THE HISTORY OF SHOWERS
The way we shower in the 21st century is driven by an ever-increasing global need to conserve water and energy that forces us to seek innovative ways to reduce the use of both.
Technological advances will undoubtedly ensure our hygiene habits are as eco-friendly as possible - but the ultimate shower will never reach the level of efficiency, simplicity and environmental awareness of the original one.
The first shower taken by a human being was under a waterfall: provided by Mother Nature, falling water rinsed bathers clean quickly and efficiently and was available on tap, with no need for a power supply. The alternative - bathing - was done in a basin, so transport of first fresh, then waste, water took time and energy; waterfalls dispensed with that requirement, and didn't need cleaning out afterwards.
Early humans decided to harness nature in their own way by tipping jugs of cold water over themselves in their quest for cleanliness, and wealthy Egyptians and Mesopotamians indulged in this practice with the help of their servants, who did all the fetching and carrying that this laborious process required, and were not rewarded with a reciprocal arrangement at the end of a hard day.
The ancient Greeks have the best claim to be the inventors of the shower - or at least the forerunner of the modern high tech miracle that exists in almost every home today. However, although their system - aqueducts and lead pipes that fed water into and out of large communal shower rooms - was advanced for its time, it failed to afford the privacy of the cubicle we all cherish (and expect when cleansing ourselves) in the second millennium.
Proof of the provision (and concern) for public hygiene has been found at the site of the city Pergamum, and ancient Rome has yielded proof that it shared this spirit (and shower facilities); the empire's signature bathhouses (Thermae) spread across its vast realm as far as modern-day Britain and can still be seen in spa towns like... Bath. And Leamington.
The Romans made good use of their showers, often bathing more than once day, but after their global influence waned, the prototype water and sewage systems they conceptualised also fell into decline. It's arguable that the Black Death in the 14th century was responsible for the shower's return to popularity - after early Christians decreed cleanliness to be a sign of vanity (even St Francis of Assisi decreed it not to be next to Godliness) - but personal hygiene became increasingly important during the Middle Ages, as did discovering and refining ways to maintain it.
The first person to move the concept forward was William Feetham, a London stovemaker, who successfully adapted the principle of conveying warm air through pipes to water in 1787 to create the shower in a form that's recognisable more than two centuries on. Feetham's contraption pumped water into a basin over head of the user, who pulled a chain to release cold water - meaning it was only usable during the warmer months - a problem the Egyptians, Romans or Mesopotamians had not needed to consider.
Thirteen years later, an anonymous entrepreneur (who would really have cleaned up from patenting the invention) created the English Regency Shower, which delivered hot water for the first time - from pipes disguised as bamboo, housed in a ten foot high stall. This model improved (and downsized considerably) in the mid-1800s after Greek and Roman blueprints were consulted, and the plumbing methods they contained were factored into the equation. Domestic running water sources had been installed in numerous homes by this time, so the need to re-use the supply with each washing cycle ended, making a shower truly capable of cleaning its user for the first time in history.
Showers were enthusiastically promoted to the public in the United States from the 1920s onwards, but the UK market only fully opened its valves in the 1960s, after the electric shower - also known as the tankless water heater - became widely available, and accepted with affection into the home.
Over the last half century, showering - a refreshing and reinvigorating way of washing - has become the hygiene routine of choice for many, and 86% of UK households are fitted with at least one shower. This form of ablution is popular among Western cultures, and uses almost half the amount of water a bath requires, so it's eco-friendly and often energy saving too.
The English Regency shower may almost have been able to accommodate the waterfall that was its predecessor and inspiration, but it is the distinguished forebear of the mixer set or electrical unit we take for granted in our bathrooms today.
The current form of shower itself is merely an evolutionary step up from the natural sources our ancestors used to keep themselves clean and odour-free. Innovative technology is continually improving shower functions and trims - LED lights, water flow and temperature control at the touch of a button and thermostatic valves are now standard - and designs and accessories come in a multitude of shapes and sizes to fit spaces of any dimension, from corners in tiny studio flats to en suites in 50-bed mansions.
The shower has an illustrious past, and an assured future. It's come a long way since our ancestors first walked out for a wash under a waterfall.
MBD's long history of supplying premium quality showers and shower accessories began in 1972 - although, regrettably, we can't offer Feetham's patented device or the English Regency model to customers today. However, we stock a wide range of the most efficient and effective showers in a spectrum of styles to suit all tastes, homes and budgets, and we'll be happy to help you find the best type of water fall for you.