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“As long as no sanitary inconvenience comes of it” – The story of Sjöström’s privies

The Lundblad building in the 1870s
The Lundblad – and subsequently Sjöström – building shortly before its demolition in the 1870s, viewed from the south. In the right-hand corner, there is a glimpse of one of the newer buildings on Toll’s section of site number 21. The pile of stones in the foreground is a result of Helgo Zettervall’s ongoing cathedral renovation. Photo source: AF’s Archives & Student museum

On the eastern side of the present-day Kyrkogatan, just south of the main University building’s south façade, where the old zoologist Sven Nilsson’s bust now rests high up on its pedestal, there lay in times gone by a now entirely vanished quarter, site number 21 in Kraft’s district according to the city of Lund’s site divisions at the time. It was a site with, in many regards, proud academic and cultural history, however, in the latter half of the 19th century, when it came into the University’s possession it also became the subject of – if you will pardon the pun – a faecal matter.

In the early 19th century, site number 21 was a place that any Lund citizen or non-resident visitor with a thirst for knowledge had reason to visit. At the time, the property belonged to the Professor of Latin, Johan Lundblad, and he was not only an eloquent speaker and talented poet in both Latin and Swedish, he was also a major entrepreneur in the field of the printed word. As a young man, he had the responsibility of managing the University’s book auction room, and later came to run his own bookshop as well as a publishing house and print shop (he also made an unsuccessful attempt at establishing Lund’s first lending library). Originally, Lundblad ran these businesses from his home in a large building on Mårtenstorget (the present-day Krognos House is a remnant of these once more extensive buildings), however, in 1805 he had instead purchased ‘courtyard number 21 at Lilla Torg’ for 3 333 riksdalers and moved his ventures there. By 1809, he had closed down the print shop; however, he ran the bookshop until his death in 1820 (later, it was run by other owners and in other locations around the city, well into the 20th century. Older citizens of Lund still remember it as Ph. Lindstedt’s university bookshop, when it was located on the corner of Klostergatan and Stora Gråbrödersgatan; at the time of its closure it was reportedly Sweden’s oldest bookshop).

However, Professor Lundblad and his book box was far from the only literary and intellectual feature on the site. On the top floor of one of the buildings, Lundblad rented out rooms to some younger academics, including (from 1813) Bengt Magnus Bolméer, future professor of oriental languages, and Christopher Isac Heurlin, future Bishop of Visby and Växjö. Around these two gentlemen, there soon gathered a merry group of the University’s most talented and discussion-loving young talents in a kind of informal gentleman’s club where they ‘tossed around thoughts and ideas’ over a bowl of punch. This coterie later became known as ‘Härbärget’, and among its most famous members were the poet Esaias Tegnér and the polymath Carl Adolph Agardh.

Education at a lower academic level was also cultivated on the site. Following Lundblad’s death, for just over one and a half decades, the site housed the public primary school in Lund, and the spread of the written word was also supported by the city’s post office being located on the site for a period in the 1830s.

A fire insurance policy tells a story

However, neither Professor Lundblad, nor his printer, bookshop assistants, tenants, members of Härgberget with Tegnér and Agardh at the helm, students in the public primary school or the city postmaster could survive on writing, words and thoughts alone. The body also has its needs, including digestive needs, and at a time long before running water in buildings, this meant that site number 21 also needed a relatively significant number of outdoor lavatories. We have not been able to find any information on exactly how many and what they looked like in Lundblad’s time, however, a preserved insurance policy for the buildings on the site dated 1842 states that for one of these buildings there was ”1 Privy house, with eight sections on the top floor”. The building, which at the time was registered as being around six years old, also housed stables with space for four horses and two cows, a warehouse, a farm hand’s quarters, lodges, a feed barn and woodshed in addition to these privies. In other words, it was quite a substantial two-storey building: 28 Swedish ells in length and 15.5 ells in width (approximately 16.5 x 9 metres in modern measurements). Based on the information found on the site’s buildings in the insurance policy, and the study of old maps of Lund, we believe we have identified this outhouse as a building in the north-eastern corner of the site, facing the so-called Munck’s site to the north (where the main University building’s auditorium lies today) and toward the old botanic garden (the current University Square) in the east. It is this necessary establishment – for posterity known as ’Sjöström’s privies’ – on which this article focuses.

