Can you imagine life without the water closet? I bet that for most of us it is a horror beyond imagination, so unspeakable & unacceptable that we cannot conjure up the prospect. The flush toilet or water closet (wc) changed the course of history by allowing society to live with itself. It has done more for public health than all the doctors since Hippocrates.
‘FLUSHED WITH PRIDE:THE STORY OF THOMAS CRAPPER’ by Wallace Reyburn (Pavilion) a slim, useful volume is the little Classic of the Smallest Room!! It is the story of Thomas Crapper, inventor of the flushing toilet and England’s Royal Plumber, as well as being a fascinating social history of the lavatory, there are photographs & illustrations of Crapper and his products. There were flush toilets before Crapper came along but none of the worked very well. Crapper’s genius was a mechanism that allowed water to flush the wc only when necessary. In short, he invented the valve that made flushing practical. Once Crapper’s triumph was known, every household in London wanted one. NECESSITY IS THE MOTHER OF INVENTION. Never before has this been true. Over the years, many alternatives have been tried.
But the old Thomas Crapper’s wc is still the best,
head and shoulders above the rest.
For more than a century, neither the inner workings nor the basic shape of Crapper’s invention has changed. He passed away in 1910. If ever a man left the world a better place than he found it, it was him. Yes, we owe him an awful lot.
In fact I even owe him my surname. My beloved grandmother, Jessie and the one who is writing these lines have always showed a passion for ancestor tracing. God knows how proud we have always been of having been inheritors of a man whose foresight, ingenuity and perseverance brought to perfection one of the great booms to mankind. My English side comes from Yorkshire, and these forbears can be traced back to 1315. In my teens one summer holiday down in Kent, I noticed a little smear on my mates faces when heard my surname. I went back to Huddersfield and told the rest of the family. Why has our name become the butt of jokes?? My aunt can recall being called ‘Crab apple’, nothing more. Why crap? We came to the conclusion that this in-thing considered mildly or moderately vulgar was due to Americanisation through the telly. I mean, up to that point every time one had to swear it was : **shit!, or more mildly sugar!. You can use *dung instead (=manure, animal droppings) Nowadays you can also hear: ‘My computer has a really crap video card’, ‘I’m crap at this’, ‘Cut the crap’= stop beating around the bush, ‘crap out’= stop working. Sadly, ‘crapper’ has been shortened to ‘crap’ in the USA and become principally a synonym for non-sense.
As I was saying, the ones to blame are the Americans. US soldiers stationed in England during World War I saw many toilets with ‘T. Crapper’ in the glaze and brought the word home as a synonym for ‘toilet’. Thus it was that returning American troops spread the word. Going to the crapper was used a great deal during the 1920’s.(pg 77). It was left to the Americans to give the man his due, and ironically enough these American word coinages are now finding their way back across the Atlantic, for the British to pay indirect, and belated tribute to the Chelsea pioneer. Never has the saying ‘A prophet is without honour in his own land’ been more true in this case. I mean, we pay tribute to the Earl of Sandwich when we order a sandwich, the same applies to Lord Cardigan, the Duke of Wellington……. But what of poor Crapper? How many euphemisms are there to avoid mention of the water closet? We go to the loo, to the rest-room, to the powder-room, to the cloakroom, to wash our hands. We announce we want to be excused, we are going to see George,…..Yes, we are so co-operative in helping others skip the subject, that any word or phrase will be accepted, just as long your intentions are made clear with a questing look. My father goes to make a phone call, my mother goes to make nº 1 or 2 (it depends) my aunt goes to pay Mrs Armitage a visit, my grandma to spend a penny……..(so in a way Americans are to thank!!). Ironically, the surname can be found in Westminster Abbey among the great tombstones of England’s great figures. The inscription ‘Thos. Crapper, Sanitary Engineer, Chelsea’ is on their manhole covers, and a church near Doncaster has honoured Crapper in a stained glass window.… His name lives and will live on.
(Long live the name!!!!) Cheers, To grandad Crapper
Linda H. Crapper