July 2022 meeting: Victorian sewers

On 11 July, in the welcome cool of the church, Tom Crook related how inadequate sewers in London led to the Great Stink of 1858.

In the 1800s, as the population grew, there were blockages in the sewers, intolerable pollution in the Thames, and outbreaks of typhoid, dysentery, and cholera.

An enlightened lawyer, Edwin Chadwick, led an Inquiry into the ‘Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain’. Their report, published in 1842, recommended better water supplies and public sewers. Unfortunately, the first attempts, for example in Croydon, failed because the new sewers were narrow pipes, which blocked.

In the hot summer of 1858, the Great Stink in the Thames became unbearable in Westminster, and the Government empowered the Metropolitan Board of Works to put into effect a plan prepared by their chief engineer Joseph Bazalgette for a huge network of local and giant main sewers, pumping London’s sewage to outfalls at Beckton and Crossness. One sewer ran under the newly created Thames Embankment. Bazalgette’s scheme worked, and still works. With hindsight, it would have been better to separate foul and rain-water drainage – as London and many other places around the country are now finding out.

Note from The History of Radley: In Radley, mains water was brought to the village in the 1940s and mains sewerage in the 1950s. Before then villagers relied on wells and cess pits.

Reports of previous meetings