Rain gutters are a part of an external plumbing system that was developed as a necessity of a way of draining water. The history of the rain gutter, surprisingly, goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. Like many modern luxuries of infrastructure that we routinely take for granted, plumbing and drainage systems were used by the Romans to facilitate clean water transfer and water removal. While no single person can be credited with inventing the rain gutter, as it was more of a collective invention based on necessity, there are a few historical details around the emergence of an external channel for water to run off a building. Here is a brief overview.
History in the Gutter
As early as AD 47, the Romans are credited with having brought drainage systems to the British Isles. This included sewer systems and water management practices. By 1066, the Normans had invaded England and began reconstructing towns and cities. In these new constructions, many large buildings featured grand stone roofs and parapets that led to gutter drains that ultimately spit runoff water out of a stone gargoyle’s mouth. This was a crude, though architecturally unique way of disposing of water.
Downpipes soon began to be built to keep the water from running down the sides of buildings and damaging finishes. During the Middle Ages, gutters were made out of wood, clay tile, and lead and were made easier to attach to roofs with the increased use of tile roofs to prevent fires. As the centuries went on, lead became readily available to many people and the fashioning of rainwater goods like gutters with lead increased.
By the Eighteenth and Nineteenth centuries, cast iron had largely replaced lead as a prefered material of rain gutters and other goods. This coincided with the explosion of heavy industry–and soon the industrial revolution–throughout Britain and elsewhere in Europe. These cast iron fixtures would be used for the next couple hundred years.
The Twentieth century saw the popularization of plastics for rain gutters and other fixtures. In the aftermath of World War II, manufacturing was burgeoning and the use of plastics was on the rise. This made plastic rain gutters and downpipes more widely available as they were cheaper to produce and install than heavy metal. Today, rain gutters come in a variety of lightweight materials and styles, but still retain the same beneficial properties of the earliest drainage systems of centuries past.