We often take for granted having heated water at the press of a button. That is until it breaks down, more often than not, in the freezing cold of winter. The terms “Condensate pipe” or “burst pipe” is enough to scare anyone. For the lay-person, fixing such problems are a bit tricky and best left to a professional. Let’s take a look at how boilers began by journeying through the ages to find out more. We can learn a lot about how our Mancunian ancestors dealt with their water supply.


Firstly, how does the average household boiler work? An enclosed vessel of water is heated and the byproduct released is used in a variety of ways such as sanitation, cooking or heating homes. There is a wide expanse of history related to plumbing (the fitting of boilers). It is only through this history, can we see how far boilers have come. In the event that the boiler ‘plays up,’ a plumber is required. This label dates back to Latin times and was originally known as ‘Plumbum’. These men of the trade used a variety of pipes and fixtures to move water from the boiler itself to wherever needed.


Looking at Manchester in particular, which has a history of supplying cotton, and an industry which boomed with the formation of the first ever canal – The Bridgewater. It opened Manchester to a further network of canals which linked it to the rest of England. Manchester also had one of the first telephone exchanges in Europe and reportedly the first omnibus service. The city expanded in wealth and renown, and made great leaps in the creation of boilers and their required parts. Manchester became a hub of educational institutes with the Mechanics Institute opening in 1884. There is no doubt that many skilled plumbers would become highly trained in the future.


In terms of plumbing history, we must go back and take a look at the Romans. The Greeks were famous for having dreamt of the first kind of central heating. This was made possible by a series of fires, which pushed hot fumes around open spaces in the floor. It is indeed more the Romans who will be remembered as “fathers of invention” for their investment in piping. The Romans established a fort called Mamucium in Manchester during C.79. It is long believed that they were the ‘Pioneers of engineering’ with aqueducts and channels that used lead piping to move water from the nearby rivers. However, with their timely fall, the secret of piping water got lost. Sanitation became less popular with the Christianity movement, deeming bathing to be something vulgar.


Skip forward in time to the 1800s, and Manchester began to see major improvements. An inventor James Shaw produced the first home boiler not reliant on either coal or wood (Flow Energy, 2018). He coined this contraption a ‘Geyser’. These resources were deemed only fit for the wealthy. Such is the opposite now, with most modern day homes being fitted with an appliance. Present day, in light of The Clean Air Act (1993) sees the boiler made from more renewable sources in order to maintain a smoke -free environment. As makers and fitters of boilers this continuing legislation is foremost and influences the way modern businesses operate. New boilers made have to comply with legislation. Boilers that are fitted in homes have seen a great deal of change throughout the history in Manchester. The pipes used in the trade have moved from, lead to iron and wood and finally the copper we see today.


From Greeks to Romans and medieval inventors to the plumbers we have today, Manchester has come a long way in providing boilers to the world. Manchester has such a diverse and rich history and the changes seen from textiles, to a vast and expanding infrastructure is evident in the rapid progress that it has made. In the future we can only expect to see more and more advancement in the way that boilers are changed and adapted to meet our needs.

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