Plumbing and bathrooms go together perfectly. We’ve worked on countless bathrooms in Crystal Palace and beyond, every one with its own unique challenges. But how long has the bathroom been around? Is it a modern thing, or does it stretch a long, long way back in time like so many other elements of the plumber’s trade?
Here’s our potted history of the bathroom. In the meantime, if you need a plumber in Crystal Palace, give us a call or send an email. You’ll find the experience a pleasure, we won’t charge you a fortune, and we’ll leave everything spick and span behind us.
Thousands of years of civil engineering
Modern bathrooms tend to be clean, hygienic and comfortable to use. They weren’t always that way. The current systems we use exist thanks to thousands of years of civil engineering, cultural upheavals and scientific discoveries. We’ve come a long way from Ancient Rome.
The first bathrooms
The very first bathrooms weren’t about cleanliness. They were a religious thing. Roll back time to 3000 BC and water was powerful magic, sometimes treated as a way of purifying the body and soul. It’s interesting to note that a person back then could be absolutely filthy yet still feel like they’ve been spiritually ‘cleansed’ by water!
The Indus Valley Civilisation loved baths. A technologically advanced civilisation centred in modern Pakistan, they cleansed themselves before entering sacred places. Their villages and towns featured communal baths built separately from homes, thus stopping mucky evil spirits from getting into people’s homes. But the earliest recognisable modern-looking bath dates back to 1700 BC, in the magnificent Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete. It looks just like a modern bath, with similar plumbing.
The Romans and Greeks recognised the value of bathing and built palatial structures to enclose their baths, dedicated to bathing with smart pottery bath tubs and sophisticated drainage. The Romans spread the practice all over the world, from England to North Africa to the Middle East. Some baths were public, others private, and the wealthy enjoyed their own thermal bathrooms at home. The best-preserved are at Pompeii in southern Italy.
Soap makes an appearance
The Roman empire ultimately collapsed, and the Middle Ages saw a dazzlingly effective new kid on the block in the shape of soap. But by the Renaissance period superstition and ignorance had taken over and people viewed baths with suspicion, sure the water carried disease. They preferred sweat baths and strong perfume instead. Boy, they must’ve stank, despite the many towns that offered public bathhouses.
Public baths gradually declined through the centuries, and private bathrooms became more popular. Every time the plague hit the nation the old public bathrooms were shut down for fear of spreading the disease. In 1546 King Henry VIII finally shut down the country’s public bathhouses for good. People became so scared of baths that they ended up wearing clean linen underwear next to the skin instead, in the mistaken opinion it would keep them clean by soaking up the body’s nasty secretions and whiffy niffs. Grim.
The flush loo arrives
English inventor William Feetham invented the shower in 1767. The flush toilet was invented in 1596, but didn’t become a hit until the 1850s. In Georgian London you’d find wash basins balanced on elaborate, costly water-filled stands, essentially a bathroom. By the 1800s houses were organised according to the use of each room, bathrooms finally took their rightful place at the centre of millions of UK houses, and we finally decided baths and cleanliness were necessary for good health.
1889 was the year the electric water heater was invented. By the end of the 1800s traditional wooden bathroom accessories gave way to clean, hard, shiny ceramic. And by the 1920s Britain’s stock of council houses were all built with bathrooms. The 1970s saw most homes in the UK with their own interior bathroom, and the old ‘netty’ or outside loo finally became a thing of the past.
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