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Engineering in the time of cholera


THE CIVIL engineering of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, which put a stop to widespread outbreaks of cholera in Victorian London, is celebrated in a new book.

The great stink of London by Stephen Halliday records the work of Bazalgette - ICE President in 1883 - to improve sanitation in the capital after 10,000 people died of cholera in the long hot summer of 1858.

Sewage generated by two-and-a-half million Londoners was dumped in the streets and found its way into the Thames before 1860. The book starts with a stomach churning account of conditions in a passage which crime writer Ruth Rendell - reviewing the book in The Times - recommends as 'not to be read at meal times or when feeling queasy'.

Filthy drinking water which caused disease and foul odours from the river was so bad that the Government of the day considered upping sticks, although it settled in the end with soaking the curtains of the Palace of Westminster in chloride of lime.

Among Bazalgette's solutions were the river embankments which remain in use today. The Victoria Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars was designed to accommodate the low-level sewer he built to the north of the Thames. The Fleet, which had been a filthy conduit of sewage, became a river again and still flows under London's streets. Fish returned to parts of the Thames.

Bazalgette's embankments reclaimed 52 acres from the river which became roads, walkways and parks.

'I get most credit for the Thames embankment but it wasn't anything like such a job as the drainage,' Bazalgette said at the time.

The great stink of London by Stephen Halliday is published by Sutton, priced at £19.99.

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