-----In 2004 we bought a falling-down house and 30 acres. This blog documents our progress-----

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet

I've always admired the old porcelain ornately patterned Victorian-era toilets, the kind you see occasionally in fancy old hotels.  I'd have happily settled for a repro but even that I couldn't find. So I was left to watch Ebay and pray.  Some came up over the years but they ended up being way too expensive.  Then, finally, earlier this year there was one that -- because it has a (tiny) chip, and wasn't sold by an antique dealer -- was within reach, in both location and price.

I thus present to you "The Climax Washdown Pedestal Closet" (!!) that will one day, hopefully, be our toilet. :-)

victorian toilet - 1

victorian toilet - 3 victorian toilet - 4

I've done a little research on it since it arrived.  First, I got hold of a book entitled "Ceramic Water Closets" from which I learned: 

In 1884 Frederick Humperson introduced the wash-down WC, considered to be the first of its type.  D.T. Bostel of Brighton also claimed a similar invention in 1889.  Both firms had cooperated with sanitary potters and no doubt all parties contributed to the washdown closet's development.  Wash-down closers were an evolutionary development of earlier cottage pan and trap arrangements, but in one piece with the water seal raised to within the bowl.  Successful operation of wash-down WC's depends on the force of flushing water to drive soil from the bowl.  Early wash-downs were made with full-front pedestals, but later models were modified into the easier to make cut-away styling.  Since 1890 the wash-down flushing principle has been adopted as the prototype for most WC development.  

Our toilet has a full front (ie: it goes sort of straight down rather than tucking in with a curve like modern toilets), so that suggests it must be one of the earlier ones.  Cool!  There's something nice about it being a true ancestor to modern toilets.  :)

I also hunted online to see if I could find its manufacturer.  The only people I found still making this model style (albeit not fancily patterned) were Thomas Crapper & Co.  I emailed them to ask if this was one of theirs and they very kindly wrote back, not just with information about it but also some installation tips and warnings:  

That is an attractive loo, but I regret that I do not know who produced it. In the 19th century there were dozens of companies producing hundreds of different loo pans, so I do not know them all!   However I have looked it up and I see that 'Climax' was a W.C. trade name for Messrs. Smeaton & Sons of London, registered 1889.

Note that it is made for a high-level cistern (about six feet from the floor).  A low-level version will give you a very poor flush.  I note too that the loo is rather crazed... Bear in mind that this indicates that the loo has become porous.  You may find that the floor under the pan will become damp if you install it.  However if fitted in, say, a downstairs cloakroom which is well-ventilated, it may be all right.

With that warning in mind, we are testing its water-tightness at the moment, having stood it in an old oven tray and poured a jug of water in.  So far, so good... it is holding water no problem.  There is lots of crazing at the top but not much down below where the water sits in the pan, and none seems to have seeped out yet.  I'll give it a week.  In worst case, if it does leak I'll move onto plan B which is to put some sort of glue or epoxy over it in the part where the water is sitting.  It's such a nice loo that it's worth some effort saving.  

By the way, the porcelain edge isn't as uncomfortable to sit on as it might appear.  However, it is definitely cold, so my plan is to install one of the old fashioned style wooden seats over it, affixed via shelf brackets.  Although we will likely have to make such a seat ourselves, since to buy new is, sadly, a bit expensive.  If anyone can make one though, my Dad can. :)

Sadly, I fear this is the end of the trail in terms of finding about the supplier.  I had a hunt for "Smeaton & Sons" in London online and unearthed a reference to them being involved in improving public lavatories in Billingsgate Market in 1961.  Armed with the address from that of 40-43 Chancery Lane, I then unearthed two mentions of them (here and here) in the 1966 London Gazette relating to the company being wound up.