Posts Tagged ‘when in rome’

The History of Your Average Joe Plumber

November 21st, 2012

When you think about plumbing you aren’t perhaps immediately filled with excitement; yet the concept of plumbing can be considered to be one of the earliest and most widespread examples of great engineering that mankind has put into practice. Plumbing is a fundamental part of our lives and one that we readily take for granted as a standard function of contemporary living; but the means with which to source water into and out of our homes wasn’t always as easy as it is today.

During the Neolithic period of man, between approximately 10,000 – 2000 BC, the first signs of large human settlements began to emerge across central Europe and North Africa. These communities placed an emphasis on the farming of animals and the building of tools. In this respect, the communities exhibited the first examples of a lifestyle that was no longer considered transient; the communities were now fixedly located in a specific area and work habits and family orientated lifestyles became the norm.

Life in the Pits

It was during the Neolithic era the first pit toilets were ‘built’ – in the loosest possible definition of the word. A Neolithic pit toilet was simply a hole dug deep into the ground into which Neolithic folk relieved themselves. Decomposition would then take its natural process before soil was tossed over the waste.

Don’t Pit On Your Own Doorstep

As a result of the emergence of these larger communities of people who settled in a specific area for the duration of their lives, the concept of a designated area for communal relief became the norm. Tribes tended to build their pit toilets away from their huts and in nearby bushes.

When in Rome, Do a Do-Do as the Romans Do

Flash forwarding a couple of thousand years, the public sanitation systems in Rome displayed the first examples of plumbing as we now know it today; evidence of public latrines can be traced back to 200 BC. The Roman latrine was a large U-shaped wooden box or stone tablet with a series of holes cut into the top and far from being a private affair the latrines could seat up to twenty people at any one time; with no partitions and no privacy. The act of going to the toilet was considered to be a social affair in which family and friends would meet to swap gossip. One such toilet, located close to the Theatre of Pompey in Rome, had a squatting capacity for as many as a 100 theatre-come-toilet goers.

In place of toilet paper the Romans used a dipstick – a short wooden stick with a sponge attached to one end, an item which gave rise to the derogatory word ‘dipstick’ and the confused state of getting ‘the wrong end of the stick’!

Flushed Out

After use the dipstick would then be washed in a small stream that ran around the foot of the latrine which, in turn, ran into a deeper stream located a couple of metres underneath the squat hole. This stream then ran into a larger sewer system and into the river Tiber and then out into the sea in one of the earliest examples of plumbing on a large scale.

Going to the John – Approaching the Contemporary

In 1596 the courtier Sir John Harrington invented the first flush toilet which came complete with a flush valve that realised fresh water into the basin and a wash down system that carried waste away. Whilst lauded as a great invention at the time it wasn’t considered to have practical applications due to a widespread lack of running water with which to use the devise. Harrington has survived in contemporary expressions with the use of the American idiom, ‘going to the John’.

Modern Plumbing – The Bog Standard

As a result of Harrington’s invention and the widespread construction of sewer systems, combined with water on tap, bathroom plumbing evolved to how we now know it around the 1960s. Up until this point many UK households didn’t actually have an indoor toilet and toilet-goers were relegated to using an outhouse in the backyard.

A Plumb Job

Contemporary plumbing now incorporates all manner of paraphernalia such as bidets, designer bathroom suites, rainwater guttering and fast-action boilers that feed hot water into your home in a matter of seconds.

If you are considering reworking any aspect of your household plumbing then companies such as The Plumb Store offer a consolidation of all modern plumbing services available in the UK. All jobs and installations are considered, with the exception of the pit toilet – it’s perhaps best to leave that in the past.