January 7, 1774: drainpipes replace gargoyles

Gargoyle on the temple of St. Barbora in Kutná Hora

The spooky-looking gargoyles of the past that we know from horror films, castle tours and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, weren’t purely decorative. They also served a function – to get rid of wastewater. But 250 years ago, things changed.

Drainpipe | Photo: Jaroslav Hoření,  Czech Radio

Gargoyles, taking the form of human vices, animals and dragons, can be seen on castles and chateaux all over Czechia, including on St. Vitus Cathedral. Their original purpose was to drain wastewater, which could otherwise cause floods, through pipes coming from their mouths that aimed the water as far as possible from the building.

On January 7, 1774, a decree was issued which forever changed the form and functioning of wastewater disposal. It declared that from now on, wastewater pipes were to have a vertical form, of the same kind as we have today.

Drainpipe | Photo: Elena Horálková,  Czech Radio

Builders were not too keen on the new drainpipes at first and mostly ignored the instruction. However, eventually the authorities ran out of patience and issued a new regulation in 1787, ordering vertical drainpipes to be installed on all buildings within six months, or else a fine of 20 tolars. That seems to have changed peoples’ minds fairly quickly.

Source: ČTK