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The Construction of London’s Sewer Systems – How the Big Stink Changed Sewers in London

February 7, 2022 3:09 pm


Going back over 100 years ago, the city of London was a very different place. It was starting to grow rapidly, thanks to the industrial revolution and the population was increasing so rapidly that it was difficult for everyone to have access to the facilities that they needed.

Victorian London was a dirty place, full of poverty and pestilence. By the 1850s, the Industrial Revolution was well underway, and the streets of London were full of human waste. Faeces and urine ran along the streets and by 1858, during the hot summer months, a period known as the great stink came about in London, as the combination of high temperatures and large quantities of human waste.

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At this time something else came to a head – illness and death. Because of all of the waste in the streets, the drinking water was also contaminated with it. The Thames itself was said to smell overpoweringly awful, and cholera and typhoid raged out of control, and many people fled the city of London in a bid to escape the stench as well as the threat of illness and death.

The smell seeped into the houses of parliament, and an emergency bill was rushed through to begin work on a solution – construction of the sewers.

The man put in charge of this huge task was top engineer Joseph William Bazalgette. The cost of the project was huge, but parliament had no choice but to spend the money on sorting out this problem – 2.5 million pounds which in the Victorian times was a really substantial amount of money.

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The plans that Bazalgette came up with were hugely ambitious. They consisted of building over 1000 miles of drains under the streets of London – not an easy task in such a densely packed city. It was decided that this would be the best course of action, with the new underground sewers being fed by these many miles of drains.

The waste was then pumped miles downstream away from the population of London. Many labourers were needed for this task, as well as bricks and of course the ultra-strong Portland Cement. By 1865 the sewer system was officially opened, yet it was not entirely finished until ten years later.

Today, the original sewers that were designed by Bazalgette are still going – he has=d the foresight to build wider tunnels to accommodate the inevitable population growth in the city, as well as the strong building materials that have allowed them to stand the test of time.

Today, there are many strains on the old sewerage systems – companies like this drain lining service www.wilkinson-env.co.uk/sewer-repairs-drain-lining-concrete-cutting/drain-lining/ are on hand to make repairs to many of the modern issues that we have with drainage, but you can also help simply by ensuring that nothing goes down the drain that could cause problems.

Fatbergs and blockages are formed by things like nappies, wet wipes, sanitary towels and oils being put down the drains.

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