Medieval Europe

History of water supply, sanitation and drainage.
Wastewater Reuse Activities
Ancient China
Roman Empire
Islamic World
Medieval Europe
Classic and early modern Mesoamerica
Sewage farms for disposal and irrigation
Modern age
Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, UK

In medieval times, cities in Europe, such as London, covered over small, natural sources of water so that they could be used as functioning sewers. The River Fleet in London is an example of this sort of system where open gutters ran down the centre of streets and waste was transported down these gutters. These were referred to as “kennels” and were called “split streets” in Paris as the gutter literally split the street into two pieces. Hugues Aubird created the first covered sewer in Paris in 1370. The sewer was 300 metres long and was originally created to minimise the smell from the waste rather than to clean up the city. In Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) the statue of 1272 showed the outlines for the building of septic tanks and tunnels for the transportation and disposal of unclean water. This sewage system was then built throughout the 14th and 15th centuries and it is still in operation today, with only minor amendments and repairs having been made in recent times. Human waste was collected in outbuildings and cesspits and the value of human waste as fertiliser was recognised but mostly by the Chinese and Japanese, where cattle waste was less accessible. However, before the industrial era, must cities did not have functioning sewer systems and so had to rely on nearby natural water supplies or on rainfall to dispose of their waste. In some cities waste just travelled down the street and pedestrians had to stand on intentionally-placed stones to avoid standing in the muck.

A version of the flushing toilet was invented in Britain by Sir John Harington, in the 16th century, when he created a device for his godmother Queen Elizabeth I.

Once gunpowder became a widely used resource, municipal outhouses became a vital resource for the production of saltpeter in most European countries.

In London, commissioned wagons collected the contents of city outhouses every evening, and they transported the contents to the nitrite beds. Here the waste would be added to purposefully built soil beds so that the nutrients from the waste could be transferred to the soil and the soil would become rich in nitrates. The earth, that was now high in nitrates, would then be worked to produce saltpeter (potassium nitrate.) This was a vital ingredient in the dark powder that was then later used to make gunpowder.

Classic and early modern Mesoamerica