Water. Gas. Electricity. These are the three utilities that flow through the vast majority of buildings in Great Britain, whether they are residential, commercial or industrial.

Because of their importance, there is a gigantic infrastructure of suppliers and utility services ensuring that everyone has safe, ready access to water, heat and power, but the path to the National Grid was far from straightforward and began earlier than you might expect.


Indoor plumbing in England technically began as early as 46 BC, following the conquest of Britain by the Roman Empire and the addition of many Roman technologies as a result.

This includes the famed aqueduct system that was installed throughout the Empire, but by 400AD when the Roman Empire started to crumble, this system of indoor plumbing and running water collapsed with it.

Modern water utilities, which not only include supply but also treatment and sanitation, date back to John Gibb’s experimental water filters in 1804, which were first used in a public system by James Simpson of the Chelsea Waterworks Company in 1829, and were first codified into law in 1855.

Natural Gas

Natural gas was not widely used before the development of pipelines, but one notable example of a commercial kitchen using a gas pipeline was Alexis Soyer’s pioneering kitchen in London’s Reform Club.

Mr Soyer, arguably the first celebrity chef in history, was given a blank canvas to design the ultimate chef’s kitchen, using not only conventional coal and charcoal but also a supply of natural gas, allowing for more delicate and sensitive use of heat.

Eventually, natural gas moved beyond the confines of the rich and famous and became more widely accessible, supplanting town gas supplies.


The very first use of electricity outside of laboratories was in the 1860s, when electric lights were used in very public demonstrations to create interest in the technology, and the first electric lighting act was enacted in 1879, allowing streetlights to be powered by electricity.

The first use of three-phase electric power was in 1901 by the Newcastle upon Tyne Electric Supply Company and their newly-opened Neptune Bank Power Station.