The recent death of a long-standing friend whose father was the last proprietor of Thomas Crump & Sons reminded me that people avidly collect sanitary equipment and allied goods, which were the stock-in-trade of Messrs. Crump. Years ago, when I used to give lectures about Derby on behalf of the Museum, I used to talk about Crump, because the Museum has a ceramic lavatory bowl and iron cistern with his name on it along with some documents relating to patents he had taken out. One, relating to flushing loos, was less than a year behind a similar one taken out by the family Chelsea (London) engineer Thomas Crapper (1836-1910). I used to joke that, had Crump got his patent in earlier, we might now be going for a Crump instead of the more familiar colloquial term!
In fact, I later realised that this was not strictly true, for both patents were for refinements of syphon loos, whereas the flushing loo had started with Harrington in the 16th century and had been much refined and successfully installed by John Whitehurst FRS at Clumber Park, Notts., in the 1770s and then in St. Thomas’s Hospital, London later in that decade. After that the idea was improved by William Strutt FRS and Charles Sylvester, for installation in the Derbyshire General Infirmary, Derby in 1810, and St. Helen’s House three years before. The hospital version even had the refinement that once one had finished and closed the door behind one, the loo would flush automatically – a refinement intended to cope with the sheer unfamiliarity of flushing loos for most of the likely patients.
Indeed, decades later Crapper invented a loo which flushed when you got up, when the seat would rise gracefully and set off the flush. Unfortunately, the rubber rests on the underside would quickly become sticky (rubber being a less refined science in the later 19th century) stopping the seat from rising until the mechanism built up pressure, when it would suddenly come free and fly upwards, catching the user unawares. These were known as ‘bottom slappers’ and were fairly rapidly phased out.
Thomas Crapper was born in the City of London, son of Benjamin, a plumber, in 1802, and after being apprenticed to his father from 1816-1823 he came to Derby – why, is unclear, but the success of Strutt’s loos may have influenced him. If so, he may have been taken on by John Chatteron, junior, who installed the General Infirmary loos, and whose father had worked with Whitehurst on those at Clumber.
By 1837 he had set up on his own account in Friar Gate, opposite the end of George Street, where he has a works, formerly occupied by gas engineer and clockmaker William Wigston, a protigee of William Strutt. He seems to have expanded quickly as in 1842 Stephen Glover remarks, in his account of the new railway station that ‘The workshops, and every part of the station, were fitted with gas under the superintendence of Mr. Crump.’
Indeed, in an advertisement in the same publication Crump advertises himself as a manufacturer of WC’s force pumps, fire fighting equipment, pipes, leather buckets. He also made ‘gas fittings of every description, plans finished and works erected complete.’ His fire equipment also included the famous ‘Niagra’ mobile hand operated fire appliance, the prototype of which was supplied to the Corporation and which had its baptism of fire (So to speak) when the 1828 Guildhall burnt down on Trafalgar night 1841. A similar machine by them was acquired by Derby Museum some years ago, along with some paperwork. A smaller version was perfected for use at private houses.
Much of this expansion may have been down to Crump’s father-in-law, George Haywood, who started the Phoenix iron foundry some years before. In 1829 Crump had married his daughter Ann and indeed, may have worked at the foundry after Chatterton retired, for we find him with his own small foundry later on and one of his six sons became a director of Haywood’s. For the record they also had five daughters. A London born cousin once removed was much later on vicar of Idridgehay.
In 1851 Crump was an exhibitor at the Great Exhibition, winning a commendation and by the late 19th century, after Thomas had died at his Quarndon home in 1887, his firm had become associated with the Derby Gas, Light & Coke Co. This was later chaired by Capt. Basil Mallender, whose younger son Ramsey was later the Managing Director of Messrs. Crump, although the firm was wound up on his retirement in 1972 and the premises demolished to make way for an ugly modern building two years later.
Lavatory pedestals with Crumps name on appear from time to time, indeed, in quite a spate when modern plumbing became a sine qua non of gracious living. Since then however, ‘vintage’ pedestals have become popular, and those who are not content with a reproduction one will have to pay upwards of £150 for a 19th century example (depending on the degree of decoration and the condition). For an original Crapper (bear in mind the firm still exists and makes ‘retro’ equipment) you can pay up to £800 and for a Crump, locally, will cost you £400 or more.
For those with a penchant for local hardware of this type, you can pick up garden pumps, sprayers and fire hydrants for less than £100 and those made in brass or copper and in good condition can be highly decorative. Leather fire buckets by them are sometimes stamped, and without an armorial should go for £50 or £60, although at Bamfords last year we sold an early 19th century set of four – from Longford Hall, judging by the Earl of Leicester’s crest and coronet on them, and quite possibly by Crumps) – for an impressive £2000.
And I know for a fact that a couple of ‘Niagra’ fire engines are still lurking in captivity in the area. One of those in good condition would cost as much as a small car at auction; provenanced, think family saloon.
The next time you re-furbish your bathroom, lookout for a Crump loo, if only to remind you that it was only by chance that Thomas’s name did not enter the lavatorial colloquial lexicon!