Who then was this Sjöström, who had the doubtful honour of lending his name to a large collection of privies? A surprisingly anonymous man it must be said. After his death in 1860, the weekly Lunds Weckoblad did not dedicate even the smallest obituary to him, despite the fact that Gustaf Sjöström, born in Malmö in 1786, had been one of the city of Lund’s faithful servants for more than four decades, first as a city cashier and later as a district court judge. In addition to these two main occupations he had also had a series of other municipal roles, including as a member of (and later accountant for) the city’s poverty department, as a local ‘officer and collector’ for the public number lottery and as a supervisor for the newly established Northern Cemetery. In the latter post, however, it can be said that Sjöström ended up in roles that led to a conflict of interest. In the autumn of 1840, there was an urgent need to dig drainage for a waterlogged, not yet occupied section of the cemetery; however, the problem was that this also required two private allotments next to the cemetery to be dug up as well. However, the owners of the two sites were not interested in covering the costs for this – one of whom was Sjöström himself!

Lunds Weckoblad
After judge Sjöström’s death in 1860, there was no obituary in Lunds Weckoblad, however, there was an advertisement for an auction of his personal estate. It stated that Sjöström, in addition to eight privies, also owned fourteen chiffoniers! Image source: the National Library of Sweden

The allotment in the north was not judge Sjöström’s only property. He was also possibly the owner of an area of land on Helgonabacken that for a long time was known as Sjöström’s garden (now a part of the hospital district), and sometime after Professor Lundblad’s death he became, in any case, the owner of site number 21. It would seem that Sjöström commissioned a new build on the site, because when, at the beginning of 1844, he sold parts of the site to a cavalry master Axel Toll, it was stated in the purchase documents that it related to ‘the eastern or newly built section of the Courtyard and Site Number 21’. If our assumptions about where the outhouse and privies stood are correct, these should have been included in that part of the site – now registered as 21B – that Toll acquired. This also concords with the fact that they were around eight years old in 1844 and therefore could clearly be registered as newly built. However, if this was the case one might think that the privies in question should have been known as ‘Toll’s privies’, however, the fact that this was not the case may be due to the brevity of Toll’s time as owner. By the autumn 1844, he had sold his part of the site. To whom is something we will explain shortly, but first a little bit of background.

Cramped University on the hunt for premises

As judge Sjöström made property transactions, the University was suffering from a severe lack of premises. At the turn of the century, the attempt to release the pressure on the University’s original main building, the King’s House, by building an additional wing – known as ‘Kuggis’ – had quickly been insufficient as well. Therefore, at the time, the University also rented a former school building diagonally across from the cathedral, which included the book auctioning room that Johan Lundblad had once managed but also a chemistry room and office for its financial administration; the Chamber of Revenue. At the end of the 1830s, however, the cathedral chapter started making proposals to demolish both this and a number of other small buildings that ‘made the cathedral’s western façade unsightly”. The situation was therefore critical, and what the University did then was acquire cavalry captain Toll’s part of site 21, the eastern section – comprising three buildings, of which one presumably housed the eight privies. These were therefore now primarily used by the University’s financial administration, and by the staff responsible for the University’s mineral and coin collections, who were also located there. The University’s caretaker was also given premises in Toll’s buildings and is therefore assumed to have used the facilities.

Excerpt of a map from 1856 of the University's buidlings
Excerpt of a map from 1856 of the University’s buildings. To the left of the King’s House (A) and the old botanical garden (K) you can see site 21B with three buildings marked with ‘i’, of which the most northerly is assumed to have housed the privies. North of this is the Munck’s site (L). Image source: University Archives

However, the acquisition of Toll’s site was also just a temporary solution. Neither these buildings nor the new department buildings that were built around the middle of the century – including Anatomicum and Chemicum (now known as ‘The Old Archaeology Building’ and ‘The Old Department of History’) – were able to meet the University’s increasing needs in the long term. Perhaps the location of the Chamber of Revenue in a converted private housing building was also not considered to live up to the demands placed on a university administration at the time. Increasingly, the University started to focus on obtaining funds to build a new, large and pompous but also modern and fit-for-purpose main building – a university building.

Helgo Zettervall drew up plans for such a building and the first drawings were ready by 1874. In December of the same year, the University also purchased the now deceased Sjöström’s former part of site 21. Namely because it was on this part as well as on Toll’s and Munck’s parts in the north and western sections of the former botanical garden that the new building was planned to be built. The days of Sjöström’s privies were now ultimately numbered. The Swedish Government and parliament were, however, not as fast as the University. It took several years and many rounds (which are described in more detail in an article in the 2017 degree conferment ceremony programme before Lund University, in 1877, finally received SEK 450 000 in funding for the building of a new University building. Finally, the construction could begin, however, even that would take a number of years to complete.

