British taps 1

It happens to everyone when visiting a foreign country. Some things there just seem to be made or done in a weirdest possible way. I moved to the Queen's island and their taps amazed me and they keep going. My new hobby now is to take pictures of taps and sinks.

The first one in a series is "The divided tap" or separate tap. The sink has two taps: one for hot and another for cold water. And they are at least half a meter apart. At first I thought it was impossible to get a warm water of right temperature. But I was wrong.  You plug up the sink, then open both taps simultaneously and when you have the water of right temperature in the sink you wash yourself. I'd never come up with such an idea myself and have never thought of filling up the sink with water.

There is just no way of getting running warm water to rinse hands.

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Alan Dix on :

Going back, bowls and baths were filled with water from jugs or pans heated on the fire. You then washed using the water in the bowl. The idea of using 'running water' inside the house ... well next thing you'll have people standing under spouts of water like under a waterfall.

So there are historic reasons for separate taps.

However there are also technological reasons also. In the UK only the hot water systems has a header tank in the roof, the cold water comes to your tap directly from the mains. The hot water system is therefore a source of potential contamination and there is a whole raft of legislation and rules intended to prevent contaminated water entering the public water system. Mixer taps are relatively recent and have to have anti-return valves to prevent water being sucked back into the cold-water main in case of loss of pressure. Also you may notice shower have funny little loops that the hose goes through, which are there to prevent the shower head falling into the water in the bath/shower tray and potentially sucking back dirty water./

I don't know the history in other countries' water supply. Maybe more have individual cold header tanks, which then limit contamination to the household's own water supply. Also in many countries it is recent that tap water was drinkable anyway, so it may just be that Britain was unusual in having public water that it was worth protecting?

Matjaž Kljun on :

Thank you for this historical background on this issue. I'm looking at this taps from the experiences I had so far. Maybe I'm used to running (warm) water in the house because I have used it for all my life.

Returning to the history. UK had had water supply companies already in the 19th century supplying water to private houses. While in the part of the continental Europe (where I'm from) the water supply on the big scale happened only after the WWII. May villages and towns on the Adriatic coast (Italy, Slovenia, Croatia) had public wells, where people (woman) were gathering and chatting while they came to fill up their bowls (or clean clothes).

After the waterworks were build, almost all taps were of mixer kind (mixer taps were invented in 19th century). My grandma's house (from 19th century with running water installed in the fifties) had a mixer tap, our apartment (build in 70's) had a mixer tap and I'm not sure if it is possible to buy separate taps. I'm also sure that the regulation of water supply was strict as it was based on the German model and that anti-return valves were obligated as taps in my grandma's house are over 50 years old.

In countries I've visited so far (USA, almost whole Europe) I always used mixer taps. And tap water in these countries was always drinkable (except some places in Spain and Greece). That's why separate taps look so strange to me.

And for the record: many students from continental Europe find separate taps strange :).

Some links (that don't explain the historical background of separate taps)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tap_%28valve%29#Water_taps
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_supply

PS: in many western movies, cowboys are showered by ladies holding a bowl (watering can) with a rose :). So running water in the house was not that strange in the 19th century :).

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