Plumbing is a fairly recent phenomenon in Britain and as with most innovations of this kind it was the houses of the wealthy that benefited from it primarily. Before the advent of plumbing however, it was the washstand from which people performed their regular ablutions.
Early washstands were literally a jug and basin on a table. However, by the middle of the 18th century, designers like Chippendale were fashioning washstands out of mahogany and designs for these pieces were illustrated in his catalogue or Director. These early examples were tripods with holes in the top for the basin to sit in with small drawers below for toothbrushes and tooth powder. More elaborate shaving cabinets were also made with numerous drawers to store a basin and soaps, plus hidden canted mirrors that were pulled out for shaving.
The Neo-classical washstands designed by Hepplewhite and Sheraton towards the end of the century was still made of mahogany but reflected the much simpler styling of the period which contrasted with Chippendale’s heavily carved Rococo examples. These newer washstands had splashbacks and many had chamber pots hidden away within them for night use. Also reflecting 18th century cabinetry practices generally, workmanship was exceptionally fine on all these 18th century pieces.
Victorian examples of the washstand were much larger than their Rococo and Neo-classical counterparts and acquired the final form that we think of today. Tops instead of mahogany were replaced with marble or tiles and some made of cast iron, all of which was considered more hygienic. Many also reflected a number of the revival styles in vogue during the period. Towards the end of the 19th century, plumbing was being fitted into most new houses built, although washstands were being used well after the First World War.
All forms of antique sanitary ware are now highly collectible. When looking for period or revival washstands and antique cabinets in Lancashire or Cumbria, local dealers can advise on many finely made pieces.
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