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The History of Urban Drainage Systems

There are a lot of things that we take for granted in our everyday lives, from electricity to running water, to our cars starting up in the morning. One facet of our lives that we don’t really give much thought to is drainage: until there is a fault, we run our taps and drain our sinks without wondering if the water will disappear down the drain. But today’s development of modern drainage systems were preceded by a lot of changes and innovations, and this article will look at the history of our drainage.


The first people to turn their efforts towards effective drainage solutions were the Romans, who, along with their countless other innovations, created towering structures known as aqueducts. Some of these are still standing to this day, although they have been relieved of their irrigation duties.

The History of Urban Drainage Systems

Flushing toilets

We have Sir John Harrington to thank for the revolutionary flushing toilet. Created in the 16th century, it was a somewhat rudimentary design based on creations by Minoans of Crete, some 3,000 years before that. It was 200 years after Harrington laid the foundations for the flushing design that Alexander Cummings modified it into the bowl design that has stayed with us.


Quite how we managed without sewer systems is difficult to comprehend, and it wasn’t until as recently as 1958, in a summer known as ‘The Great Stink’ that something was done about our lack of waste management systems. During that summer, with the River Thames essentially operating as an enormous open septic tank, the high temperatures made the smell in the capital unbearable, and it was decided that action needed to be taken.

Joseph Bazalgatte designed the new sewer system, and it is testament to its effectiveness that much of it is still in place today. With the burgeoning population of London constantly increasing, there are regular additions to the system to cope with the extra usage, but it is still very much the system that was introduced in the summer of 1958.

Pipe lining

Drainage Pipes are now made from copper or plastic, which is a far cry from the materials of choice in eras gone by, which included bamboo, clay, stone, lead and wood. The original idea of lining drains came from the Victorians, who discovered that lining the drains would aid the flow of the wastewater, something which has stayed in place today.

The developed drainage systems we have now are worlds away from what our ancestors used, and the centuries of innovation mean that we can enjoy a much more hygienic existence.

Jet Rod offer draining surveys, drainage repairs and services to commercial and domestic customers alike. To find out more, please get in touch with us today and we’ll be happy to help. We cover Macclesfield, Stockport, Warrington & Crewe and the surrounding areas.




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