Rev Tony Redman who looks after congregations near Bury St Edmunds is on a mission to save our heritage loos from disappearing down the pan
Appeals in parish magazines are nothing new . . . money for the church roof, cakes for the coffee morning, bric-a-brac for the fete.
Coloured WC pans – once the bottom line in bathroom chic – well, that is quite possibly a first.
But it was what caught the eye of parishioners in a recent edition of one Suffolk publication.
And the would-be preserver of this fast-vanishing part of our cultural heritage was none other than their own associate priest, the Rev Tony Redman.
Tony, who also works as a consultant building surveyor, noticed the long-time trend for nothing but white was flushing away all traces of the coloured suites that once held pride of place in the nation’s bathrooms.
He decided action was needed to prevent multi-hued loos from disappearing round the U-bend of time.
I justify it in artistic terms . . . it could be installation art. I tell my daughter it’s my toilet museum - the Rev Tony Redman
So the minister, who looks after congregations at Great Livermere, Ingham, Ampton and Troston near Bury St Edmunds called on villagers to help in his quest. He has also asked his builder friends to keep their eyes peeled.
At the moment he only has a small collection – one pink, one blue, and one lemon, which has a broken pedestal after languishing for a while in a skip.
For now, they are lined up against a wall in his garden. He has not decided their future use . . . filling them with plants is one possibility.
His wife Caroline gives an enigmatic ‘no comment’ on the project.
Tony said: “I think she thinks I’m a bit eccentric, but she tolerates it.
“I justify it in artistic terms . . . it could be installation art. I tell my daughter it’s my toilet museum.
“The idea started about five years ago,” he said. “I’m a chartered building surveyor, and I thought these things are disappearing so somehow or other it would be great to try and collect a series.
“Someone offered me a pink one three or four years ago. Then after the appeal in the magazine the blue one came followed by the yellow one which had been in a skip, so the base was broken.”
His ambition is to put together a full set of colours. One of many he has not yet tracked down is the much-mocked avocado.
The sludgy green shade was big in the 70s when half an avocado topped with prawns in a lurid pink sauce was the ultimate in dinner party sophistication.
In fact, so exotic was the fruit now smashed in their millions on toast that people were probably more likely to have avocado in the bathroom than on their plates.
“Avocado is always the one people laugh about. If I could get one of those that would be brilliant,” he said.
There are so many colours to find including aubergine, peach, turquoise, purple and navy blue. But the one he wants most is chocolate brown because it is the rarest.
“I’ve only ever seen one, in a house I was surveying. The chocolate one is the creme de la creme,” he said.
Going into houses for work he now finds himself casting envious eyes over the bathroom fittings.
“I saw a peach one in Cockfield. It just glowed. I wanted to take it home with me.
“Now if I see a coloured toilet I leave my details and say if you want to get rid of it let me know.
“I would go pretty much anywhere, within reason, to pick one up.”
Tony and Caroline have lived in Great Livermere since 1974 in a former farmhouse owned by his family since 1810.
In an outbuilding – once the outside lavatory – lurks a rare example of sanitation history that could be the subconscious inspiration behind his current mission.
With the building now used as a wine cellar, it is barely visible but perfectly preserved . . . a survivor from a time when answering a call of nature seems to have been a family affair.
The wooden toilet frame, probably dating from the 19th century, has a row of three seats, each with a cover, and is definitely a cut above the usual more basic outdoor privy.
Years ago it even attracted the attention of the BBC. “In 1976 we were contacted by someone who was doing research on outside toilets,” said Tony.
“Someone had told them we had a ‘triple bummer’. It has three seats, a large one for a man, a middle-sized one for a woman, and a lower, small one for a child.
“That may be what originally sparked my interest in sanitation.”
Tony grew up in Surrey and inherited the Livermere house from a relative who was also his godmother.
“Caroline and I were involved in running holidays for Christian young people and were up in Scotland when I received a telegram to say my godmother had died.
“I proposed to Caroline, she accepted and within a year we were married and moved in here.
“My maternal grandfather was born in this house. We used to come here for holidays once or twice a year.
“My family were farmers and butchers.
“I remember helping George herd cows through the village.”
Caroline was a computer programmer and after moving to Suffolk got a job at the Greene King brewery where she spent the whole of her working life.
Tony was for many years a partner in Whitworth architects and surveyors in Bury, retiring and becoming a consultant in 2016.
Before training as a priest he was a lay reader with the church for more than 30 years, and was ordained in 2003.
He is a self-supporting minister who does not get paid, and is also the bishop’s advisor in the diocese for self-supporting ministers. “I think it’s an extraordinary privilege to do this,” he said.
His surveying work now mainly involves historic buildings.
“I love anything that’s old with a bit of character and history. They tell a story, and living here in our house was part of that.
“I’m also researching a book on the history of building stone in Suffolk – it’s not all flint, many different types are used.
A while ago he did some research on the history of sanitation. His view is that things we take for granted – be they flint walls or toilets – all have historical value. “We need to venerate them for what they are,” he said,
While the first flush toilets would have been white, the trend for colour first took off as early as the 1930s. But it was not until 30 years later that it really began to take hold remaining in fashion through the 1960s and ’70s. After that its star gradually waned.
Now buyers are faced with the choice of white, white, or white, a move that, according to the Design Hunter website, was probably driven by the desire to make homes easier to sell.
But it – and other predictors of plumbing trends – are suggesting that colour may be on the brink of a comeback.
More people are choosing to stay put and improve their homes rather than move on, so will be more inclined to pick colour schemes for themselves rather than potential purchasers, it says.
Tony may be a devotee of the coloured loo, but all the toilets in his house are white. “We’ve never had coloured suites, and now I’m collecting them. But then I’m a surveyor and yet we’ve never moved house,” he said.
He has not ruled out the possibility of vintage white toilets that pre-dated the passion for colour being included in his collection at some stage.
But meanwhile, if anyone can help him in his current search for avocado, aubergine, peach, the elusive chocolate, or any other gem from the varied palette of the ’60s and ’70s, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org