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The river environment
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  Themes Homepage > The Great Stink
The river environment
The Great Stink

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Noysom corpes
"Dead Hogges, Dogges, Cats, and well flayd carryon horse, their noysom corpes soyld the water courses; Both swines and stable dunge, beasts guts and garbage, street durt, with gardners weeds and rotten herbage. And from those waters filthy putrifaction, our meat and drinke were made, which bred infection."

This description of the rivers in Oxford in 1644, from John Taylor's "Mad Verse", gives an idea of how the Thames had long been used as an open sewer. In London, the originally beautiful river Fleet, which fed into the Thames, was one of the first to be railed off as a health hazard.

The Houses of Parliament
The Houses of Parliament
Population and industry
The early 1800's saw a tremendous rise in the population and industries of London. Sewage and chemical effluent poured into the Thames from the rivers along its banks. Water borne diseases such as Cholera became an increasing problem. In 1858, the Thames became so smelly that it became known as 'The Great Stink.'

Members of Parliament were so appalled that they eventually demanded a solution. Joseph Bazalgette, engineer of the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works, designed a network of 83 miles of sewers to carry the waste away to the sea. Thus began the environmental cleanup of the river, which continues to this day.
Massive sewers were built running along the north and south banks of the river Thames. These captured the waste that would otherwise pour into the river. The sewers gently inclined downwards to the east, resulting in the waste flowing towards the sea.

In areas such as Victoria, the muddy foreshore was reclaimed, and sewers and the new underground railway were installed. On the surface, a 30 metre width of landscaped road and pavement was established, providing a modern and elegant boulevard, and a defense against flooding.
The Victoria Embankment, from Charing Cross Station
The Victoria Embankment, from Charing Cross Station
Prince of Wales opening Crossness Sewage works
Prince of Wales opening Crossness Sewage works
The sewers ended at pumping stations east of London in Kent and Essex, which then carried the waste to sea on the outgoing tide. The Victorians were immensely proud of their engineering, and the pumping station at Crossness in Kent, was opened in 1865 by the Prince of Wales.
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  Themes Homepage > The Great Stink
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