On this day in history….27th January 1910

On this day in history : 27th January 1910 – The death of English plumber and businessman Thomas Crapper….

Thomas crapper – Photographer unknown – credit: MJC Plumbing – Public domain

It is thought American servicemen stationed in England during World War One brought the term ‘crap’ into our everyday language – as they saw the name ‘Crapper’ on so many cisterns when they visited our WCs…. “I’m just going to the Crapper”…. Actually the word ‘crap’ is Middle English in origin, it was used to refer to weeds and rubbish…. Its first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary was ten years after the birth of Thomas Crapper – long before he had left his mark on the British sanitary industry….

Photo credit : Fawcett5 at English Wikipedia – Public domain

Thomas was born in Thorne, South Yorkshire, in 1836…. His brother George was a master plumber in Chelsea and in 1853 Thomas was to become his apprentice….

In 1861 he set up his own plumbing and sanitary business and quickly gained a reputation for high quality work…. In 1870 the company opened the very first bathroom showroom….

During the 1880s Prince Edward (the future King Edward VII) bought the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk…. Thomas Crapper & Co were contracted to do the plumbing in the renovations of the estate, including the supply and installation of 30 cedar wood seated lavatories…. This was to be the company’s first Royal Warrant – it went on to be awarded more in time both from Edward as King and then George V….

Photo credit : Oxyman – own work CC BY 2.5

Having his own foundry and metal workshops at his premises enabled Thomas to develop his own ideas…. In 1880 he improved the ‘S’ bend trap by replacing it with the ‘U’ bend – delivering a far more efficient trap…. His company held nine patents, three of which were for improvements of the WC, including the floating ballcock….

It is often incorrectly thought that Thomas Crapper invented the lavatory…. It is also a common misconception that he invented the lavatory flush – (although his nephew is credited for improvements to the water siphon system at a later date)…. The confusion may come from the company’s advertisements of the time which do seem to imply the flushing loo was their invention….

Public domain

Thomas Crapper was also the inventor of the manhole cover – allowing easy access to the drainage and sewer system….

Manhole cover inscribed ‘T.Crapper & Co. Sanitary Engineers Marlboro Works Chelsea London’ – Photo credit : Patrick Mackie CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1904 Thomas retired and handed the business over to his nephew George and business partner Robert Marr Wharham…. Thomas died of colon cancer in January 1910….

On this day in history….17th February 1883

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


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’….