The History of Drainage

Ancient drainage

Modern life may have its share of problems, worries, niggles and inconveniences, but when we turn on taps and flush toilets, our drainage systems are trouble-free for the most part. With the simple twist of a tap, we can have fresh water on demand – isn’t 21st-century living wonderful?

But things haven’t always been this way. In fact, drainage has a rather chequered global history; enjoying periods of great innovation, followed by rather smelly periods where drainage took something of a step backwards. Here’s a quick overview of drainage through the ages…

The Indus

One of the most sophisticated early drainage systems in the world belonged to people of the Indus Valley, which today occupies northern India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This Bronze Age civilisation, which existed between 3300-1300 BC, provided direct access to a common drainage system for all dwellings in its major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. Waste water was routed out to covered drains along the main streets, creating a system which in fact surpasses the drainage available in many contemporary Middle Eastern cities.

The Romans

Perhaps the best known historic drainage system belonged to the ancient Romans. Their aqueducts, many of which can still be seen today, are testament to the Roman Empire’s sophisticated engineering and advanced civil services. These aqueducts brought water to and from major towns and cities across the Empire, while a network of covered sewers transported waste out of homes and latrines.

Initially, a system intended to drain away rain run-off, the sewers in Rome evolved over time, reaching their engineering peak with the building of the Cloaca Maxima, a huge covered sewer channel which carried Rome’s waste water and effluent into the River Tiber.

The Victorians

There’s a good reason why London led the way with its Victorian sewer system: the stench! In the early 1800s, the Thames was essentially an open sewer, which spread cholera across the city. In summer, the stench became unbearable, and in 1858, “The Great Stink” forced anyone with the resources to leave the city to escape the putrid aroma.

Joseph Bazalgette was the engineer who banished London’s smelly problem and laid the foundations for modern London’s sprawling sewers, which cope with the effluent and waste water of over eight million residents today.

At Anglia Drain Doctor, we’re not just interested in the history of drainage, we also know about its present and future. For smart drainage services, from emergency plumbing to planned maintenance for businesses, explore our site or contact our team on 0800 056 0088.

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