On this day in history : 17th February 1883 – Mr. A Ashwell of Herne Hill, South London patents the ‘Vacant – Engaged’ lock for lavatory doors….

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The story goes that Mr. Ashwell got the inspiration for his ‘Ashwell’s Patent Toilet Lock’ whilst travelling on a train between Herne Hill and London…. What was needed was a bolt that drives a cog-wheel and then turns a disc indicating whether the lavatory is occupied or not…. Come on, admit it ~ far better than having to sing in the loo….

It was in 1892 that John Nevil Maskelyne patented the coin-operated lock for public conveniences…. Maskelyne was actually an English stage magician as well as an inventor…. You could say he ‘coined’ the phrase ‘to spend a penny’….

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