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Mystery bidder who spent £200k on a public toilet in Canterbury

An underground public toilet on a landmark city centre site is to be converted into a subterranean bar and coffee shop.

KentOnline can exclusively reveal that the lavatory – just yards from Canterbury’s historic city wall in Broad Street – has been bought by Loft Bar owner Angela Long.

Ms Long, a businesswoman who has operated in the city for many years, snapped up the site for £198,000 at auction.

London's Cellar Door

London’s Cellar Door

She plans to install an underground bar targeting young professionals, echoing similar nightspots in London and Manchester.

At ground level she hopes to build a contemporary coffee shop made of glass and steel, serving “New York-style pastries” and a range of coffee blends.

Historic elements such as the wrought iron entrance arches would remain, says Ms Long, and floor-level glass tiles would be retained to flood the underground bar with light.

The council says the site has considerable potential

The council says the site has considerable potential

She has already made approaches to an award-winning architect and a leading interior designer to deliver her vision.

Ms Long said: “We want to cater for young professionals – over 25s perhaps – who want a stylish destination for a night out.

“If you look at similar projects such as Cellar Door in Aldwych [London] and Temple in Manchester, they’re extremely popular.

The toilets were sold for £198,000

The toilets were sold for £198,000

“It sounds like a lot of money to spend on a public toilet but I know of a similar, smaller site selling on the outskirts of London for double that.

“I’m so pleased to have got it. This is a perfect site and I’m hearing from lots of people what a fantastic venue this could become.”

The subterranean toilets, on the corner of Broad Street and Burgate, opened in the 1930s and are within a conservation area.

The site is spacious, says the new owner

The site is spacious, says the new owner

Recognisable by the iron arches that mark the entrances to the men’s and women’s chambers, the toilets were built on the site of a former brewery cellar.

They were closed in 2000 due to local authority funding cutbacks.

Canterbury council sold them last month as part of a disposal of various properties, with auctioneers placing a guide price of just £50,000-£55,000.

Manchester's Temple Bar

Manchester’s Temple Bar

Ms Long said: “I’m only just getting the keys this week so it’s early days. We’ve not yet considered licensing issues such as opening hours.

“I can say we want a bar serving craft beers and a broad range of wines and spirits. There are plenty of places available in the city for the student market.

“But we’re targeting a slightly older clientele.”

Islington's Hoxley and Porter

Islington’s Hoxley and Porter

Ahead of the auction, potential buyers had been told that the derelict lavatories were ripe for commercial redevelopment.

In its guidance notes for the sale the city council said proposals for the site could even involve a contemporary structure built at ground level.

It said: “A contemporary design is likely to avoid the problems associated with a historicist approach and allow for large areas of glazing and innovative roof lines, creating a lightweight structure which would help preserve views of the city wall as well as giving glimpses of the activity within the building.”

Cellar Door entrance on London's Aldwych

Cellar Door entrance on London’s Aldwych

Ms Long said: “We’re looking at a single-storey modern steel and glass structure, which will be a coffee shop.

“The interior would be something like The Roost in New York – tiled and wood.”

She says it is too early to indicate when the bar and coffee shop could be built, as she will need to deal with planning consents.

The new owner plans to build above ground too

The new owner plans to build above ground too

But Ms Long has confirmed that she is likely to appoint architect Guy Hollaway and interior designer Kai Design to work on her scheme.

Mr Hollaway is currently linked to two larger development proposals in the city – at Rhodaus Town and on St Margaret’s Street – while Kai Design has delivered interiors for a number of well-known London venues such as Islington’s Hoxley and Porter.

Ms Long said: “This is going to be a new and exciting addition to Canterbury.” 

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