The Definitive History
Thomas Crapper & His Company
as presented by the Thomas Crapper & Co.
THOMAS CRAPPER & Co. LTD.
A short history.
Thomas Crapper, 1836-1910;
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.
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.
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.
'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
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.
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.
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