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Thank God for Thomas Crapper: a toilet-based assembly

To reflect on the need for hygiene in our lives.

by Ronni Lamont

Suitable for Whole School (Sec)


To reflect on the need for hygiene in our lives.

Preparation and materials


  1. Start with this joke. Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl going to the toilet? It’s got a silent ‘p’.
  2. Did you know that in Victorian times, on urinals there was often a picture of a bumble bee for gentlemen to use as a target? (Some of these still exist apparently.) Does anyone know why? It’s because the Latin name for a bee is Apis. (May take a moment for the penny to drop – sorry.)
  3. Hold up the ball-cock if you have one. Who knows what this is? Or ask, what is a ball-cock and what is it used for?
  4. A ball-cock is a piece of plumbing from a toilet cistern. The device was invented by Thomas Crapper, a Yorkshire-born plumber of the Victorian era. Without it, your flush toilet won’t work – as you’ll know if you’ve ever had a broken toilet at home.

    Some people think that Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet, but that’s not true. What is true is that Thomas Crapper was fanatical about promoting sanitary toilets, which in those days were rare. He had a showroom in London, the first of its kind. Ladies of the era were said to faint when they saw the contents of the showroom.

    Crapper was plumber to the royal family, and it was during his lifetime that your great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents, would have first had the benefit of proper toilets, even if they were shared with half the street. Crapper died at the end of January 1910, 100 years ago.
  5. It was during Crapper’s life that another Victorian, Joseph Bazalgette, was building London’s first sewer system, and they worked together designing how the complicated waterways that are a sewerage system work to get rid of the waste in a village/town/city.

    Can you imagine life without sewers? Life without toilets?
  6. The United Nations reckons that 2.6 billion people in the world live without toilets. That’s two people out of every five. In fact, 2008 was the year of the toilet, and some charities made toilets their first priority. You may have been to an event where you literally threw money into a toilet, to raise enough to build toilets for those who have none.
  7. Many children die every year as a result of not having a proper water supply and toilets in their home, or even their village. Of the 2.6 billion without toilets, it’s reckoned that 980 million are children.
  8. What can we do? Well, lots of charities will take your money! That’s the easiest way to help someone in another country. You could talk with your family about giving toilets as a present through one of the gift-aid schemes. Christian Aid charges £41 for a toilet, tap and sink for a family. That might sound quite a lot of money to you and me, but it’s a new life for that family. Perhaps you could think about buying a toilet as a form/registration group?
  9. Meanwhile, let’s just be grateful for the genius of people like Thomas Crapper and Joseph Bazalgette, who have transformed our lives by not being afraid to get their hands dirty – very dirty – for the good of the whole of society.

Time for reflection

Think about how important flush toilets and running water are to you.

You may have experienced poor facilities at festivals, or camping, but you choose to do that, and it’s usually only for a few days.

Now think about the people, the children, who live without such basic necessities.

We thank you for people like Thomas Crapper and Joseph Bazalgette,
who had the genius to think of how to sort out waste disposal on a grand scale
to enable us to live in cities and towns without illness and disease being spread through sewage.
Help those who work to bring sanitation to people who have none to work effectively and efficiently.
Help us to be generous in our giving, of both time and money.


‘When I needed a neighbour’ (Come and Praise, 65)

Publication date: January 2010   (Vol.12 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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