Thomas Crapper

_74795910_toilet2Thomas Crapper was baptised 28 September 1836 and continued with the water theme to be a plumber and rounder of the ‘Thomas Crapper & Co’ in London.

However just to set the record straight Mr Crapper did not invent the flush toilet. He did, however, do much to increase the popularity of the toilet, and developed some important related inventions, such as the ballcock. He was noted for the quality of his products and received several royal warrants.

_74795914_toilet4For over a century, the Victorian urinals underneath one of Cardiff’s busiest shopping streets have been for male eyes only. But now women can take a peak at the men’s toilets at The Hayes – all from the comfort of their phones or tablets.

The underground toilets – the first public conveniences in Cardiff – were officially opened by the Lord Mayor in a ceremony in _74798669_toilet3August 1898, but they were shut by Cardiff Council in 2013, just a few years after they underwent a £148,000 restoration, as part of cost-cutting measures. After protests, they reopened earlier this year for use by customers of the nearby snack bar, Hayes Island Snack Bar.

Whilst nibbling on your cakes and tea you can check out vintage fittings include Thomas Crapper cisterns.


Medicine or not!

Firstly I apologise for my absence over the last few weeks but I have been rather unwell, a nasty virus snuck up on and gave me a wild temperature, sore throat, dizziness, nausea, reflux and has left with a rather woolly headache.

However I was able to get to our local surgery and was given the diagnosis that it was in fact a virus and I have to let it run it’s course…I still feel a bit off to be honest, but you just get on with it don’t you.

And you certainly had to in the Victorian era as you had no sick pay, if you were sick you didn’t eat or your family didn’t eat as money was not forthcoming. If on the other hand you were wealthy then you got the best medicine that money could buy which was still always that good.

Certainly at the beginning the Victorian period hospitals were not as a place you’d want to go they were more often viewed as ‘gateways of death’ (a nice turn of phrase). These places were over crowded and unsanitary, a perfect breeding ground for diseases of all kind and there was a high potential for the spreading of disease within the hospital environment itself.

It was believed that foul air, or miasma, caused infection and it wasn’t until about 1850 the that the idea was challenged blaming the spreading of disease on germs.

And until then these ‘Hospitals’ tended to be run either by a charity or run by local authorities and even then there were very few.

Enter Joseph Lister, a bright chap who discovered “antisepsis”, a help to prevent wounds and incisions from becoming infected.

The Medical Act of 1858 created a group called the General Medical Council responsible for establishing a register of qualified doctors. Before that anyone could set up as a Doctor as there were no standards. Out of this came more hospitals, they consisted of the Voluntary hospitals, Specialist and cottage hospitals, Poor Law infirmaries, Hospitals for Infectious Diseases and as we have looked at before, Asylums for the mentally ill.

The Voluntary Hospital began as a charitable institution initially developed to serve the poor without charge, this can generally be traced back to churches or monastic communities who serving Christ saw looking after the sick and poor as part of their service. They were funded by donations and subscriptions from wealthy benefactors and philanthropy was very popular in the Victorian era.

Admission was initially upon the receipt of a letter of recommendation by the committee of benefactors who accepted this assignment of power as influencing their social status in the community, a bit of mismanagement really, this however was seen as a barrier to the more needy cases so was soon dropped.

Doctors working in these types of hospitals worked out of a moral conscience and were not paid for there work, generally they would be sponsored or make their living from private practice.

By 1860 medical advances contributed to many more successful operations and more of the wealthier people wanted to be treated in the hospital. This type of hospital included in addition to the patient wards, an operating theatre, an anaesthesia room as well as a pharmacy, a kitchen, a laundry, a mortuary and a chapel.

Cottage Hospitals evolved meet the needs of those excluded by the Voluntary hospitals. These types of hospitals were started by relatives or doctors who had a particular interest medical condition and it was the doctor who admitted the patient. I wonder what sorts of ‘experimental’ medication was used in these…makes me shudder really!

Cottage Hospitals began to develop in the rural areas thus reducing the distance people had to travel to get to a hospital.

The patients in these hospitals are serviced by a general practioner and have between six to twenty-five beds.  Modest weekly sums are charged for the services provided by these facilities. The first of these cottage hospitals opened at Cranleigh in Surrey in 1859.  By 1875, 148 cottage hospitals were opened.

The Poor Law infirmaries were hospitals within the workhouses. The appalling 1834 Poor Law required that all who wanted public relief enter the workhouse and therefore worked for there means. The infirmaries were far worse than any other medical facility which is hardly surprising when you consider where they were. It was here where the aged or incurable sick often ended up with paid Doctors visited these facilities only once or twice a week with the daily care the responsibility of nurses

Hospitals for Infectious Diseases were set up as sensible precaution against infectious diseases (bear in mind the cholera epidemics of the 1840’s). They were set up in obviously to prevent the spread of infection and had the capability to isolate patients with contagious diseases.

