The Sewer King
Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, born 1819 in Enfield, is perhaps most known and recognised for the construction of London’s sewer network, in the 19th century, in response to the Great Stink of 1858 and the persistent outbreaks of cholera across the city.
The Thames, at the time, was actually a major health hazard to the population of London; an open sewer. The idea was to create a series of underground tunnels which would intercept and divert outflows along with the raw sewage that, at that point, flowed freely through the streets of London towards the Thames.
A number of pumping stations and sewage treatment works, across the capital, would also be built to channel, receive and then treat this waste. The whole network was first opened in 1865, although the project was not actually finished until almost a decade later.
Bazalgette’s vision allowed, to an extent, for the major unforeseen population increase, taking into consideration the amount of waste produced by households, giving each Londoner an allowance, determining the size of pipe needed, then doubling it.
He has famously been quoted as saying ‘we’re only going to do this once and there’s always the unforeseen’.
Known for his determination and attention to detail Bazalgette made sure he personally checked every connection to the sewage system, which is perhaps why he suffered bad health and illness soon after.
His famous engineering work can be seen throughout London today, as he didn’t spend his whole career underground:
- Albert Embankment
- Victoria Embankment
- Chelsea Embankment
- Maidstone Bridge
- Albert Bridge
- Putney Bridge
- Hammersmith Bridge
- The Woolwich Free Ferry
- Battersea Bridge
- Charing Cross Road
- Garrick Street
- Northumberland Avenue
- Shaftesbury Avenue
For more information about Bazalgette watch this dedicated episode from a recent BBC docudrama series…