The Man Who Saved London From Itself

In the 1850’s, the River Thames in London was an open sewer, responsible for thousands of deaths annually from cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, this because London’s drinking water was largely drawn from the River Thames. In 1858, the public outcry against the event that came to be known as ‘The Great Stink' was so severe that the British government decided that something had to be done about the ongoing pollution of the river, and it was.

A civil engineer named Joseph Bazalgette was tasked with finding an effective and economical solution to the enormous problem of cleaning up the River Thames, which ran through a mature city of nearly three million people. London was crisscrossed with roads, buildings, subway tunnels, drainage pipes, and the other infrastructure components, both above ground and below ground, that are found in major cities. He had his work cut out for him, but, luckily for London, he was more than up to the task.

The solution proposed by Bazalgette was to construct 1,100 miles of street sewers with 82 miles of underground brick sewers to intercept the raw sewage which until then had freely flowed through the streets of London. These intercepting sewers were to divert the sewage from the street sewers to far downstream where it could be collected and dumped, untreated, into the Thames to be carried away at high tide.

Bazalgette’s proposals met with fierce resistance and were rejected time and time again, but all this changed in 1858. That year the stench from the Thames was so overpowering that Parliament was unable to function and this became known as the year of the “Great Stink.” It  prompted  politicians into action and the Government gave approval and financial backing to  the intercepting sewers proposals, amounting to 3 million pounds.

Read the intriguing (and profusely illustrated) story of Joseph Bazalgette and his ingenious intercepting sewer system at the Heritage Group.

Thanks to Neatoramanaut WTM, who wrote this item.


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