The History of Drainage – 3000 Years & Counting

It is one of the luxuries of modern life that we are able to flush a toilet, turn on a tap, or have a shower without thinking about both where the running water is coming from or where it’s going after use. Obviously, this hasn’t always been the case, and it is only relatively recently in the course of human history that an effective and (largely) operational drain and sewage system has been in use in the UK.

More Than Aqueduct

Aqueduct
Many different methods for draining away waste water have existed over the centuries – most famously the people of the ancient Indus valley (modern day Pakistan and Western India) were among the first to employ an efficient water access and covered drain system in its major cities, and the Romans were also early pioneers, their aqueducts still marvelled at by many an architect.

Flush With Success

Flush toilet
Sir John Harrington’s innovative flushing toilet design of the 16th century was noticeably modelled on that used by the Minoans of Crete over 3,000 years previously, discovered in the ancient palace of Knossos, and this design took another 200 years to be developed into Alexander Cummings’ patented bowl model.

Thomas Crapper is usually cited as being the inventor of the flush toilet, however this is in fact incorrect. He was instead a good publicist for the toilets we know of today.

The Great Victorian Stink

Changes to UK sewers and drains occurred during the Victorian era, which saw a major upheaval of the London sewerage system. Before this time, at the beginning of the 19th century, the River Thames was little more than an open sewer, and cholera was rife. However, it took until 1858, during a summer known as the “Great Stink” where soaring temperatures caused the city to become enveloped by suffocating odours, to force action to be taken and a modernisation of the sewage system.

Joseph Bazalgatte’s resulting design of the extensive underground sewer network remains largely in place today, albeit with regular extensions to cope with each influx in the city’s population, and the vast majority of residential and commercial drains, serving 8 million people across the capital, feed into its pipes.

Despite a dip during the Middle Ages (a period infamous for its poor hygiene and bad sewerage), all successful civilisations throughout history have focused on developing efficient drainage, diverting both waste water away from drinking water and rain water towards crops in agricultural use.

Developments In The Pipeline

The main changes come in the materials each used for their drainage systems, from ancient eras to the present day. Where once drains and pipes were crafted from clay, lead, wood, stone or even bamboo, now they are constructed from more durable materials, such as copper, brass and plastic inside homes, with water moved around using a system of high pressure pumps as opposed to the original reliance on gravity.

Again, it was the Victorians who realised that lining the inside of pipes and sewers with smooth materials would aid the flow of waste water, and many drain clearance companies today specialise in the upkeep and maintenance of these linings to ensure that drains stay in good working order.

Express Drainage Solutions utilise modern CCTV equipment to carry out comprehensive drain inspections, whether your drains are 5, 50 or 100 years old. This enables us to determine the scale of any damage or if any drain clearance is required.