Made in Britain: Thomas Crapper & Co

Thomas Crapper & Co manufacture loos.

thomas crapper & coWhen Thomas Crapper finished his apprenticeship to a Master Plumber in Chelsea and set up his own business, he had no idea that his surname would become the subject of jokes for generations to come. ‘For his contemporaries, there was nothing amusing about the word “crapper”,’ explains Simon Kirby, today’s chairman of the 155-year-old business. ‘It’s an english word that had fallen out of use by the 19th century, but which the Founding Fathers had taken to America.

It wasn’t until the Doughboys came to fight in the First World War that they thought it terribly amusing to find Crapper emblazoned across cisterns.’ When the soldiers returned, the term caught on. ‘That process, of a word leaving and coming back, is called a “back formation”, which sounds like a horrendous plumbing problem.’ It wasn’t a scatological sense of humour that sparked Mr Kirby’s interest in the company, rather the gift, from his mother, of Lucinda Lambton’s Temples of Convenience. ‘I was quite a strange little boy and the book sparked a fascination with antique lavatories and taps.’

In 1998, after years of salvaging and restoring bathroom fittings, Mr Kirby finally tracked down an old Crapper cistern. ‘I was so excited and decided to research why the manufacturer had gone bust,’ he explains. ‘After searching through the archives at Companies house, I was astonished to find that the company was still alive, although dormant, and I just had to have it.’ The company is now based just outside Stratford-upon-Avon and the collection is made in Britain. ‘The chinaware is made in Staffordshire, the iron in the Black Country and the brass is bashed out in Birmingham,’ says Mr Kirby. ‘I tell the accountants that it’s so we can control quality, but the real reason is patriotism.’

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