Thomas Crapper

Photo:Thomas Crapper

Thomas Crapper

A truly famous local hero

By Carolyn Sansbury

Thomas Crapper, the famous sanitary engineer credited with inventing the flushing WC, lived at no.21 Powis Square in the early 1890s.

Crapper was born in 1836 in Yorkshire, the son of a steamboat captain.  When he was 14, he was apprenticed to a master plumber in Chelsea. When he was only 25, he started his own company, pioneering showrooms of sanitary ware, and selling the famous flushing WC.  

Whether or not he actually invented the WC (and it seems that he did not), many people – particularly the servants – must have been very grateful to him, because his flushing WCs were part of a revolution that was to save them from some particularly nasty tasks – including emptying chamber pots.  But that was not the worst of it.

In our part of Brighton, the houses are so pretty that it is easy to forget about their nether regions – the plumbing and drains. For one house in Powis Square, built before 1850, a plan dated August 1873 shows the line of new drains that were to be linked to the main sewer – so, doing our sums, we can see that for at least 23 years the house had been without mains drainage. The plan of the basement shows there was a pantry and housekeeper’s room looking into the front area, and at the back, there was a kitchen and scullery, and a small yard with a cesspit and a toilet in one corner. Before the main drains came, somehow, somebody (yes, you guessed, the servants) had to empty the cesspit, and carry its contents out through the house. Yuk.

This page was added on 08/04/2010.

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