Gutters come in different styles including roundline, squareline, and mini-fit guttering systems. Traditional guttering was made from lead or cast iron, but more modern materials are safer, lighter and more durable such as plastic and aluminium.
Gutter maintenance is an important annual task, and involves removing dirt, leaves and other debris. Gutter cleaning is best done in the late autumn once the leaves have all blown off the trees, and can be made easier by having gutter guards such as a mesh covering or the Gutter Hedgehog, which is bristly. These help keep out the leaves and dirt but still allow water into the guttering. You will not need any specialist gutter cleaning tools but care should be taken if using a ladder to clean out gutters.
Gutters run along the roofline of buildings to catch rainwater and direct it into down-pipes which in turn direct the water into the sewers, or soak-away to prevent it from from running down the walls of the house and to avoid waterlogging the soil around the building. Not to mention that without gutters we would get a good a soaking every time we came in and out of the house, as the rain would fall off the roof in a curtain of water.
In medieval buildings with no gutters, the water would do exactly that, therefore many houses of that era have an overhang (where the first storey juts out above the ground floor). This created a more sheltered area around the base of the building to help avoid the problem of water soaking the walls and footings of the house, where it could cause problems with damp soaking into the walls and floor.
Before downpipes were invented guttering was a lead-filled trench running around the edges of the roof, possibly below a low parapet wall, which fed water into spouts. If you were rich these water spouts could be very elaborate gargoyles. The purpose was to direct the water off the roof and away from the walls, just like modern gutters do, and they also concentrated the flow of water into individual jets which were easier to dodge, although more likely to soak you through if you misjudged them!
These days we are more likely to want to conserve the water from our roofs and so the guttering is used to collect water into drainpipes that are attached to rainwater storage (or rainwater harvesting) systems. The simplest of these can be water butts for watering the garden. However there are much more sophisticated tanks that can be buried in the garden and used to pump water into the house, for flushing toilets, and feeding washing machines.