Wash-out water closets

MID-19TH CENTURY

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(Picture: Courtesy of Simon Kirby/George Jennings Ltd)

 

Jennings’ simple ‘monkey closet’ was made in one piece of earthenware combining a round pan and a curved soil pipe. Water sat in the bowl, submerging solid waste, which would be flushed over a lip or weir at the back and through a water-sealed trap in the soil pipe below. He dubbed his design the ‘monkey closet’, perhaps because its shape resembled a squatting monkey.

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(Picture: Hugh Sainsbury/Crossness Engines Trust)

Over the following decades, many similar products flooded the market – this is Charles Winn’s Free Flushing closet (1884), a two-piece iteration of the wash-out style. It took time for the simple, all-ceramic water closet devised by George Jennings (pictured below)  to make an impact, but by the 1870s the reputations of older valve closets were faltering. In his influential book The Plumber and Sanitary Houses, first published in 1877, sanitaryware manufacturer and writer S Stevens Hellyer promoted Jennings’ style of valveless toilet with a water trap. He recognised that it was easy to clean, and – importantly, in an era when diseases such as cholera were still believed to be caused by ‘miasma’ or bad air – the water-filled trap prevented noxious gases from reaching the user.

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From the mid-1870s a stream of patents for improved closets of similar designs were registered, and in 1878 James Woodward registered the trade name ‘wash-out’ for this style of toilet. Initially, uptake was slow. Wealthier clients mistrusted a style that superficially resembled the old cottage and hopper closets, installed for servants and in working-class households, which were prone to dirt and smells. But by the 1880s these wash-out closets were growing enormously in popularity, especially as design tweaks improved their appearance and function. Most sizeable new British houses of that period were built with dedicated bathrooms in which water closets were installed.

 

Moving the pan outlet to the front made it less visible to users; having the flush inlet at the opposite end of the bowl from the outlet meant waste was better washed away. However, this design still required a good amount of water for an effective flush, and was also enclosed in a wooden cabinet that concealed the pipes and housed the pull-handle for the flush.