Pretty glad to use the NHS lets hope that it is not dismantled by the current government.

The Freakshow

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The Victorian freak show with it’s spectacles of the strange, of the exotic, and deformed bodies pulled in very large middle-class audiences across the empire throughout much of the Victorian era.

Today of course it would appear sordid and basically crude to put people with any number of deformities or diseases on purblind display, it would be simple exploitative.

And yet during the Victorian era the imagery and practices of the freak show shocked Victorian sensibilities and sparked controversy about both the boundaries of physical normalcy and morality in entertainment.

But the trade had been around for centuries before the Victorians with all manner  of physical oddities displayed in the circus or fairs and by the nineteenth century such shows were enormously popular.

Some ‘performers’ were happy to be involved finding that the protection of the stage enabled them to live, work and thrive in a world that would of seen there quick demise or imprisonment and apparently some the most successful performers were earning up to £20 a week, a very good salary by today’s standards.

If you have not seen it then I would recommend you watch ‘The Elephant Man’. The film follows Joseph Carey Merrick an English man with severe deformities who was exhibited as a Victorian oddity calledd the Elephant Man.

He became well known in London society after he went to live at the London Hospital to be studied.

His skin appeared thick and lumpy, he developed an enlargement of his lips, and a bony lump grew on his forehead. One of his arms and both feet became enlarged and at some point during his childhood he fell and damaged his hip, resulting in permanent lameness.  Merrick left school at 12 was rejected by his family and in late 1879 just aged 17 ended up Leicester Union workhouse.

In 1884, Merrick well appear of his appearance contacted a showman named Sam Torr and proposed that Torr should exhibit him. Torr agreed and toured the East Midlands, then Merrick travelled to London to be exhibited in one of the notorious penny gaff shops on Whitechapel Road.

He then headed to Belgium and was sadly robbed by his road manager and abandoned in Brussels. He eventually made his way back to London; unable to communicate, he was found by the police to have Frederick Treves’ card on him. Treves came and took Merrick back to the London Hospital. Although his condition was incurable, Merrick was allowed to stay at the hospital for the remainder of his life.

It’s a deeply sad film I found but well worth a watch.

Flushed with Success!

Thomas Crapper was born sometime in 1836, not too sure when as the records are apparently not too clear.

He was plumber and founded the now world renowned Thomas Crapper & Co in London but despite tradition did not actually invent the flushing toilet. In fact the flushing toilet we all know and love was invented by John Harrington many years before in 1596, jump forward  to 1778 and Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire patented the first practical water closet but it took anopther 100 years for George Jennings to take a patent for the flush-out toilet.

But because Crapper’s products were up to such a high standard to the point where they received royal warrants. Infact it was in the 1880s when Prince Edward soon to be King Edward VII snapped up Sandringham House in Norfolk and Thomas Crapper & Co. were summoned to supply to thirty lavatories with cedarwood seats and enclosures. He also recieved  from King George V and his name has been forever associated (bit like the Hoover I guess!with the equipment to allow to ‘do our business’ in comfort.

An aside:

The word crap is actually much older than Crapper, middle english apparently! but it first appeared with its first application to bodily waste, appeared in 1846 under a reference to a ‘crapping ken’, Ken is a house!

Smoking and Pipes

Smoking…smoking is a fairly disgusting habit really. I, regrettably smoked for a very long time.

Smoking is bad for you there is no getting away from that and it was just as bad for the Victorians Era although oddly enough it did far more damage to their teeth (as well as their lungs) usually because tobacco was delivered through clay pipes. In a recent study the Museum of London excavated a Victorian cemetery in Whitechapel in east London found most people had a type of notch in at least two if not four of the front teeth.


It comes from holding a clay pipe between their teeth when working, as with someone who holds a cigarette for a long time it can stain the fingers, or ion their mouth can stain a moustache which is decidedly disgusting in my humble opinion.

In an osteological analysis of 268 adults buried between 1843 and 1854 found that some wear associated with pipe smoking use was evident in 23 percent.

“In many cases, a clear circular “hole’ was evident when the upper and lower jaws were closed,” said Donald Walker, human osteologist at Museum of London Archaeology Service.

Males were mainly affected but the evidence was found that a number of young adult skeletons may well have started pipe-smoking at a young age….mind you that doesn’t surprise me as my father started smoking at the age of 8!

