Middle Ages Plumbing

Medieval Middle Ages Bath Logo

Plumbing has evolved dramatically ever since the first water pipes were discovered between 3000 - 4000 BC. Because modern plumbing is so convenient for us, we often forget how we got to this point. Clean water is now considered extremely important for cleanliness and good health - without it, we'd struggle with modern life!

Clean Water

In the Early Middle Ages, the water was pretty clean so people would drink directly from the rivers (including the River Thames!) as it was deemed fairly safe at the time. However, places like London would sometimes run into problems. One year, the Thames became so salty due to the waves from the sea, it led to people complaining about the Ale they were drinking. The water from the river would be used in the brewing process which led to the Ale tasting very salty. Can you imagine drinking from the River Thames now?!

River Thames Pollution Logo

In different areas of Europe, public wells were supplied which you'd have to walk to daily. Wells were used to access groundwater in underground aquifers. This would be done by drawing the water from a pump or via buckets which usually would be raised by hand. But, if you were lucky enough to be rich, you'd have your own private well - most likely in the basement of your house. It was common for external wells to be poisoned in Medieval times, which is why castles would have them built internally. It could take decades to construct the well but it was worth the wait to have your own clean water.

Medieval Middle Ages Well Logo

Rome also provided baths, but eventually were looked down upon as arrogant and vain. This was due to the fall of the Roman Empire and cleanliness went out the window. Even though personal hygiene was still a thing, it was thought too dangerous to bathe frequently. Of course, being rich, you would have your own private bath, living the life of luxury as they knew it. Public baths were available, however, most people couldn't afford them - I don't think people nowadays would like that option!

Unsurprisingly, the Black Plague then played a part, wiping out 30-50% of the European population between 1347 and 1351.

Medieval Middle Ages Bath Logo


One of the oldest sewers that were found to have pipes and drainage systems of 5,000 years old is in the North of Scotland on Orkney Islands. This included lavatory-like plumbing systems which were fitted into the home's recessed walls with draining outlets. The waste would then end up either under buildings or outside them similar to the sewers system we have now. There were only 6 stone huts for this design which was created by the community - though, for reasons unknown, the town was eventually left abandoned.

Orkney Island Logo

The Isle of Crete (in Greece) is another island that was discovered to have separate drainage systems dating back to 1700 BC in the Palace of Knossos. At the time, it was the most developed plumbing in the Western World and the ancient sewers here are believed to be nearly 4,000 years old. The terra cotta pipe provided hot and cold water under the palace as well as for all their fountains! In Europe, Knossos was also known as the first place to have a toilet flushed with water (though, this did involve buckets).

Palace of Knossos Crete Logo


Did you know Queen Elizabeth I was scared of using the first flush toilet?

Her Godson, John Harington, invented the flush toilet in 1596 (which is a huge milestone in the plumbing era) and Queen Elizabeth I was the first to try it. The toilet had a flush valve that lets the water out of the tank and a wash-down design to empty the bowl. The construction of the plumbing lines was ordered for the palace by King Louis XIV of France. This obviously wasn't available to the public, but this got the ball rolling.

Most people believe the famous Thomas Crapper invented the siphonic flush, but this was not actually the case. It was in fact, Albert Giblin in 1898; however, the siphon mechanism was later improved by Crapper's nephew, George.

Sir John Harington Flush Toilet Logo

Compared to the low population in the Middle Ages, we now rely on plumbers heavily and with the way our population has grown we wouldn't be able to continue a modern life without them.

Thanks, plumbers!

If you want to take a look at something a bit more modern why don't you check out our collection of shower enclosures, showers and bathroom suites.

If you found this post interesting, you may also like - Best Position to Sit on the Toilet - The World's Most Expensive Bathrooms - Pissoirs: The History of Public Urinals in Paris.

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