First Night Design | Thomas Crapper Did Not Invent the Flush Loo

Thomas Crapper Toilet Victor Horta Museum, Brussels

Thomas Crapper Toilet Victor Horta Museum, Brussels

That’s right — Thomas Crapper (1836-1910) did not invent the flush loo or toilet.  Certainly he was responsible for improving the mechanism by developing the ballcock, for example, and for spreading the word about flush toilets, but the inventor he was not.

Thomas Crapper (1836-1910)
Thomas Crapper (1836-1910)

Nor is it true that his name is the reason we refer to the ‘waste product’ as ‘crap’.  It’s a lovely idea but his surname is purely coincidental. The word ‘crap’ appeared much earlier and is likely to have come from the combination of the Old French crappe, meaning ‘chaff’, and the Dutch krappe, meaning ‘to pluck’ or ‘cut off’.  These days we use ‘crap’ as a slang word not just for excrement but for anything we consider is nonsense or poor quality.


Thomas Crapper Branding on one of his company’s toilets

A Yorkshire lad, Crapper served as a plumber’s apprentice in London’s Chelsea before founding his own company, Thomas Crapper & Co, in 1861. His  reputation increased so substantially that customers came to include the Royal Family.  Thomas Crapper & Co is still serving the toiletry needs of the UK and beyond today.

Manhole cover, inscribed "T Crapper & Co Sanitary Engineers Marlboro Works Chelsea London"
Manhole cover, inscribed “T Crapper & Co Sanitary Engineers Marlboro Works Chelsea London”

There’s a story on the company website that he and his older brother George used to start the day with a bottle of champagne in the The Finborough Arms: ‘a tradition the current managing director would dearly love to revive, but his staff would not stand for it’. What a marvellous tradition wasted!

The Finborough Arms has been a regular feature of my life since drama school days in the 1970s. A small fringe theatre was established upstairs in the late ’70s, early ’80s, which is now in the hands of artistic director Neil McPherson who has built up an enormously successful production house that has won many plaudits and awards. If you’re in the area, you should book tickets for the Finborough Theatre. (I wonder if the pub was ever fitted with Crapper toilets.)

Take care and keep laughing!


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