Stand-alone pedestal toilets

1880s

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(Picture: © Lucinda Lambton/Bridgeman Images)

 

This style of Twyford’s Unitas, in the ‘Raised Oak’ design from 1888, is gloriously decorated with a relief moulding of oak leaves and acorns on the exterior, and sports a similarly ornate floral transfer on the rim and inside of the pan. The Unitas’s seat could also be hinged, so that men could raise it while urinating.

 

Being made in one piece, and without the need for a box enclosure, made such toilets more accessible for cleaning and maintenance. Over the following years of the 19th century and into the 20th, this type of pedestal water closet became prevalent.

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(Picture: Clive Hurst/Licenced under CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

Another similar model was the Pedestal Vase, produced by George Jennings & Co in 1884; the innovative sanitary engineer himself had died two years earlier. The diagram above reveals the inner workings, showing the flush pushing waste from the shallow pool in the basin over a weir into the water trap below, where it’s swept around the bend into the soil pipe. You can also see the folded ‘box’ rim from which jets of water clean all around the bowl – an innovation added to pans from 1855, when it was patented by sanitaryware producer Edmund Sharpe.

 

This model garnered plaudits on its launch, being awarded a gold medal at the 1884 International Health Exhibition in South Kensington. During a demonstration at the event, it was connected to a siphonic cistern and flushed away 10 apples, a flat sponge, and four pieces of paper adhered to the surface of the pan with sticky plumbers’ smudge.

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(Picture: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy)

 

This kind of wash-out closet became hugely popular during the later years of the 19th century, with manufacturers including Twyford, Shanks, Doulton – whose Lambeth Combination model is advertised here – and Edward Johns (which later became Armitage) producing numerous variations on the style. However, the wash-out had its critics, who observed that the small reservoir of water in the pan wasn’t deep enough to cover stools, and that the flush (now a maximum of two gallons) wasn’t always sufficient to adequately clean both the bowl and the trap.

 

Though flushing mechanisms have changed since then, toilet bowls incorporating a shelf on which the stool sits, allowing inspection (considered a way of monitoring health in past centuries), are still common in countries such as Germany.