It All Began a Long Time Ago — a Brief History of Gutters

Our homes today all have a relatively inconspicuous gutter system but it wasn’t always so. Today they perform an important function in channelling the rainwater away from the house and most importantly its foundations. Available in a variety of finishes and materials they all perform this same vital job. Contrary to popular belief gutters are not a recent development. They have in fact been around for centuries. Historical excavations have shown rainwater collection systems designed to channel rainwater and collect it for drinking and cooking.

Roman Plumbing from Bath, England

Guttering was introduced to Great Britain by the Romans. Naming their goddess of the sewers Gloacina, showed the importance they bestowed on dispersing water and storing it for later use. When the Romans left the British shores in 410AD their innovative ideas were largely forgotten. But Great Britain was invaded countless times by Northern European and Scandinavian tribes who each left their mark.

Buildings built during these times of invasion were not on such a grand scale as the Romans and constructed largely of loose stone, wattle and daub or mud. This type of building material is very susceptible to damage by rainwater. To combat this the roofs were built with a wide brim which shed the rainwater away from the house.

When the Normans invaded in 1066 gutters were reintroduced. The Tower of London, a triumph of Norman building prowess, was constructed using external gutters, designed to protect the beautiful white-washed walls of the White House. Also built were churches and cathedrals which used lead and stone gargoyles to direct the excess water away from the buildings.

Tower of London

Henry VIII helped in the development of guttering when he dissolved the monasteries, leading to large amounts of unwanted lead. This lead was recycled into durable, weather-proof guttering that even the less wealthy could use. Intricate designs were fashioned and in some way demonstrated the importance the home owners. Very soon there would be a need for gutter cleaners more so than anywhere else.

Mass production arrived in the 18th century and guttering was soon available for the masses throughout the country, in the form of metal guttering and pipe systems. By Victorian times things had improved to the extent that nearly all houses built benefited from cast iron guttering and iron downpipes. An improvement in the health of the population ensued because houses were no longer prone to damp walls which often led to diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis.

Nowadays we take our guttering for granted, but it is good to realise it was not always so easy to have gutters at home. We should look after these systems and utilise them in ways not thought of before. By installing a water collection system as part of the guttering pipework, rainwater can be stored for other purposes such as watering the garden or as a supply of brown water for the home.

Written with the help of a close friend of mine from a gutter cleaning company in London.

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