We might be enjoying an unusually hot summer for the UK, but thank your lucky stars we have sophisticated drainage systems!
Spare a thought for our ancestors, who had to live through The Great Stink in the summer of 1858, in London.
Facts about The Great Stink of 1858
- The Great Stink had become unbearable by the summer of 1858, when temperatures soared in a scorching heatwave
- Water levels in the River Thames dropped, exposing untreated human, animal and industrial waste, left to ferment in the sun
- The introduction of flushing toilets – widely promoted to the masses at the Great Exhibition in 1851 – had impacted the problem, forcing more sewage into The Thames
- In 1855, scientist Michael Faraday noted that when he dropped pieces of white card into the Thames, “before they had sunk an inch below the surface they were indistinguishable from view”. He described the River Thames as “an opaque pale brown fluid”
- Approximately 40,000 people died in London, from cholera, between 1831 and 1866, and the Victorians believed that diseases such as cholera were transmitted through the air
- The stench of the river in the summer of 1858 was so bad, that MPs had the curtains of the Commons soaked in chloride of lime in an attempt to hide the terrible smell
- Benjamin Disraeli, the Tory leader in the Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer, quickly introduced legislation “for the purification of the Thames and the main drainage of the metropolis”. This was the Public Health Act of 1848
- The recently formed Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, and their chief engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, got straight to work, and by 1874 the system was fully operational
- Bazalgette constructed a large intercepting network of sewers to collect flows from the existing river outfalls, and move the waste to East London. It could be stored here in lagoons, then released into the river on the ebb tide flow to the sea
- The system consisted of 82 miles of main sewers, 1100 miles of street sewers, four pumping stations, two treatment works, and three embankments!
- Overall, it took 318 million bricks and 880,000 cubic yards of concrete to construct