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Beresford’s Combined Folding Lavatory and Writing Desk – Wolverton Works Archive

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Take a close look at the drawing below and see what you think…

The drawing is part of the Wolverton Works archive, and it was found during a recent session to catalogue engineering drawings that make up the collection. It shows a ‘combined folding lavatory and writing desk’, dated 1920, and is a copy of a patented design by Herbert James Beresford.

For obvious reasons this drawing really did get our team talking. A combined toilet and desk? Obviously a space-saving measure, but who would want to use such a thing? And were there not already toilets readily available in carriages at this time? Along with various other practical issues this seemed a very unusual invention.

According to the patent records on the European Patent Office website, Beresford created a range of inventions designed to improve water closets used on railway carriages. Was this a step too far? We do not know if this invention was ever produced and used. Even when a drawing like this exists, it does not guarantee that the design was ever put into use by the railway company.

Have you got it yet?

It turns out there is a rather mundane explanation. The word ‘lavatory’ has not always been used in the sense that it is used today. 

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a lavatory as ‘An apartment furnished with apparatus for washing the hands and face, subsequently also including water-closets, etc. In the 20th c. one of the more usual words for a W.C. (and in turn giving way to more recent euphemisms: lav., loo, toilet, etc.)’.  

So really it is just a hand basin/desk, probably for use in sleeping cars. Interesting and quirky nevertheless, and I hope that you found it as interesting as we did!

Written by Alison Kay

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  1. Dave Instone

    Officers cabins in the Royal navy in the 1960’s had a desk with an washbasin below very much like that shown here.

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