7. While the people of London suffered, Parliament maintained that “Her Majesty’s Government” wasn’t responsible for the filthy river
Even when they were considering leaving London for Oxford in order to escape the Great Stink, politicians were reluctant to take action to clean up the Thames. While the people of London suffered with the putrid smell, the country’s leaders debated who was responsible for keeping the river clean. Lord John Manner, a key member of the Conservative government, argued in July 1858 – at the very height of the Great Stink – that “Her Majesty’s Government has nothing whatever to do with the state of the Thames”.
In theory, the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was responsible for the cleanliness of London’s water, including the state of the Thames. However, its budget was nowhere near big enough to carry out any meaningful work. Moreover, it didn’t have the power to impose any form of taxation in order to pay for the much-needed upgrades to the capital’s drainage and sewerage system. As the situation became even worse, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had no choice but to step in and break the deadlock. As The Times reported at the end of July, “Parliament was all but compelled to legislate upon the great London nuisance by the force of sheer stench.”