was that the door must not look like it has been there since 1758 so that it will not detract from the listed building's own merits.

The collective is hoping to retain several chains on what is currently the garden boundary wall.

They were not visionary relics from John Perrott's hunting lodge era, but were used to secure equipment when the folly was home to a University of Birmingham weather station prior to it moving on to the main campus.

The current outside wall of the folly will be retained as natural brick, but the facing wall as you walk into the loo space will be glazed with the community tiles.

With clear running water, hand washing and full toilet facilities, the Re. Future Collective members hope that the folly will finally be able to unlock its potential as an "arts, health and wellbeing hub" as well as for local businesses to be able to hire it.

In an unusual move, the toilet's roof will have a circular window so that people sitting on the throne will be able to gaze up the side of the folly towards the sky above.

Not just to pray for deliverance, but, who knows, they might see a full moon.

Or even Uranus.

The full address for Perrett's Folly is Waterworks Road, Edgbaston B16 9AL.

In 1884 it began to be used for weather observation thanks to the pioneering Birmingham glass-maker and meteorologist Abraham Follet Osle.

The venue is currently only open to participants of Re. Future Collective’s organised activities via Art Pad and FYI (arts-based youth clubs) and The Form of Clouds (arts-based social prescription project supporting adults experiencing loneliness or isolation) programmes.

To support Re. Future Collective, find them on Twitter and Facebook @refuturec

There are plans for more remedial work to be done to secure the Folly's long term future which could involve it being entirely covered in scaffolding.

Historic England currently describes the condition of the building as 'fair' and being categorised as having 'slow decay - no solution agreed'.

Its listing notes that 'the roof and the ornate plaster ceiling on the top of the tower needs repairing from the considerable rainwater penetration'.

The folly would not support scaffolding just around the upper area alone because a storm could then snap the top of the building off.

John Perrott's former house next to the folly has been long demolished.

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