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Last October, my wife and I took a trip over the pond to visit London. The main reason for booking the trip was to watch the Green Bay Packers play the New York Giants at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Unfortunately, the Packers didn’t win the game, but we still had a great experience sitting with the locals. The stadium was officially opened in 2019 and was designed as the home field for the Premier League Tottenham Hotspur Football Club and for NFL games.
The field and some of the seating is changed when there is the NFL comes to town. In fact, to keep the soccer pitch in perfect condition, there are actually two surfaces: a hybrid grass pitch for soccer and a synthetic turf surface underneath for the NFL.
I was not able to see any of the behind-the-scenes plumbing and heating systems, but I thought this “Transformer” design was something worth sharing. The engineering and craftmanship is definitely something we all can respect. Here’s a video link to the field transformation: bit.ly/3GDfGF8.
Besides the game, my wife and I had never been to the UK before, so we were going to spend 10 days total to take in the usual tourist stuff around London as well.
And, of course, for me that also means sharing some interesting plumbing and heating thoughts I had along the way.
For the first three days I booked us a small place they call a “garden cabin.” The main house was on a large lot, for London, with a nice backyard garden. There they had enough room to build a 25-feet x 25-feet efficiency cabin. In other words, the bedroom, the dining room, living room and kitchen were all in one space. The bathroom was separate, but was still very small. We could tell the floors were radiantly heated. Also, a small mini-split, if cooling was needed.
On one of our days, we toured Westminster Abbey to see all the famous people buried within its walls. If you are not familiar with this, Westminster is an active church, but also a burial ground for people of honor within the walls and under the floor of the Abbey. As you walk around, it is hard not to step on graves. The floor is basically tiled with tombstones engraved with the person’s information.
We saw the oldest, King Edward the Confessor buried in 1066! Early on when they first started holding burials there, the Abbey was reserved just for royalty. As the years went on, however, it became a burial place for people of great accomplishment. One example of more recent persons is Stephen Hawking, buried here in 2018.
As we walked out of the main church area, there were still grave markings throughout the hallways as well.
We did not look at all the markers closely, but one caught our eye.
It was old, from 1707, almost 70 years before our Declaration of Independence. It was more of a modest tombstone in a hallway between buildings. His name was Philip Clark, died Sept. 21, 1707 and only 43 years old.
He was not in the walls of the church, but still, Clark must have been a great man to be buried here. On the stone it said “Plumber to this Collegiate Church.”
How about that! A plumber to honor and remember.
And while 43 might sound young to us, some quick research online suggested Clark didn’t fare so badly. One website I found stated that life expectancy in medieval England from 1650-1700 was only 41 years.
I really should do more research into Philip Clark because my mother’s maiden name is Clark and has descendants from England. Now as a plumber myself it would be very interesting to see if we are related.
Near Clark’s final resting place was the Chapter House, started by King Henry III and built between 1246-1255.
“A glorious achievement of medieval English architecture” as it says on the placard at the entrance of the space. Basically, it was a large meeting room for monks of the church and the heads of state. All the way around the perimeter were all solid stone benches, two rows high. Those must have been very cold and hard to sit on during meetings.
I wondered how exactly in the 13th century they would have heated this space. These cathedrals are well-known for soaring ceilings and flying buttresses that support the great weight of the building, which allows the exterior walls to be made mostly of stained glass windows.
Although I don’t know what they did back then, I did notice how they added a unique way of heating the space at some point in more modern times.
In the hallway entering the house I could see two ornate brass floor grills. They were about 12-inches wide by 8-feet long. One on each side of the hallway just as you enter the Chapter House. Out of the end of each grill was a 1 ½-inch steel pipe heading towards the stone benches. When it got to the benches it split into two separate 2-inch steel pipes that laid tightly in the corner of the run and riser on both rows.
I could not tell for certain if they would have steam or hot water running through these pipes, but either way some of the heat was absorbed into the stone, which acted as a radiator. I would assume it was hot water, because there were no guards protecting people from touching the pipes. Below those floor grills I could see some large fin tubes.
My guess is the space still would not be very warm, but what they did blended in well and did not take away from the original look.
A Pint Or Two
One other thing to do in London, high on my list of priorities, was stopping at some of the old pubs for a pint or two. Some of these pubs are not as old as the Westminster Abbey, but our guide on our boat tour of the River Thames said the oldest pub still operating in London was from 1550.
Unfortunately, that pub was in an area we did not get to. However, one of the pubs we did stop in to was from the late-1700s, and it was difficult to see how it was heated. I did see a couple of 4-foot x 4-foot floor grills on the floor, so I assume that was for heating. Not the best central heating, but it also looked like the original fireplaces were retrofit with gas logs to help as well. None of the pubs were very big, but still not very efficiently built. I am sure on very cold days; jackets would remain on.
After a few pints, I had to check out the plumbing in the men’s room. They were small rooms and the plumbing was all exposed on the walls. In one pub, the bathroom was bit larger than the others. In this bathroom they managed to squeeze in three urinals. I was surprised to see the drain pipe material being used. It was 2-inch (60MM) gray polypropylene with slip together hubs like you see being used for boiler venting more often in the U.S. All three of the urinal drains were plumbed into a common drain line with lots of pitch. No vent in sight, it looked like the traps could be syphoned very easily.
I would love to use that system over PVC. I am not a fan of using the primer and glue for joining PVC. I was making a joint down in a catch basin once; at the same time another guy was making joints up stream, I almost passed out from the fumes. I believe overtime those fumes are causing harm.
Whenever I am out and about, especially in different countries, I keep my eye out for unique mechanical designs and installs. I bet many of us in the trades do the same.
After running his own business for many years, Ted Schmelling made the switch to becoming a manufacturers rep. He’s currently territory sales specialist at Hot Water Products Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.