History of Bathrooms – Toilets

  • May 11, 2017
  • Updates

This week the focus of our History of Bathrooms series in the toilet. Take a look at our previous week’s histories here.

Early Toilet Design

Pre Ancient Greeks, toilets were basically holes in the ground that the user hovered over. The Ancient Greeks didn’t change this conception much, they simply introduced 4.5 meter cylinders going into pits, so there was more of a tube than just a hole to relieve yourself over. The Romans, like many other bathroom related inventions, adapted this concept and made it social. They created public restrooms which consisted of long stone or wooden benches with numerous holes for users to sit over, the flush system was to poor water into the pit and once this was full, the contents would be emptied into surrounding fields.

For centuries this toilet style didn’t change, although they did become more private. The outhouse was invented – a wooden hut with a wooden bench and a hole to sit on, built above a pit – which dozens of families would share. Monks, however, had the bright idea of placing the stone benches with holes carved in over a river so anything leaving the human body would be washed away. This idea was also utilised within castles, only the waste would fall into the surrounding moat.

The First Flush

In 1596, Sir John Harrington created the first flushing toilet, a leaver was connected to a raised cistern which the user would pull to release the water. This was installed in Queen Elizabeth’s palace (Harrington was her Godson after all) but not really anywhere else. Nearly two hundred years later, in 1775, Alexander Cummings patented the flushing toilet. To look at, there was little difference fro m Harrington’s design, but Cummings created a ‘S’ shaped trap to prevent the smells escaping from the sewers below. This plumbing design has survived the centuries but is slightly modified and a ‘U’ or ‘J” shape today. By the end of 18th century, flushing toilets were becoming extremely popular.

Possibly the most well known name in the toilet industry, Thomas Crapper became famous in the 1880s. He installed lavatories across several royal palaces, and he was the first manufacturer to display toilets in a showroom. It was also within the 1880’s that the toilet designs changed, rather than being encased in wood (a material that doesn’t work well with water for a long period of time) the porcelain was exposed and covered in intricate patterns – some looked more like pieces of art.

Toilets Today

Early 1990’s saw the toilet design change again, high cisterns moved to low tanks that sat behind the users back, toilets because less elaborate, and by the 1920’s you could choose from a selection of colours. Although these later styles are available today, toilets are becoming more than just a convenience item and you can choose a design that suits your taste. Most toilets also include an eco friendly flush option to ensure we’re protecting our environment.

Roman Public Toilets John Harrington Toilet Thomas Crapper Toilet Late 1800s style toilet

Coloured Toilet

Harmony Wall Hung





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