Part Three: The magic of hot water - How water heating has devloped by Paul G Yunnie

Bathing was a custom that came in and out of fashion during the Middle Ages. Perhaps not a period we would have particularly enjoyed for the lack of personal hygiene. So how did we get from there to where we are now? History Correspondent Paul G Yunnie investigates how hot water came to be.

The Romans were streets ahead of their time in so many fields. Although it’s a million miles from where we are at today, sanitation was certainly one of the areas in which they were very much advanced. In Ancient Rome, the Public Baths of Caracalla could seat 1,600 people across 28 spacious heated areas, each holding some 1,160m3 of heated water. Underfloor hypocausts were aided by heating water in copper lined lead vessels called milariums. In Roman Britain, the public baths in Bath needed no heating as the water came from deep lime aquifers underground between, 2,700 and 4,300 metres down, and ready heated to a constant 46 degrees.

When the Rome influence contracted, the people of the once great Empire were left to fend for themselves. Unfortunately it would appear that personal hygiene was not top of their list and bathing became a rare event. During the following centuries, bathing came in and out of fashion. It became an activity of royalty and the rich, and even then happened only occasionally. In the 14th to the 18th centuries, baths were taken often in a wooden tub in the bedchamber. One can only imagine the laborious task of filling and then emptying the bath. When bathing took place in communal baths, it was often a case of mixed bathing, leaving something to the imagination as to what indiscretions may have often developed!

It was the 19th century that saw a change in demand and in habits. Families frequently shared the bathing hot water, which was probably produced from a stove, range or even an open fire. This was of course not very convenient, or hygienic, particularly for the last ones to use the bath!

So, how did we get from there to where we are today? Well, obviously the ever present inventive genius of mankind. In this case it was B W Maughan who, in 1868, invented the first gas hot water geyser (Patent 3917, December 1868). This was almost a direct contact water
heater, floor standing and probably not very controllable. Of course being the 1800s, it didn’t come with any defined safety features either.

Many others followed with versions of the geyser, a name derived from the Icelandic hot springs – Geysir. These early units were for single outlet use and it was not until Ewarts introduced their copper Califont water heater, in 1899, that one water heater could serve many outlets, the multi-point had arrived. In Germany, Junkers had developed safer, controllable water heaters. These were introduced into the UK by a Latvian refugee by the name of Friedman who eventually changed the name to Ascot and began manufacturing in
the UK. But, only one outlet could be served at one time by these early gas water heaters. There was a need for a storage water heater that could reliably service a number of outlets simultaneously. Across the Atlantic, Edwin Rudd, a Norwegian employed by George Westinghouse, developed the first automatic gas storage water heater that went into production in 1889. The era of the storage water heater, that we all know so well, had really begun.

It was after receiving a copy of The Magic of Hot Water from our History Correspondent that we had the idea for a series of light hearted articles on our industry’s past. The book was co-written by Paul G Yunnie and Brian Roberts, both members of the CIBSE Heritage Group.*
Now out of print for a while, it has become somewhat of a collector’s item itself. If you have any interest in exploring its contents further, or speaking with Paul about his impressive collection of plumbing memorabilia and vast industry heritage knowledge, you can contact
him by email: [email protected]