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The Myth of Thomas Crapper

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Thomas Crapper's exact birth date is not known for sure, but we do know he was born in 1836 and was baptised on 28 September. Originally from Waterside, Yorkshire England, his father was Charles Crapper, a steamboat captain. Thomas began his plumbing career at 14 when he was apprenticed to a master plumber in Chelsea, London.

Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd

In 1861, after his apprenticeship came to an end and after completing three years working as a journeyman plumber, Crapper started his own plumbing business: Thomas Crapper & Co Ltd, located on Robert Street in Chelsea, then Marlborough Road, when it moved in 1866.

Over his career, Crapper patented nine different plumbing innovations, including the floating ballcock. Though he was never knighted1, in the 1880s Crapper earned a Royal Warrant from Prince Edward (later King Edward VII). Edward hired Crapper to install the plumbing system in Sandringham House in Norfolk, which Edward had recently purchased. Crapper later received numerous other warrants: from Edward again when he became King and also from George V when he was Prince of Wales and King.

When Crapper went into retirement in 1904 he left the business to his nephew, George, and Robert Marr Wharam, Crapper's business partner. Crapper died on 27 January, 1910.

Wharam later passed down the company to his son, Robert G Wharam, who sold the company in 1966 to John Bolding & Sons, a rival firm. Bolding went out of business three years later. Crapper & Co was revived in 1998 by Simon Kirby. The company still exists today and produces replicas of Crapper's products.

So Why is Crapper So Famous?

'Crap' is an English word that has essentially two meanings: general poor quality of something, or faeces, either of human or animal. It is also used as an exclamation. The word is considered mildly vulgar and offensive by some, but less so than 'shit', which has the same meaning. An even less offensive counterpart to 'crap' is 'crud', though this does not mean faeces. 'Crud' is generally only used2 by children who are forbidden to swear.

Since the 1400s, 'crap' has been used in some form or another. Usually referring to the dregs of beer on the bottom of the glass, or 'chaffe', grain waste. In the 1660s the word stopped being used in England, but became popular in the American colonies where it acquired its modern meaning. The word has been defined as officially meaning faeces since 1846 when it was featured in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet.

No. Sorry. It would be really funny if he actually did, as he has the appropriate name, but that is just a legend. For years that has been a popular belief, aided by Wallace Reyburn's fictionalised biography of Crapper, Flushed With Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper, published in 1969.

Toilets are sometimes referred to as a 'crapper', and people still enjoy making childish jokes about his name. The manhole covers at Westminster Abbey bearing his company name are even a tourist attraction. On display in the basement of the Science Museum in London, there is a toilet with Crapper's name engraved on the cistern.

However, the early form of the flush toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596, improved by Alexander Cummings in 1775 and endorsed and popularised by Crapper, which was the reason that led to the misunderstanding that he invented it himself.

But still, it is a really funny name.

1It is sometimes, inaccurately, reported that he was.2Along with 'darn' and 'heck'.

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