Monday, 3 June 2013

Royal Flush

A mediocre turnout for our special "Coronation" Eucharist yesterday morning. Clearly didn't catch the imagination of the local population.

Watching the film of the 1953 Coronation service on the BBC Parliament channel later on I was not impressed by the droning monotone delivery of the Archbishop as he took the ceemony and the BCP Holy Communion. In my training I was introduced to the principle that the words should be recited without any personal emphasis, but this did seem drear in the extreme, and I wonder how many people lost attention as he wittered on and on.

Recently having read "Flushed with Pride" by Wallace Reyburn, which tells of the life and work of Thomas Crapper, Plumber By Appointment to King Edward VII, who designed and pateneted many developments of the modern water closet, I came across this nugget which bears repeating on this Diamond anniversary of the throne.

One of the challenges facing him was to design a silent flush system so that the rest of the household would not be disturbed by someone taking their easement in the smallest room. At the start of the 20th century he designed two refinements to what became the Marlboro’ Silent Water Waste Preventer which, whilst they didn’t prevent the “ hissing and the gurgling” as claimed, at least minimised it. Modern inventors have got rid of some of the gushing noise down in the pan, by developing the siphonic trap, but truly silent flushes still elude them and it was cause for worry on a Royal level.

Prior to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on June 2nd 1953, those responsible for organising the event were concerned, among other things, about the matter of the special needs of the great number of Peers who would be assembled in Westminster Abbey, many of whom were well on in years and not able, with the best will in the world, to stay settled in one place for long periods, as the lengthy ceremony demanded. It was known that the very aptly named “peer’s bladder”, (a small device worn under the robes) would come to their aid, but there was more to it than that. So an additional “range” of toilets, as they call it in the trade, had to be installed to cope with the expected increased demand.

Then somebody got the frightening thought that at the vital moment of the ceremony, when the whole Abbey would be in hushed silence as the crown was being placed on the Queen's head, there might be one of those terrible coincidences whereby all the toilets happened to be occupied and all their occupants pulled the chain at the same time. Would the strains of that symphonic flush penetrate into the body of the Abbey and create one of the major embarrassments in the history of British Royalty? There was nothing for it but to have a test.

A detachment of Guards from nearby Wellington Barracks was pressed into service, and as technicians borrowed from the BBC, each armed with a decibel meter, were stationed at various key points in the main part of the Abbey, the troops were deployed along the long line of toilets. It is not known what form of drill was evolved for this unique exercise. It was probably something like: ‘At the command, “Chains-PULL” . . . wait for it!’ Anyway, as the order rang out all the toilets were flushed simultaneously and the good news from inside the Abbey was that nothing could be heard of the noises off.


  1. James I's coronation (1603) was the first "protestant", English liturgy coronation service - both Edward VI and Elizabeth were crowned using the same Latin rite service, contained in the "Liber Regalis", that was used for their sister Mary. The translated 1603 rite does not, therefore, faithfully follow the order of Communion of the 1559 Prayer Book - e.g. the service opens with the threefold Kyrie, unique at the time in this context of the Anglican liturgy.

  2. As regards the Royal Wee, a visiting academic from one of the Welsh universities told a friend that his TA unit, irritated by the activities of the advance group preparing for a visit to the unit by the daughter of a reigning monarch, and specifically annoyed by the commandeering of a loo, whose seat was to be removed the instant the lady left, lest, remaining behind, it become the butt of mirth or sacrilege. In retaliation, the TA unit's disposal squad, tunneling from below, added a trap to the plumbing, which retained the lady's offering for later recovery. The solid matter from the trap, encased in lucite, graced the mess mantel on formal occassions and, known as "PAT" [Princess you-know-who's, you-know-what] was ceremonially toasted at future shindigs. I see no reason, beyond the well-known fact that TA officers are a notably mature bunch, to doubt the truth of the tale.