Thames Embankment and Sir Joseph Bazalgette antique print. Original front page from ‘The Illustrated London News’ dated Saturday 8th August 1868 celebrating the opening of the Thames Embankment to pedestrians.
As chief engineer of the London Metropolitan Board of Works, Joseph Bazalgette’s major achievement was the creation of a sewer network for London.
Between July and August 1858, as a result of raw human excrement and industrial waste being deposited in the River Thames, the ‘Great Stink’ occurred.
With Parliament’s business increasingly interfered with by the stink from the river, the curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to overcome the smell.
Queen Victoria and her Consort, Prince Albert, were forced to abandon a pleasure cruise on the river because of the stench.
Something had to be done and Joseph Bazalgette was the man to do it!
Bazalgette’s solution was to construct an 82 miles system of underground brick sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles of street sewers, to intercept the raw sewage which until then flowed through the streets of the city.
His plan included the embanking of the River Thames at Victoria, Chelsea and Albert Embankments, and building pumping stations to remove effluence to the east of London.
South of the river pumping stations were built at Deptford and at Crossness; and in the north on Bazalgette’s Chelsea Embankment and at Abbey Mills in Stratford, Essex.
Sewage was then diverted downstream where it was collected in two large sewage outfall systems on the north and south sides of the Thames called the Northern and Southern Outfall sewers.
From here, the treated sewage was pumped back into the River Thames.
Bazalgette’s civil engineering feat was a public health boon in relieving London of cholera epidemics and other sewage and water-borne diseases.
It also heralded the process of cleaning up the River Thames for future generations.