Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819 – 1891)

Above: the bronze bust is by George Blackall Simonds and was raised in 1899. It is the centrepiece of a monument bearing the inscription, ‘flumini vincula posuit’ – ‘he placed chains on the river’. It is located on the Victoria Embankment.

From Wikipedia:

“The Victoria Embankment’s construction started in 1865 and was completed in 1870 under the direction of Joseph Bazalgette. It was one element of a three-part work, the other two parts being the Albert Embankment, from the Lambeth end of Westminster Bridge to Vauxhall; and the Chelsea Embankment, extending from Millbank to the Cadogan Pier at Chelsea, close by Battersea Bridge. It was a project of the Metropolitan Board of Works. The contractor for the work was Thomas Brassey. The original impetus was the need to provide London with a modern sewerage system. Another major consideration was the relief of congestion on the Strand and Fleet Street.

The project involved building out on to the foreshore of the River Thames, narrowing the river. The construction work required the purchase and demolition of much expensive riverside property. The cut-and-cover tunnel for the District Railway was built within the Embankment and roofed over to take the roadway. The embankment was faced with granite, and penstocks, designed to open at ebb tide to release diluted sewage when rainstorms flooded the system, were built into it as a means of preventing backups in the drainage system and of periodically flushing the mud banks.

The Victoria section was the most complex of the three sections. It was much larger, more complex and more significant to the metropolis than the other two and officially opened on 13 July 1870 by the Prince of Wales and Princess Louise. When people refer to “the Embankment” they are usually referring to that portion of it…

…John Thwaites, the chair of the Metropolitan Board of Works, made note that the embankments were an important step in making London recognised as an exemplary imperial city, and that the embankments were the greatest public work to be taken in London. This imperial power was represented in the embankments’ grandeur and could be seen in the way they controlled nature, linking the local experience of nature in London to the global rivalries of imperial powers…”

From the website of the Science Museum Group:

“As Chief Engineer on London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, Bazalgette was primarily responsible for the creation of the extensive network of sewers under the streets of central London. The new sewers made probably the single greatest contribution to improving the health of Victorian Londoners and the bulk of the system remains in use today. In addition, it physically changed the appearance of riverside London and the nature of the River Thames.

London’s rapid growth had not been accompanied by the infrastructure improvements needed to deal with the huge amount of sewage produced each day. Instead it was contributing to waves of cholera outbreaks and other public health crises. The River Thames had effectively become an open sewer and the Great Stink of 1858, when the stench from the Thames could no longer be ignored, was the final straw.

Bazalgette’s engineered solution was a system that channelled the waste through miles of street sewers into a series of main intercepting sewers which slowly transported it far enough eastwards so that it could be pumped into the tidal Thames – from where it would be swept out to sea. The project was a massive undertaking. Fortunately for modern Londoners, Bazalgette insisted on constructing wide egg-shaped, brick-walled sewer tunnels rather than the narrow bore pipes previously favoured by Edwin Chadwick and others. This has allowed the system to cope with subsequent increases in volume.

Despite Bazalgette’s ingenuity, the system still dumped tons of raw sewage into the Thames – sometimes with unfortunate results. The death toll from the sinking of the pleasure boat Princess Alice in 1878 would certainly have been smaller if it had sunk elsewhere on the Thames. As it was, it went down close to one of the main sewage outfalls. Approximately 640 passengers died, many poisoned rather than drowned. Horror at the deaths was instrumental in the building of a series of riverside sewage treatment plants.”

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