The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis

The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis

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By (author) Stephen Halliday

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  • Publisher: The History Press Ltd
  • Format: Paperback | 224 pages
  • Dimensions: 172mm x 242mm x 14mm | 621g
  • Publication date: 1 April 2001
  • Publication City/Country: Stroud
  • ISBN 10: 0750925809
  • ISBN 13: 9780750925808
  • Edition: New edition
  • Edition statement: New edition
  • Illustrations note: 80 b&w illustrations, 8pp colour plates
  • Sales rank: 141,145

Product description

In the sweltering summer of 1858, the stink of sewage from the polluted Thames was so offensive that it drove Members of Parliament from the chamber of the House of Commons. Sewage generated by a population of over two million Londoners was pouring into the river and was being carried to and fro by the tides. "The Times" called the crisis 'The Great Stink'. Parliament had to act - drastic measures were required to clean the Thames and to improve London's primitive system of sanitation. The great engineer entrusted by Parliament with this enormous task was Sir Joseph Bazalgette, and this book is a fascinating account of his life and work. Bazalgette's response to the challenge was to conceive and build the system of intercepting sewers, pumping stations and treatment works that serves London to this day. In the process he cleansed the River Thames of the capital's sewage and helped to banish cholera, which in the mid-nineteenth century carried off over 40,000 Londoners. But this successful scheme was only one element in Bazalgette's wider contribution to the development of the Victorian capital. He also reclaimed land from the Thames to construct the Victoria, Albert and Chelsea Embankments, built bridges across the Thames at Putney, Battersea and Hammersmith, and created many notable new thoroughfares including Charing Cross Road, Northumberland Avenue and Shaftesbury Avenue. Stephen Halliday's enthralling social and personal history gives a vivid insight into Bazalgette's achievements and the era in which he worked and lived. The author traces the origins of Bazalgette's family in revolutionary France, the confusing sanitation system that he inherited from medieval and Tudor times and his heroic battle with politicians, bureaucrats and huge engineering problems to transform the face and health of the world's largest city.

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Author information

Stephen Halliday is the author of "The Great Filth: Disease, Death and the Victorian City," and" Newgate."

Editorial reviews

Sir Joseph Bazalette is a much-neglected hero of 19th-century engineering, yet his achievements can stand comparison with those of Telford, Brunel or Robert Stephenson. These men's works - mostly great bridges or railway lines - are still visible in many parts of England, while those of Bazalgette are all in London, and most of them - over 80 miles of main sewers the size of railway tunnels, and over 1000 miles of street sewers - are hidden underground. Bazalgette's only monument is a small bust set into a wall beneath Charing Cross Railway Bridge and dwarfed by a nearby, much larger monument to Brunel. In the 1850s the raw sewage of London's 2 million people seeped untreated through wholly inadequate sewers into the Thames, where it sloshed up and down with the tides, slowly decomposing on the muddy foreshores. In the sweltering summer of 1858 the stink from the polluted river was so offensive that it drove members of parliament from the chamber of the House of Commons. As chief engineer for 33 years to the Metropolitan Board of Works Bazalgette designed and built the great system of intercepting sewers which continue to take sewage away today. His vast riverside embankments provided accomodation for low-level sewers and for roads on the surface, while at the Victoria Embankment there was also an underground railway and a park at ground level. He also built several bridges across the river and laid out numerous new metropolitan thoroughfares, including Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road. Halliday has done full justice to this great engineer in a scholarly, readable and well-illustrated book. Review by FRANCIS SHEPPARD, author of London: A History (Kirkus UK)