Friday 25 November 2016

Drains Before Trains?

The previous post had an insert from the press of 1858. This was a year of many events, notably "The Big Stink" when the foul air of the filthy sewage filled River Thames covered London to the distress and sickness of many. This was the unintended consequence of an earlier badly needed reform.

This was to enforce the provision of proper sewage in streets and parts of London which had become overwhelming as London had grown and become urban. These works took the sewage to The Thames where it was assumed it would flow readily to the sea.

But a great deal of the time it did not and the river became a slow moving nasty cess pit of all that was foul. During one of those periods of weather when there is little rain and stillness of the air it become a solid mass of sewage, hence the Big Stink.

The man to deal with it was Joseph Bazalgette one of the leading engineers of the day. In 1851 he had been listed as resident in Piccadilly, along with Poulett Somerset, many nobility and bankers etc. Also in Apsley House in 1851 at the end of the street was The Duke of Wellington (died 1852) a couple of doors away from Lionel Rothschild (1808-1879).

Did the Duke I wonder ever knock on the back door of Lionel's because he was a bit short and needed the then form of payday loan? It was Lionel's father etc. who had bankrolled much of the war against Napoleon, notably in The Peninsula where the money had supported the logistics and supply etc. that were critical to Wellington's strategy.

After 1858 the money was soon found to let Bazalgette loose with an army of workmen to put in place the great Thames sewer downstream where it could be released in tidal waters to rid London of both its sewage and the stink. Again there would be an unintended consequence.

In that year Dr. John Snow (1813-1858) died. It was he who did the studies in Soho and had concluded that the cholera that seemed to be endemic there came from the water supply. His early death possibly meant this his thesis that the agents of epidemics were not carried by air but by water or other means, which ran counter to the beliefs at the time, was left to others to pursue.

One consequence that helped to bring about change was that after Bazalgette's works into the 1860's and the changes that sewage disposal had brought about saw a major reduction not only in cholera, but other dangerous diseases such as typhoid and typhus.

In that period public health was at the forefront of political debate and provision. In all the proposals and hectoring of the public by politicians today we are told of all the wonders of the infrastructure vanity projects they propose to the benefit of their friends and financial experts.

There is little mention of public health or the need to maintain, modernise and improve our existing systems. We could have a heavy price to pay for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment