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The Definitive History of
Thomas Crapper & His Company

as presented by the Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd.

THOMAS CRAPPER & Co. LTD.
A short history.

Thomas Crapper, 1836-1910; Sanitary Pioneer.

Manufacturer, supplier and installer of sanitary goods (bathroom fittings, W.C.s etc.) plumbing and drainage. Improver and promoter of the 'Water Waste Preventer' (the syphon fitted in British cisterns); promoted plumbed-in bathroom fittings and brought them 'out of the closet'; inventor and patentee; Sanitary Engineer and supplier of goods to kings, princes, the nobility and gentry; founded Thomas Crapper & Co. in 1861; successful entrepreneur, publicist, Mason and member of the Royal Horticultural Society.

Thomas Crapper was born in Waterside, a hamlet near the Yorkshire town of Thorne, in 1836. The exact date is unknown but it is thought he was born in September. His family were of modest means although his father, Charles, was a steamboat captain. When he was around 14 years of age he was apprenticed to a Master Plumber in Chelsea, London. After serving his apprenticeship and working for three years as a 'journeyman plumber', in 1861 he set up his own company at Robert Street, Chelsea.

Subsequently in 1866 he moved the expanding business to the Marlboro' Works, in nearby Marlborough Road. (Much later the name of the street was changed to become part of Draycott Avenue, as the General Post Office complained there were too many roads in the capitol named after the war hero, the Duke of Marlborough.)

Mr. Crapper took a partner, Robert Marr Wharam (pronounced 'Wareham') who brought financial and accounting skills to the enterprise and together they built a sizeable firm with an ever-greater reputation.

ROYAL APPROVAL

In the 1880's Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, purchased Sandringham House in Norfolk as his country seat. He set about improving and extending the building as a royal palace. Crapper & Co. were invited to supply and install their finest wares for the bathrooms, cloakrooms and indeed all the plumbing and drainage for the project.

Thomas Crapper thus gained his first Royal Warrant. He received another one from Edward when he became King and another from George V when he was Prince of Wales. The company was granted a fourth (just after Mr. Crapper's death) when George V ascended the throne.

Of course, such royal approval helped business greatly and Crapper fittings were rightly considered the finest of the time. Many commissions were received for sanitaryware at all manner of buildings, grand and not so grand. The list includes Park House, where (much later!) Princess Diana was born and even Westminster Abbey. Victorian Crapper goods are still doing reliable service in private and public buildings all over Great Britain and abroad. The manhole covers of Westminster Abbey (inscribed 'T. Crapper & Co., Sanitary Engineers') are popular with tourists for wax-crayon rubbings as mementoes of their visit! Some Crapper W.C.s were recently discovered as far away as New Zealand. We are contacted regularly by people who have antique Crapper wares in their homes and we are pleased to assist with spare parts and restoration when required.

However, the company mainly prospered because of their famed quality, attention to detail and service. Every item was checked and tested before it left the works and only the best apprenticed engineers were employed. From the earliest days a repairs workshop was installed next to the foundry. The company could hardly conceal their glee when regularly asked to repair broken sanitaryware produced by less-fastidious competitors! It is doubtful that any other firm offered such a service.

THE SHOW-ROOM

Thomas Crapper effectively invented the concept of the modern bathroom show-room. Bathroom fittings and especially Water Closets were hardly discussed due to the 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, 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 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 from ancient civilizations from Scotland to Turkey, but none really qualify as 'Water Closets' as we understand the term. The more advanced versions were 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 two hundred years!

From 1775 new patents came regularly and 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.

THAT WORD

'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.

In 1917, American servicemen stationed in London 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 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 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 and London.

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.

AFTER THOMAS

In 1907 Robert Wharam and George Crapper acquired a new flagship store, 120, King's Road, a very grand address opposite Royal Avenue and near Sloane Square. The company continued to prosper and large extentions were added to the building, giving even more showroom and storage space in addition to the manufactory at Marlborough Road. The 1920's and 30's saw the arrival of Art Deco in the bathroom and Crappers led the way with outlandish designs in the new mode. Bold colours had arrived in sanitaryware in the 1930's and the firm sold many "modern" suites in shades of green, blue, pink, yellow, ivory, amber and even black.

However, the second World War intervened and like many British firms, Crappers suffered from shortages and the enormous changes in society. By the late 1950's Robert G. Wharam (Robert M. Wharam's son) was solely in charge. The firm was long-established and still successful but the Marlboro' Works had been sold and all operations were based at 120, King's Road. Mr. Wharam was advancing in years and wished to retire so eventually he sold the firm in 1966 to nearby rivals, John Bolding & Sons.

What happened next shocked the whole industry. Despite assurances to the contrary, Boldings mercilessly 'asset-stripped' the company and sold the premises at an enormous profit. They moved Crapper & Co. to Bolding's buildings in Davies Street and continued to trade for a few years until they received their just desserts.

In 1969 Boldings went into liquidation and all their assets were sold - including Thomas Crapper & Co. Ltd.

RECENT HISTORY

The new chairman owned Crapper & Co. for the next twenty-nine years but did little with the business. Thankfully he kept it alive until it was acquired by its current owner, an English enthusiast with a passion for the great heritage of the famous old firm. He is an historian of the bathroom industry and (believe or not) a collector of antique loos, basins, taps and even baths. For him Thomas Crapper & Co. is the ultimate prize!

He has gathered around him like-minded, committed individuals with their own separate specialities and their joint aim is to treat the company and reputation with the respect deserved.

Now based at Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon, the traditions of quality, attention to detail and service are maintained as strictly as they ever were. Exact re-creations of the sanitaryware of 100 years ago are produced, mostly by hand and all in Great Britain as in the past. Details of these products and a selection of historical images and engravings can be seen on the firm's web-site, www.thomas-crapper.co.uk.

At the base at Stratford, all products are displayed alongside a selection of restored, antique bathroom fittings for sale, ready for decades of further service. There is also a small private collection of some extraordinary antique sanitaryware, including Crapper goods, various manufacturer's catalogues and tiny salesman's samples. Pride of place, of course, is the original company seal and the leather-bound account books and minute books. Some of these contain Thomas Crapper's own delightful 'copper-plate' handwriting.

All involved with the company earnestly believe that Thomas Crapper would be pleased to see his company prospering in the twenty-first century whilst creating such fine and exclusive products.




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