In his monthly column, retired airtight technician Trevor Clark gives us a brief history on the central heating system:

Today we tend to take for granted living indoors at a comfortable even temperature. In winter especially, central heating has really changed our lives quite dramatically.

Without it, people had to spend hours chopping trees or carting coal about, lighting fires, keeping fires going, clearing away the ashes from the spent fuel and they still had to wear masses of clothes indoors.

To make a heating system that is completely automatic and reliable has taken an enormous amount of effort and ingenuity.

In ancient times our ancestors used to heat themselves by lighting fires. Fires are actually very difficult to start without the use of modern gadgets such as matches and lighters. Rubbing sticks together, or using a bow drill, takes a lot of skill and practice if you want to start a fire.

The Romans

The Romans used to heat their homes very sensibly and never let their fires go out if they could possibly help it.

At first the Romans simply had a fire in the middle of their living room. The Latin for hearth is ‘focus’. The fire was literally the focus of the room, but they probably had trouble with smoke as the Latin for living room is ‘atterimus’, as in ‘ater’ - meaning black.

So they started putting the fire outside the living space, with cavities under the floors and in the walls.

The Normans

The next attempt to improve matters was made by the Normans. They made holes in their castle walls and tried to funnel the smoke out sideways. However, the hot gasses from a fire naturally rise so to make a chimney draw it really has to point upwards.

The Normans finally realised this in the early thirteenth century when castles started to incorporate true chimneys.

The Eighteenth Century

By the eighteenth century, chimneys were regarded as indispensable in Britain and hardly any buildings were put up without them. People were enjoying the comforts of their home.

If you ever lived in a home with an open fire you would notice the air flow towards the fire as a cold draught, which you couldn't stop. When you sat in front of the fire your face would be warm, but you would still need to wear warm clothes or sit with a blanket wrapped around you due to this cold draught heading towards the fire.

The Industrial Revolution

The eighteenth century was also the start of the industrial revolution and steam power was really the miracle of the age.

All the fires behind the walls were replaced by a central boiler and steam which was fed through these enormous pipes that acted as radiators. This is where we get the term 'boiler' from. In fact, modern 'boilers' do not boil the heating water!

Not much has changed as these systems are remarkably similar to the modern domestic central heating systems. These pipes took up much more space than today's small bore pipes and ultra thin radiators but the principle is really exactly the same.