THOMAS CRAPPER & Co. Ltd. - Who invented the W.C.?
Thomas Crapper effectively invented the concept
of the modern bathroom show-room. Bathroom fittings and especially
Water Closets were hardly discussed in society due to the crushing
prudery of the time. Crapper & Co. promoted sanitaryware to a
largely dirty and sceptical public, many of whom thought it unhygienic
to have a W.C. indoors!
Even those who were convinced by the argument found the subject
beyond the pale. Clients would discuss the matter discreetly
with their architect or plumber, who would arrange for a salesman
to call. The representative of the sanitaryware firm would arrive
with a selection of miniature loos, washbasins and baths in
his bag. The clients would have to imagine how the full-size
version would appear and make their choice.
Mr. Crapper caused a sensation when he installed large plate-glass
windows at pavement level in Marlborough Road. The goods were
comprehensively displayed within, but shockingly, they were
also gloriously apparent on stands in the windows. It is said
that genteel ladies would faint away at the sight of the gleaming
china W.C. bowls!
INVENTOR OF THE W.C.?
Thomas Crapper was an innovator and inventor and held nine patents,
but he did not 'invent' the Water Closet; it evolved over many
hundreds of years. Stone-built privies survive around the world,
built by ancient civilizations from Scotland to Turkey, but none
really qualifies as a 'water closet' as we understand the term.
The more advanced versions were simply multi-occupant stone latrines
which were sluiced at intervals by diverting a nearby stream.
Arguably, the first W.C. was invented in 1592 by Sir John Harington,
of the town of Bath in Somerset. His device had a seat, a bowl
and behind it a cistern of water for washing away the contents.
He called it the 'Ajax' and built one for himself and one for
his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. The invention was then comprehensively
ignored for over a hundred years!
The next mechanical flushing loos were introduced in the 1730s
and from 1775 new patents came regularly. The loo gradually developed
until pioneers like Mr. Crapper and his contemporaries, such as
George Jennings, Thomas Twyford, Edward Johns and Henry Doulton
began producing W.C.s much as we know them today.
'Crap' was an ancient word for rubbish or chaff which had fallen
out of use in Britain by the end of the 16th century, therefore
in Victorian times there was nothing amusing about the surname
'Crapper'. However early English settlers to America took the
word with them and so in the U.S.A. it has been used continuously,
although always considered a rather vulgar word.
In 1917, American servicemen stationed in London during WW1 were
hugely amused to see the name emblazoned on cisterns and W.C.
bowls (although their English friends could not see the joke)
and so they began to call the whole W.C. apparatus "the Crapper".
This phrase caught on in America on their return, presumably because
it made sense to those who were aware of the vulgarism 'crap'.
Due to American cultural influences upon Great Britain and Europe
the word 'crap' is now widely used and the humour inherent in
the surname is universally appreciated.
Thomas Crapper retired in 1904 and passed his newly-incorporated
firm to his partner, Robert Marr Wharam and Thomas's nephew, George.
Mr. Crapper was a member of the Royal Horticultural Society and
he tended his plants in his greenhouses (which still exist) at
his last home, 12, Thornsett Road, Anerley, on the border of Kent
He died on the 27th January 1910 and was buried on the 31st at
Elmer's End Cemetery nearby. Today the cemetery is known as Beckenham
Crematorium and Mr. Crapper's plot is 4165, V4. He was interred
with his wife, Maria, who died in 1902. The grave is near those
of W.G. Grace, England's greatest cricketer and Frederick Wolseley,
producer of the first British motor-car and inventor of the sheep-shearing
machine. Mr. & Mrs. Crapper had only one son, who died in infancy.