Most of us living in the UK today take for granted the convenience of modern plumbing technologies, from a flushing toilet to a running tap of clean and potable water. Today nobody has to think about the changes plumbing has gone through or the history of the technology. However, the history of plumbing and its respective technology is long and interesting.
It was largely during the centuries when Greeks and the Romans ruled the known world that plumbing systems made their way into urban settings. The Greeks and Romans used plumbing to take clean water to the cities and houses and dirty water away from public bathing houses which was done mostly via a network of aqueducts during the Romans’ rule. In fact, the Roman way of aqueducts and lead piping was considered sufficient until the nineteenth century when underground piping systems took the place of the aqueduct system.
Pipes were constructed mostly from lead during ancient times and aqueducts were pieced together from stone and clay. However, this is no longer the case in modern times. Today, steel, brass, copper and plastic are the most popular building materials for plumbing and piping systems. Lead is no longer used to make pipes because the toxicity of lead is considered to be too high.
The bath houses that were popular during the Roman Empire were the real driver behind modern western plumbing calling for technical solutions from the ancient engineers. When the bath houses were first used and plumbing had not yet fully developed, the water in the public bath houses was only changed once a day and people bathed only while the sun was out. This is because bacteria had not yet been discovered and Romans had not yet learned how diseases and infections were spread. Sanitation had not yet evolved and a single change of water was considered efficient for that time’s hygienic standards.
The modern toilet is, arguably, more important to many modern UK citizens than the aqueducts of the Roman Empire. The toilet that most western citizens are familiar with in today’s society was first built in Mohenjo-Darco in approximately 2800 BC. This toilet consisted of a pile of bricks upon which a wooden seat was fixed. These “modern” toilets were only available to the highest members of society and, in fact, would not be used by the masses until the 1800s when the western world adopted them.
Once the western world had adopted the sit down toilets and aqueduct structures of the Roman Empire, the plumbing technology surrounding them expanded very quickly. Within one hundred years, plumbing technology and toilets have gone from the aqueducts of the Roman Empire to the modern efficiencies that most citizens in the United Kingdom take for granted these days.
Today pipes and plumbing fixtures are mostly located underground and the sewage drains and cesspools of ancient times have been almost completely eradicated and replaced. As technology continues to advance, the cleanliness and efficiency of plumbing and toilets will become more efficient and clean.