A Short History of Sewage and Drainage
Updated: Jan 6
We take the sewage and drainage systems for granted, flushing the toilet washing our hands and showering our part of our day to day lives and without it we would be lost. We would not have these luxuries if it wasn’t for the sophisticated procedures and systems that were put in place before our time. We have come a long way in terms of health and safety from where it started in the Tudor times, since then there has been a huge influx of population increases and produce which leads to overcrowding in the sewer systems, the more waste being produced the better the systems in place had to be and also lead to jobs and more money to the economy.
The Flushing Toilet
Sir John Harrington was the first to come up with the flushing toilet design in the 16th century, before this invention the waste was dumped into the Thames, and you can imagine how unhygienic that was and lead to the spreading of disease such as the deadly plague. The city of London suffered a fatal epidemic of Chloera where thousands of people died, was known to kill through breathing in contaminated air. Thomas Crapper is mistakenly known to be the inventor of this but in fact he was the publicist spreading the word.
This invention took time to develop and started by using a valve which let the waste water flow but the Thames was still used as an open sewer system. Which in the summer of 1858 when temperatures averaged 35 degrees Celsius created a huge problem due to the odours suffocating London. Tons of lime was spread on the Thames and near the mouths of sewers discharging into the river to try and dissolve the toxic fumes but unfortunately this had little effect. Parliament was then forced to legislate a new unified sewage system for London. This became law on 2 August 1858, shortly after began the works of the sewer system.
John Bazalgette who had a career in public health engineering since 1849 was the chief engineer for the water works his system revolutionised the way we dealt with the sewer and still exists today as early on he trained engineers so that the design could keep improving. The system was used to direct waste to a treatment plant nearby the Thames which worked well. Hidden beneath the streets now lie brick tunnels that take the raw sewage from our homes directly to the main sewers. Bazalgette, who remained Chief Engineer for 33 years, also changed the face of London by reclaiming 7 km of riverside land and muddy foreshore to create the vast embankments to accommodate his low-lying sewers.
The sewer system now is struggling due to the increasing population at 9 million residents, and some sewage still spills into the Thames in the case of extreme weather, so currently they are in the process of building an advanced sewer to take pressure off of the old systems as the population grows, this is looking to be completed around the year of 2024.
Developments in drainage materials
The materials used within these systems have changed drastically, back then they were using clay, stone and wood which was not ideal and didn’t hold well. But now days they are crafted with materials such as copper and brass which are much more stable and efficient. In the Victorian times they did discover that the smoother the materials were for the inner lining of the pipes the easier the water would flow through the systems, so within time they perfected this to find the smoothest materials.
Something that we now take for granted, once caused many deaths due to poor infrastructure. It is interesting to discover the history of the drainage system and how it has transformed over the years thanks to innovative individuals such as Joseph Bazalgette. Overall, the drainage and sewer systems have come a long way from where they are now and still to this day improvements are being made as the population grows bigger. There are many expert drainage companies in Grays who use the most reliable and up to date services to ensure your drains are running efficiently, if you have any issues, please contact us.