Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The Great Stink’

sewerage

Great! An excuse to get the bike out, even if it was just to visit the stinking  yesteryear of London!  The Victorian Pumping Sewerage Station that stopped ‘The Great Stink’ from The River Thames held an ‘Steaming day’. After my long hiatus off the bike, I decided to check out this ‘masterpiece of Victorian engineering’.  It would also be the first opportunity to lock my bike as the instructors had shown me.

 

Cycling along the route was great, in this gorgeous summer weather, flat with little traffic, (Hooray!). It felt so good to ride again. I had two locks in my rucksack and I was a little anxious that it would  be safe but noted that those interested in Victorian sewerage wouldn’t probably be interested in my bike, so I used only one lock on the front release.

 

Whilst cycling, I thought about how the Victorians lived in filth and crap,  throwing their chamber pots full of faeces and all sorts from the windows of their terraced houses onto the streets. I could just imagine the swarms of flies and all sorts feeding on that crap and the awful stink that resulted.

 

I wondered if the contents ever caught anybody walking down the street! Or how their crap combined with the crap from their horses, dogs and cats or how the long dresses of the ladies must have got caught dragging the crap along the roads or even if it was possible to dodge the crap whilst walking down the street.

 

What with horse droppings, overflowing cesspits,  and putrefying rubbish, could they even walk in a straight line with all that crap clogging the streets. Vermin must have had a field day in and out of the rat infested sewers!  No wonder, in the years before this ‘triumph of Victorian design’, outbreaks of cholera and typhoid were striking down Londoners in their thousands. But they did get to the bottom of the matter by building four magnificent rotative beam engines to pump London’s sewerage into a reservoir before it went into the Thames in 1858.

 

Its taken 24 years to renovate a third of this pumping station to its former Victorian glory as shown in the photo. It has cast iron stairways, perforated cast-iron floor which I had to tip toe on so as not to get my heel caught in the gaps.  It had four huge wheels (pumps/engines), only one was fully renovated so far, quite intricate and beautifully designed with flowers, leaves badges in red, green and gold. 

 

There a number cyclindrical columns and at the centre is an octagonal arcade supported a decorative frieze on all eight sides.  It was rather like a cathedral.  A cathedral to crap! Very grand. The only working pump was extremely noisy. They each had a royal name, Victoria, Prince Consort, Albert Edward and Alexandra and was opened in 1865 by the Prince of Wales.

 

When flushing cisterns were invented, some say by a Victorian plumber called Thomas Crapper, (yes that’s where crap came from!) the putrid waste became even more rank.  Huge amounts of exreta found its way to the River Thames and then that same rancid crap was pumped back to the same houses for drinking, cooking and washing!!  Errrrrh!  Not surprisingly all river wildlife was also killed off.  The smell became so foul that it was named ‘The Great Stink’. 

 

One exceptionally warm summer in 1858, the smelly air was so stink that MPs suffered in their Houses of Parliament located upstream on the banks of the Thames. Because they suffered, (not the masses of poverty striken poor) they rushed through an Act of Parliament to build a network of giant  sewers and pumping stations that exist to this day. Simultaneously, the Victorians realised that the diseases were water borne not air borne as they had previously thought. This gave them the impetus to get to the bottom of the matter and fund the money. This station is one of them.  Joseph Bazalgette, the architect, is credited for helping to banish cholera and save the lives of tens of thousands.

  rampboatbridge

And then I left. It suddenly dawned on me why Thames Water causes so many traffic disruptions and gridlocks all over the place. It’s really frustrating with all the roadworks, but they are ‘Replacing London’s Victorian Water Mains’ which, after all, are over 150 years old.  With that thought in mind, I doubled back, and tried a new route to the Thames as there was no exit from the sewerage.

 

Pleased that I managed to steer up the long ramp carefully without wobbling, carried my bike up the steps over another bridge and then followed the signs to the Thames cycling  down through underpasses, paths between housing estates and parks, passing lakes until I reached the Thames path and rested on the graffiti covered upside canoes to contemplate my new route to the Thames and the river as it is now. Clean and calm, peaceful, odorless fresh air, as well as a haven to many species of fish, birds and leisure pursuits. Just imagine how different it could have been!!

Read Full Post »