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  • image SM volume 42/169

Reference number

SM volume 42/169


Working drawing


Section through one bay of two floors showing water closet arrangements


bar scale equivalent to 9/16 in to 1 ft. The bar scale divided into 15 parts, the first divided into 12 and marked and labelled 9 6 3 and the remaining scale marked 1 to 14


the pipe A that serves the Bason goes behinde (sic) the Bason / and Comes in at B, labelled air pipe, pipe to Great Cistrn, floor, A and B; (verso) addressed To / Mr Jno Soan / Hertford Street / May fair / London and with a large ? 3 and stamped READING and within a circle 21 / MR

Signed and dated

  • datable to 1773-1778

Medium and dimensions

Pen, sepia and blue washes, pencil on laid paper, with red sealing wax and six fold marks, now in 2 pieces (408 x 292)


unidentified sanitary engineer


cataloguer's note: Did Samuel Prosser come from Reading? nothing useful on this on the internet except for an entry from stoke-on-Trent museum, e-mailed them with copy of drawing and cat. entry 16.12.07 wrote to Neil Burton (used to be an expert on WCs) but nothing useful from him.


crowned EC within an encircled wreath and lion with hat on staff and arrows within a crowned oval frame


This drawing was sent by post to Soane at Hertford Street, Mayfair, London. Henry Holland moved into 17 Hertford Street in 1773; Soane was his assistant from 1772 to 1778. In 1773, 1775 and 1776 the drawings exhibited by Soane at the Royal Academy gave the Hertford Street address and it is probable that he was living as well as working at that address. In any case it can be assumed that the drawing was made between 1773 and March 1778 when Soane left for Italy and that it was associated with the Holland office whose work at that time included Claremont House, Surrey, 1771-4, and a large speculative development in Hans Town, Chelsea that began building in 1777 but was under consideration from 1771 (D.Stroud, Henry Holland, 1966, p.43).The first patent for a water closet was taken out in 1775 by Alexander Cummings, a watchmaker of Bond Street, London. It had 'an overhead supply cistern, the valve inter-connected with the flush and with the pull-up handle, and the syphon-trap. The water [was] brought into the basin very low down, and [was] kept in the basin by ... the slider'. This slider or valve was improved by Joseph Bramah, a cabinet-maker, who replaced it with a valve 'that seated itself with a cranking motion instead of loosely sliding' (L.Wright, Clean and decent, 1971, p.107). Bramah patented his design in 1778. There was also Samuel Prosser who patented his design for a water closet with a plunger valve. The design sent to Soane, has a cistern on the floor of the room above the water closet fed by a pipe to great Cis[te]rn at the low level of a valve within the cistern, and there is an air pipe. On the floor below, placed in front of a window, there is a fitted seat with a bowl or bason that has a valve above a S-bend waste pipe. Pipe A runs vertically from the cistern to the left-hand side of the bowl emerging behind it on the right-hand side. Flushing is controlled by a handle on a short chain that connects with an arm that links with a vertical rod that reached from the bowl through the ceiling/floor to the top of the cistern and also with another valve in the lavatory bowl. Both cistern and bowl valves are similar to a present day bath-plug.Angela Lee, Museum Officer, Gladstone Pottery Museum, Stoke-on-Trent (email, 17.12.07) wrote:'While Cummings and Bramah get mentioned because they patented their work, and in Bramah's case the design was widely adopted, there must have been hundreds of sanitary engineers providing water closets in the 18th century. It would be tempting to think that the Soane Museum's design is earlier than Cummings or Bramah because it appears simpler but 1773-8 is a likely date.... The pull on the cistern would be a 'pull-and-keep-holding' until the bowl is properly rinsed. The basin is likely to be of metal, probably lead. Ceramic basins were made in the 1770s but not of this trough-like shape which would allow for the emptying of chamber pots and slop buckets. The S pipe would provide a water seal and the bath plug type seal would help reduce smells. The water closet would have flushed into a cess pit or drains.'



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Sir John Soane's collection includes some 30,000 architectural, design and topographical drawings which is a very important resource for scholars worldwide. His was the first architect’s collection to attempt to preserve the best in design for the architectural profession in the future, and it did so by assembling as exemplars surviving drawings by great Renaissance masters and by the leading architects in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries and his near contemporaries such as Sir William Chambers, Robert Adam and George Dance the Younger. These drawings sit side by side with 9,000 drawings in Soane’s own hand or those of the pupils in his office, covering his early work as a student, his time in Italy and the drawings produced in the course of his architectural practice from 1780 until the 1830s.

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