Clay pipes of which Sherlock Holmes was a smoker to Elizabeth I and really the first time  when tobacco arrived in Europe from the new world, but it wasn’t until 1881 that cigarettes were being widely smoked in Britain and that was really the end of the clay pipe, sadly not the end of smoking!!

Victorian Dental Pioneer

I’ve got to say my teeth are dreadful. At the tender age of 45 most of them are gone replaced with crowns or a plate, my father lost all his when he was 28…so, it seems it’s a family thing.

But if it wasn’t for people like Sir John my mouth could be in a much worse state!

Sir John Tomes was indeed a dental Pioneer and was apprenticed in 1831 to Thomas Farley Smith who was a medical practitioner in Evesham.

He then entered the medical schools of King’s College and of the Middlesex Hospital in 1836. From 1839–40 he was became house surgeon to the Middlesex Hospital and whilst in that role he invented the tooth forceps which supplanted the old tooth key. His forceps had jaws that could accurately adapted to the forms of the necks of the various teeth.

There were in fact the first of a kind, modern forceps and for that alone he should be applauded. He then spent his working life to the betterment of dental practice and hygiene. Between 1838 and 1856 he submitted five papers to the Royal Collage of Surgeons and became a fellow of the Royal Society (a great honour) in 1850 and in 1858 he was successful in inducing the Royal College of Surgeons to grant a license in dental surgery. 

One of his other achievement was to ensure that only qualified persons could practise dentistry and that they had to be registration, so in 1878 an Act of Parliament which was passed restricting the use of the word dentist to those who suitably qualified. But he went one step further, 1880 Tomes and other leading dentists of the time formed the BDA (British Dental Association) and he was its first president.

His interest in the subject never waned and he was rewarded with a Knighthood in 1886 for ’eminent services rendered to his profession’. He resigned from the BDA and then retired to his home in Caterham, Surrey where he passed away in 1895.

The Asylum, mental health and barbarity

The Victorian Asylum was horrific, the system set up to treat or to lock away those that we would say have mental health issues. My Great Uncle Gordon was locked away in institutions that were the legacy of the asylum system for about 30 years…the crime that took most of his life…Panic attacks.

The first Asylum in Europe was the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London, It has been variously known as St. Mary Bethlehem, Bethlem Hospital, Bethlehem Hospital and of course Bedlam where we get the word meaning chaos from.

It’s old, very old and was built as a priory 1247 and ended treating its first mentally ill patients It in 1407.

And how did they treat them…well Bedlam was racked by scandals. One charge died after his intestines burst, many slept naked on straw in the cold, others were sadistically tormented by their warders.

Until the government brought about the ‘Madhouse Act’ of 1774 treatment of the Insane was carried out by non-licensed practitioners who were clearly more interested in money than their charges. This Act went at least some way to care for insane patients and brought in yearly inspections of any premises taking place although what their standards were in quite unclear but it wasn’t until 1792 when the York Retreat, set up by William Tuke, actually started to treat their charges as human beings.

People attitudes were less than compassionate as Londoners flocked to Bedlam to laugh and poke fun at the antics of the inmates, after all a visit to the madhouse was a good day out, either that or a public execution!

The County Asylum Act was passed In 1808 but this little to help the mentally ill, many of who remained in the workhouse or treadmill. Finally the County Asylum-Lunacy Act was passed 1845 and just over 100 asylums were built but these fine building housed some horrors and gave rise to a legacy of horror which followed through to the 20th century.

The visiting days are two Mondays in each month. The Government pays 15s. a week for each criminal in this hospital. The average change for the pauper lunatic in the county asylums is 7s. a week; and for idiots, or lunatics, in the workhouses, from 2s.10d. to 3s. 6d. a week. The income of Bethlem and Bridewell Hospitals amounts to £33,000 per annum, and with the exception of £3000 voted by the city of London for the building of the new hospital, the whole is the accumulation of private benevolence! The number of patients in the hospital at the present time is about 390, of whom 194 are supposed to be incurable, and 85 are criminals. The Illustrated London News, 1843

My Great Uncle Gordon

Of course Asylums were of use to many to lock away unwanted relatives. Unwanted wives could quite easily end up there, my Great Uncle Gordon…placed in a mental institution in the 1930’s by his parents because:

‘They said I just wasn’t right’ from the diary of my Great Uncle Gordon Johnson 

He spent 30 years, his prime of life locked away, he was experimented upon to ‘cure his conditions with Electroconvulsive therapy or more commonly known as electroshock therapy, another cure was to put him in a hot bath and then into an ice filled bath…I can’t imagine how painful this must of been.

I can recall visiting him as a child in dirty, smokey conditions in the 1970’s. My family got him out of Long Grove mental health institution in Epsom in 1977, his life wasted along with the many thousands that passed in but never out of the asylums doors.