The History of Guttering
29 April 2016
Gutters, or rainwater systems if you prefer, are a common sight in the world today. In fact, you will see them on pretty much every building in the UK, whether they are residential or commercial properties. However, guttering systems haven’t always been so common and in the past water would be left to run unchecked from the roofs of many buildings. So where did it all begin?
The Romans had a deep understanding of how beneficial it can be to effectively manage rainwater and employed not only guttering systems, but also cistern to store water for cooking and washing. They brought with them this knowledge in the Roman conquest of Britain, which began in 43 AD. However, much of their knowledge was lost when their occupation ended around 410 AD and gutters for the most part were neglected and forgotten about.
The Norman invasion of 1066 is perhaps the most significant date when it comes to the emergence of gutters in the UK. Following his victory at the Battle of Hastings, Duke William II settled many of his countrymen in England. This influx of people meant that many of the towns and cities underwent overhauls, with larger and grander buildings being erected. This facilitated the re-emergence of gutters and also the introduction of gargoyles, which helped to spill water clear of the building. At this time lead was the material most commonly used when installing gutters.
In 1240 a downpipe was erected at the Tower of London, with the aim of protecting the buildings walls, which had just been whitewashed. This is significant in that it is the first recorded use of a downpipe in Britain.
The Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 played a large role in the number of properties that had guttering systems and also the appearance of them. Suddenly there were larger quantities of lead available, which was mostly used to create guttering. Larger houses made use of the more ornamental items that had previously been placed on these monasteries, using hopper heads and intricate designs to add to the aesthetics.
The emergence of coke as a smokeless solid fuel enabled cast iron to be produced in large quantities and at relatively low costs. By the turn of the 19th Century cast iron gutters had become more popular than lead, which was more costly and did not perform as well.
Shortages during the Second World War lead to the rapid development of plastics. As shortages continued after the war, plastic rainwater systems emerged and were commonplace by the mid-1950s; superseding cast iron gutters as the most popular choice.
Fortunately, property owners today are able to choose from a range of guttering materials, dependant on budget and which one best suits the property.