During the summer of 1858, the high temperatures and the lack of effective sewer systems led to an event that was dubbed ‘The Great Stink’ by the media. In the nineteenth century, sewer systems were initially poor and faulty, meaning that the majority of London’s sewage was flowing into pipes which drained into the River Thames, polluting the river with unsanitary and disgusting excrement from across the city. During the summer, the high temperatures led to the smell of the contaminated river becoming putrid and revolting and proved to the government that action had to be taken in order to improve imposed public health. The river, furthermore, was blamed for a number of health problems, such as frequent outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as cholera, which occurred shortly prior to the summer of 1858. This finally prompted Parliament to act on public health, after the smell became so pungent and rancid that the curtains of the Houses of Parliament were soaked in chloride of lime, to try and protect from the smell and infection.
Therefore, due to the unsuitable nature of the city, Parliament employed Joseph Bazalgette, who had plans for a constructed sewer system underneath London. Parliament was previously unwilling to invest in Bazalgette’s ideas and plans, however, the state of the river became so contaminated and disgusting that they were left with no other option but to completely clean the river and install new sewer systems.
Bazalgette began work for his plans to install 1,100 miles worth of sewers across London, feeding into 82 miles of interconnecting main sewers. Engineers and draftsman began to install the sewage system, using improved standards of cement to ensure the sewers were long-lasting, which worked effectively, as many sewers are still in use today. The sewers were split into two systems to cover the north and the south of London and played to their needs, meaning that Bazalgette’s constructions were popular with both the people and the media. The building work was believed to have required around 318 million bricks and 670,000 cubic yards m3 of concrete and mortar. The final cost for the sewers was £6.5 million, however, proved a worthwhile investment.
From, The Victorian Blogger