Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the main drainage of London

Halliday, Stephen (1997) Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the main drainage of London. Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


The thesis submitted examines the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), Chief Engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works, in designing and constructing the system of intercepting sewers, pumping stations and sewage treatment works which was built between 1859 and 1874 and which is still in use, under the management of Thames Water PLC. It also considers those aspects of Bazalgette's work which were directly related to the intercepting sewers, namely the Victoria, Albert and Chelsea Embankments.

The work examines the history of London's systems for disposing of surface water and waste, from mediaeval times, and the reasons for the sudden deterioration in the condition of the Thames in the early nineteenth century. It considers the political and organisational problems which attended early reformers in their attempts to establish an effective regime for the management of London's sanitation and the effects of the consequent delays on the health of the inhabitants. Particular reference is made to the four cholera epidemics which, between 1832 and 1866, are recorded as having killed more than thirty-six thousand citizens.

It examines the engineering problems presented by the need to undertake major engineering work in the most densely populated parts of the world's largest city and the novel solutions that were sometimes adopted to overcome them. It also considers the controversies faced by Bazalgette and the Metropolitan Board of Works during the course of the work, with particular reference to the long and still unresolved debate of how finally to dispose of human waste to the benefit, or at least not to the detriment, of the environment. The thesis concludes by attempting to reach a judgement on Bazalgette's claim to a place in the Pantheon of Victorian Engineers.

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