Exemption from the ‘offensive matter from privies’ requirement

At the time, the public health committee in the city of Lund issued a statement on ‘established privies in new or old buildings here in the city’. The statement was regularly published in the city’s newspapers throughout the summer of 1877, stating that such privies ‘are not permitted to be used before they have been, in due order, inspected and approved by the city’s architect’ and that, for privies to be approved, they were to be established so that ‘the offensive matter from privies be collected from a concave cement receptacle located under the surface of the ground, which is covered and equipped with a ventilation shaft’.

One can imagine that this statement created a great headache for the University. On the one hand, the buildings on Sjöström’s site were shortly to be demolished to provide space for a new University building, and it would therefore be a great financial waste to update the privies to meet the requirements of the public health committee. On the other hand, however, it is to be assumed that the University administration needed, to put it politely, somewhere to relieve themselves until the University building was completed. This led the University’s finance committee to submit a request to the public health committee that was unlike any ordinary request, namely an exemption from the hygiene requirements. Specifically, the committee decided at its meeting, on 21 July 1877, to ‘approach the city’s public health committee with a request that the privies in the Sjöström building and the Chamber of Revenue’s building, which would shortly be demolished, be permitted to remain in unchanged condition until further notice’. On 1 August, the public health committee responded, in the most wonderful bureaucratic Swedish, that ‘no obstacles shall be faced for retaining the privies until further notice so long as no sanitary inconvenience comes of it’. The administration’s sanitary establishments were thus saved for the time being, and not torn down until the construction of the main University building.

The public health committee's response to the University's request
The public health committee’s response to the University’s request for an exemption from the requirement to adapt the Sjöström privies. Image source: University Archives

A diminished lavatory paradise

Considering the story of the Sjöström privies was over, you have to ask yourself where the members of management relieved themselves following the construction of the main University building, which was completed in 1882. As it is also thought that the University’s new building was not only to house the administration, but was also intended as combined premises for teaching, ceremonies and lectures, as well as (in the initial plans) a gymnasium, it is easy to see that the other activities would have also required lavatory solutions. In Helgo Zettervall’s first drawings of the new main University building from 1874, the building is also abundantly equipped with toilets, even fashionably indicated as ‘WC’! In addition to a latrine with five toilets on the ground floor, roughly where the Pillared Hall’s serving kitchen is now situated, there was a ‘WC’ next to the administration’s premises in the southern part of the building, approximately where a lift is now located. In any case, this ‘WC’ may be viewed as a spiritual successor to Sjöström’s privies in that it was placed together with (and was likely to have been intended for) the university administration. Finally, for anyone who looked outside on the 1874 plans for the main University building, Zettervall had planned to build ‘bedle’s quarters’ on the site of the current Palaestra, with two additional toilets in a woodshed situated there.

Excerpt from Helgo Zetterval’s original drawings of the main University building from 1874
Excerpt from Helgo Zetterval’s original drawings of the main University building from 1874 showed the premises on the first floor designated for the University management and administration. A designated ‘WC’ is seen on the upper side of the long cloakroom corridor. Image source: University Archives

However, the 1874 plan was greatly criticised by the authorities in Stockholm, particularly with regard to the gymnasium planned for the ground floor, which resulted in Zettervall producing a revised and less ambitious proposal in 1877. Gone were the bedle’s quarters at the present-day Palaestra and its woodshed. Instead, there was a proposal for caretaker’s quarters in part of the former gymnasium, which itself had become a place for ‘Historical collections’ (the current Pillared Hall). The latrine was removed. Remaining in the drawings was only the administration’s toilet, an unassuming remnant of what had once been an embarras des richesses of privies. On top of everything, we do not even know if this modern spin-off from Sjöströms’s privies was actually built; in the festschrift published by the University in memory of Oscar II’s 25-year anniversary of his reign in 1897, this useful fixture is not included in the otherwise detailed drawing of the main University building it contains. Perhaps there were no toilets built in the new main University building at all? Or perhaps it was considered indiscreet to remind his majesty of a throne other than the one he himself had ascended?

Irrespectively, what remains is the question of how people relieved themselves in the new main University building, and here we must admit that we have not succeeded in finding an answer. Since the matter was not considered pressing enough, no action was taken until 1929 when a new sanitary solution was planned for the building, and then in the basement, in the form of one bathroom for ladies and another for gentlemen with two and four closets respectively (presumably reflecting the assumed need at a time when there were approximately 6 male students for every female). This solution, an early architectural recognition of the admission of women to the academy, also points to the current-day visitors’ toilets in the main University building, which, as you may know, are located in the basement.

And with that, we’ve got everything out of our systems.


Fredrik Tersmeden & Henrik Ullstad

Archivists at the University Archive

June 26, 2020

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