Today is National Gutters Day here in the United Kingdom. Fascinating, right? Right?
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I frequently develop ‘fascinations’ about things – see, for example, my recent blogs on Weathervanes, wind vanes and weathercocks and Turret toppings, amongst others.
Well, during my holiday here in the
my insatiable curiosity led me to photograph the many and various designs of
guttering, downpipes and hopper heads (those funnel- or box-shaped receptacles
at the top of the downpipes) I noticed on the numerous historic buildings I
visited. Now I’ve discovered this annual celebration of gutters so what better
day to regale you with the engrossing details of these incredibly necessary
objects and to share the photos I’ve gathered. UK
|One of the lovely buildings at Port Sunlight|
|Left: Lyme Park; centre: John Rylands Library, Manchester; right: Chirk Castle|
Guttering is, of course, a very practical invention – buildings do not survive long without the means to rapidly and effectively jettison rainwater – and it was the Romans who first brought the notion of good water management to
. They even had a goddess of
the sewers, Cloacina (who, not surprisingly I suppose, also protected sexual
intercourse in marriage!). Britain
Following their successful invasion of
England in 1066, the instigated the construction of huge
numbers of castles, manor houses, churches and more, throughout the land, and
these buildings, with their stone roofs, towers and turrets, required gutters
and gargoyles to throw the water clear of their walls. Though unverified, it is
thought that the first downpipe was erected in Normans Britain
in 1240, to protect the newly whitewashed walls of the . Tower of London
The destruction of church buildings that began in 1536 after Henry VIII’s decree for the Dissolution of the Monasteries was, amazingly, a good thing for gutters because large quantities of lead became available. This lead was repurposed and reshaped into hopper heads for use on
many great houses, and the hopper heads were decorated with designs and dates,
a fashion that continued when the use of cast iron replaced lead in the late 1700s. England
Cast iron was cheaper and more plentiful than lead so gutters, downpipes and hopper heads became commonplace on smaller houses and the fact that the iron was cast meant it could also be patterned. During the Victorian period, hopper heads became rather ornate, their designs more detailed, and downpipes might have embossed motifs or barley-twist patterns.
Sadly, this fashion died out in the mid 20th century when cheap plastic guttering began to replace cast iron, and guttering is now mostly plain and angular, with no ornamentation. Fortunately, there are still some craftsmen manufacturing replica guttering for the refurbishment and restoration of historic buildings, and they maintain the old tradition of adding ornamentation and dates to their work, as can be seen from the more recent dates in some of my photos.
National Gutters Day does, of course, have a more practical purpose than simply celebrating the gutters of the past. The day came into being in 2002 and was the brainchild of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). It is the finale of National Maintenance Week, ‘an awareness campaign designed to encourage everyone who owns or looks after a building to take a few simple steps at the beginning of winter to ensure that their property is ready for anything that the season can throw at them, especially in these increasingly wet, windy and unpredictable days’.
|Left: Hailsham Parish Church; centre: Church of St Peter and St Paul, Hellingly; right: Sidmouth Parish Church|
|All Hallows by the Tower Church, London|
It’s an eminently sensible cause. For me, though, today is about paying tribute to the craftsmen who created all the wonderful designs to be found on the hopper heads of
’s glorious old buildings
and celebrating the ornate guttering of centuries past. Happy National Gutters
|St Mary and All Saints Church, Great Budworth|
|St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey, London|