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January 9, 2017

History of plumbing, pipes, and plumbers: Medieval times (part III of a series)

We have learned about ancient aqueducts and the plumbing proclivity of the engineers and plumbers of the Roman Empire. The job description is essentially the same today: assembling and installing pipes, maintaining water, sewage and drainage systems. Health, life and modern society depends on it.

Using a wooden barrel to bathe in Medieval times. Image via midievilists.net


Too much bathing was considered dangerous...

Wavin continues its look at today's world owing much to the water systems of ancient civilizations. When the Roman Empire fell (due in part to lead poisoning?) there was a decline of plumbing and sanitation in Europe, through the middle ages. While personal hygiene did exist, too much bathing was thought dangerous. Private baths were only for the wealthy and powerful, and public baths were simply too expensive for most.

In 1348 the Black Plague invaded, wiping out one third of Europe’s population by 1350. Without public sanitation and plumbing, rats and fleas thrived in garbage and waste that was growing throughout the cities and towns. During the Plague some villages lost as much as 90% of their population. And 1350 was not the end of it: the Plague reappeared many times over the next 50 years, into the fifteenth century.

Queen Elizabeth the 1st: afraid of the plumbing? Image via TudorsandStuarts.com


Afraid to use the flushing toilet...

Milestones in the art of plumbing then began for the privileged few. In the late 1500’s, Queen Elizabeth 1 was presented with the first flush toilet, designed by her Godson, John Harington. Sources close to the Queen revealed that although enthusiastic about the flushing toilet, the queen was afraid to use it! In 1664 King Louis XIV of France ordered the construction of plumbing lines for the palace at Versailles. Small steps in sanitation and plumbing, yes, but not for the general public.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that scientists found connections between disease and contaminated water. Sanitation is said to be the most important medical advance since 1840. That’s where we pick up in our next installment – public sewers and plumbing in modern times, including Wavin of course - bringing the art and science of plumbing into the 21st century!

Check out part I and II

Make sure to also check out part I and II of our series about the history of plumbing! Part I was showing us the earliest signs of plumbing and sewer. In part II we looked at plumbing and drainage in the Roman Empire.

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