18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London
18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London

18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London

D.G. Hewitt - June 3, 2019

18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London
One of the huge pumping stations of the vast new sewer network. Londonist.

3. The new sewerage system was expensive but brought immediate benefits, not least the end of deadly cholera outbreaks

Since Bazalgette had been working on his plans years before the Great Stink hit London, work on the new sewerage system could begin as soon as the government gave him the go-ahead. In April of 1865, the Southern Drainage System was complete. The main pumping station, still regarded as an engineering marvel, was officially opened by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. Also in attendance were the Lord Mayor of London and the Archbishop of Canterbury, testament to the importance of the occasion.

London benefited almost immediately. The city was only hit by one more cholera outbreak, and this occurred in the east of the city, in an area where the new sewerage system had not yet been introduced. Hundreds of tons of human waste were being carried out of the city every day. The Great Stink was no more and people could get back to being proud of their river again. Parliament was so impressed with Bazalgette’s work that they intended to give him a bonus of £6,000, equivalent to three years’ salary. While this plan was vetoed, soon after the completion of the Northern Drainage System, Bazalgette was invited to the Palace to receive his Knighthood.

18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London
London’s impressive embankments were madein the wake of the Great Stink. Pinterest.

2. From the 1860s onward, London didn’t just smell better, it had more green spaces and riverside paths too

When Joseph Bazalgette died in March 1891, his obituary in The Illustrated London News praised the great man, noting that his “two great titles to fame are that he beautified London and drained it”. While his main sewers and drainage tunnels may be hidden underground, the embankments he along the side of the Thames are still there today. The Chelsea Embankment, the Albert Embankment and the Victoria Embankment were all built up to provide better drainage for his low-level sewers. They also had the additional benefits of providing Londoners with new green spaces and riverside walkways, making the city greener and more livable.

The Institution of Civil Engineers erected a monument to Bazalgette on the Victoria Embankment in 1901. Indeed, it is largely for his hugely-ambitious embankments that the engineers is celebrated today. As his obituary in The Times noted more than 100 years ago, when visitors “come to London a thousand years hence … the magnificent solidity and the faultless symmetry of the great granite blocks which form the wall of the Thames-embankment will still remain”.

18 Facts About the 1858 Great Stink of London
The monument to the man who brought the Great Stink to an end. Londonist.

1. The Great Stink led to long-lasting improvements to London life – thanks to the foresight of Bazalgette

According to some estimates, Bazalgette’s sewerage system extended the lifespan of the average Londoner by as much as 20 years. And it wasn’t just his contemporaries who benefited. One of the most notable things about the system built as a result of the Great Stink was that it was built to last. Indeed, while London had a population of around 2 million in the 1860s, Bazalgette had the foresight to build his sewer system for a population twice that number.

Today, with London’s population close to 9 million, much of Bazalgette’s system is being upgraded or simply replaced. Several of the main tunnels, as well as the main pumping stations, have become tourist attractions. And, while Bazalgette may not be the most famous of Victorian-era Britons, he continues to be credited with not only making London a cleaner, better-smelling city, but of saving countless numbers of lives.

 

Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“London’s ‘Great Stink’ and Victorian Urban Planning.” BBC History.

“Too hot? In 1858 a heatwave turned London into a stinking sewer.” BBC News.

“Breathing in London’s history: from the Great Stink to the Great Smog.” The Museum of London.

“Story of cities #14: London’s Great Stink heralds a wonder of the industrial world.” The Guardian.

“The Great Stink of London.” The History Press.

“A fresh perspective on the Great Stink?” Wellcome Collection.

“Will 2018 be the year of climate action? Victorian London’s ‘Great Stink’ sewer crisis might tell us.” University of New South Wales.

“Victorian London’s ‘Great Stink’ sewer crisis offer lessons about solving climate change.” CityMonitor.

“The Great Stink.” Gustavus Adolphus College.

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