A load of old Crapper

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Dad was an expert on many things, including Yorkshire dialect

My dad was an expert in various things, including Yorkshire dialect, and dialect words often crop up in his past columns that I look upon for inspiration.

In his column from 17th October 1981, he talks about the word ‘tyke’ being associated with people from Yorkshire. I would not take offence if someone called me a tyke, but rather I’d see it as a term of endearment. Having said that, its origins are not so friendly. It is thought that it comes from the Old Norse word ‘tik’ which meant a female dog although was later used across the country to refer to a rough ill-mannered lout. I’m not sure when it began to change from being an insult into a more affectionate term but, according to Dad, it is only after the 18th century that we find references where it was reserved solely for people from Yorkshire.

In another column from November 1978 Dad talks about the curious Yorkshire saying that describes something as a ‘bramah’. It is one of those words that I haven’t come across, and so I take great joy in the process of discovering what it’s all about.

The word was used to describe something that is of excellent quality, or rather unusual. For example, you might stay, “Eee, it’s a right bramah that one.” I can’t say that I have heard the phrase used, and wonder if it is still said? Perhaps someone reading this can enlighten me. 

The origin of the word is likely to have come from a South Yorkshire man by the name of Joseph Bramah who was born a farmer’s lad near Barnsley in 1748. He grew up to be an exceptional inventor and engineer, most famous for his locks, the first one of which was patented in 1784. 

Bramah was noted for his close attention to detail, and understood how important precision was in engineering. His locks earned a reputation for being extremely secure and high quality, and people with property and valuables worth protecting found themselves worrying less if they were secured by a Bramah lock. They crop up in works by Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Frederick Forsyth and according to Peter Wright, who wrote the controversial book ‘Spycatcher’, Bramah locks were used for diamond safes and were by far the most difficult to break and practically impossible to pick.

The company that Joseph Bramah founded in London in 1784 still exists, and has expanded further into the security field by producing alarm systems. 

Perhaps Bramah’s most important invention was the hydraulic press which enabled the force of a few pounds on a lever to be converted into hundreds of pounds of pressure, and Bramah’s perfection of this method using a small pump plunger found various uses in industry, including book binding, paper production, printing, leather work, engineering and the electrical trades.

Bramah became a leading inventor of the industrial revolution and other ideas he patented included a fountain pen, a fire engine and a valve for a flushing toilet that meant it didn’t freeze up in the winter. Many of his inventions can be seen at the Science Museum in London and one of his toilets still works at Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s residence on the Isle of Wight.

It seems that lots of people have been involved in improving the original flushing toilet. The aptly named Thomas Crapper is thought by many to have invented it, but this is not actually true, although he did help to increase its popularity. Apparently it was Sir John Harrington, the godson of Queen Elizabeth 1 who, in his work Metamorphosis of Ajax, first described a toilet with a raised cistern connected to the basin by a small pipe which released water when a valve was opened. The Queen had one installed in her palace in Richmond, yet it was a further 200 years before Alexander Cummings invented the ‘S’ pipe underneath to prevent foul odours from escaping. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that flushing toilets became the norm.

Incidentally, the word ‘crap’ was used for some years before Thomas Crapper happened upon the toiletting scene so, surprisingly, is not in fact related to his name. It is first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1846, 15 years before Mr Crapper launched his bathroom-related business. 

Read more at countrymansdaughter.com. Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 22nd October and the Gazette & Herald on 20th October 2021

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