British Sinks

Since I discussed German toilets yesterday, I thought I’d bring up one other thing I just don’t get: British sinks. Most every sink you’ll find in a British restroom has dual taps – one for hot water and another for cold water:

British sinks

So if you’re at a museum, a pub, McDonald’s, or even a posh restaurant, you’re supposed to put the stopper in the sink and fill it with a mixture of hot and cold water, then wash your hands in the mixed water. Of course, many places don’t have the necessary stoppers, so you have to run both the hot and cold water. The hot water is usually so hot that you can barely stand it, so you have to move your hands between the hot and cold taps as your hands either burn or freeze.

What I want to know is… why do they still have these awful sinks? America hasn’t had dual-tap sinks in decades, and most of Europe converted over to single-tap faucets after World War II. Britain, it seems, is the sole “double tap” holdout in the developed world. I found a possible answer in a post at another blog, which cites this Wall Street Journal article from 2002:

LONDON (Oct. 31, 2002)—During a wartime visit to Moscow in 1942, Winston S. Churchill discovered a marvel of modern technology: hot and cold water flowing from the same faucet. The plumbing in the villa where he stayed as a guest of Stalin was unlike the primitive British standard of separate taps for hot and cold. Rather than having to fill up the sink to achieve the right blend, the British leader could wash his hands under gushing water “mingled to exactly the temperature one desired,” as he put it in his memoirs. From then on, he resolved to use this method whenever possible. His countrymen have been slow to take up the single-spigot cause. Most bathroom sinks in Britain still have separate hot and cold taps today, 60 years after Mr. Churchill’s conversion and decades after nearly all dual taps were scrapped in the U.S. and most vanished from continental Europe. For reasons of thrift, regulations and a stubborn attachment to tradition, the British have resisted the tide of plumbing history. Even when they renovate old homes, many choose two-tap systems, and builders often install them in new, low-end housing. Separate taps account for an estimated 40% of all bathroom-faucet sales in the UK…. Britons don’t understand why foreigners raise a fuss over this issue. “The British are quite happy to wash their hands with cold water. Maybe it’s character-building,” says Simon Kirby, managing director of Thomas Crapper & Co., a maker of bathroom equipment in Stratford-on-Avon. Boris Johnson, a Conservative Party member of Parliament representing Henley, congratulates “the higher civilizations” that have adopted advanced plumbing technology. But he argues that having the choice of either hot or cold for washing hands “is an incentive to get it over and done with and not waste water.” (…)

(“Old-Fashioned Faucets: Unique British Standard” by James R. Hagerty; from The Wall Street Journal Online)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.