In the mid 19th Century repeating outbreaks of cholera were occurring across London. Between 1853-4 more than 10,000 Londoners died of cholera. At the time it was thought to be caused by foul air coming from the Thames. The stench reached the Houses of Parliament so legislation was created to allow sewers and street improvements.
Before this London’s drains were only meant to cope with rain water. But with the increasing use of flush toilets they became overloaded pushing sewage directly into the Thames.
Joseph Bazalgette was the English engineer who built low level sewers. The flow of infected water from old sewers and underground rivers could be diverted along these new sewers to new treatment works. The Victoria and Albert Embankments were opened in 1870. They replaced the tidal mud of the Thames with riverside roads and gardens protected behind their curved river walls.
The Northern Outfall Sewer is a gravity sewer running from Wick Lane in Hackney to Beckton sewage treatment works designed by Bazalgette. Today this sewer has been landscaped to create a public footpath/cycleway called the Greenway. The signs along the Greenway Path are made from old sewage pipes.
There were five interceptor sewers built north of the Thames, with three of them built by Bazalgette. Two more sewers were built 30 years later.
The northernmost (High Level Sewer) begins on Hampstead Hill and goes past Kentish Town and Stoke Newington under Victoria Park joining the start of the Northern Outfall Sewer at Wick Lane.
Two more sewers serve parts of central London and also join the Northern Outfall Sewer at Wick lane.
One begins at Kilburn running along Edgware Road, Euston Road, past Kings Cross to Wick Lane.
The other from Kensal Green, under Bayswater, along Oxford Street via Clerkenwell and Bethnal Green to Wick Lane. Two more low-level sewers stretch from west London.
Bazalgette was the grandson of a French Protestant immigrant.
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2016
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