Joseph Bazalgette

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Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, CB ( /ˈbæzəlɛt/ ; 28 March 1819 15 March 1891) was a 19th-century English civil engineer. As chief engineer of London's Metropolitan Board of Works his major achievement was the creation (in response to the Great Stink of 1858) of a sewer network for central London which was instrumental in relieving the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the cleansing of the River Thames. [1]

Order of the Bath Series of awards of an order of chivalry of the United Kingdom

The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate medieval ceremony for appointing a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as "Knights of the Bath". George I "erected the Knights of the Bath into a regular Military Order". He did not revive the Order of the Bath, since it had never previously existed as an Order, in the sense of a body of knights who were governed by a set of statutes and whose numbers were replenished when vacancies occurred.

Civil engineering engineering discipline and economic branch specialising in design, construction and maintenance of the built environment

Civil engineering is a professional engineering discipline that deals with the design, construction, and maintenance of the physical and naturally built environment, including public works such as roads, bridges, canals, dams, airports, sewerage systems, pipelines, structural components of buildings, and railways.

Metropolitan Board of Works

The Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was the principal instrument of London-wide government from December 1855 until the establishment of the London County Council in March 1889. Its principal responsibility was to provide infrastructure to cope with London's rapid growth, which it accomplished. The MBW was an appointed rather than elected body. This lack of accountability made it unpopular with Londoners, especially in its latter years when it fell prey to corruption.


Early life

Bazalgette was born at Hill Lodge, Clay Hill, Enfield, London, the son of Joseph William Bazalgette (1783–1849), a retired Royal Navy captain, and Theresa Philo, born Pilton (1796–1850), and was the grandson of a French Protestant immigrant.

London Borough of Enfield London borough in United Kingdom

The London Borough of Enfield is a London borough in north London, England. It borders the London Boroughs of Barnet, Haringey and Waltham Forest, the districts of Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, and Epping Forest in Essex. The local authority is Enfield Council.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

He began his career working on railway projects, articled to noted engineer Sir John MacNeill and gaining sufficient experience (some in China) in land drainage and reclamation works for him to set up his own London consulting practice in 1842. By the time he married his wife, Maria Kough, in 1845, Bazalgette was deeply involved in the expansion of the railway network, working so hard that he suffered a nervous breakdown two years later.

John Benjamin Macneill Irish civil engineer

Sir John Benjamin Macneill FRS was an eminent Irish civil engineer of the 19th century, closely associated with Thomas Telford. His most notable projects were railway schemes in Ireland.

Land reclamation process of creating new land from ocean, riverbeds, or lake

Land reclamation, usually known as reclamation, and also known as land fill, is the process of creating new land from oceans, riverbeds, or lake beds. The land reclaimed is known as reclamation ground or land fill.

While he was recovering, London's Metropolitan Commission of Sewers ordered that all cesspits should be closed and that house drains should connect to sewers and empty into the Thames. As a result, a cholera epidemic (1848–49) killed 14,137 Londoners.

The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was one of London's first steps towards bringing its sewer and drainage infrastructure under the control of a single public body. It was a precursor of the Metropolitan Board of Works.

Cesspit Either an underground holding tank (sealed at the bottom) or a soak pit (not sealed at the bottom)

A cesspit, is a term with various meanings: it is used to describe either an underground holding tank or a soak pit. It can be used for the temporary collection and storage of feces, excreta or fecal sludge as part of an on-site sanitation system and has some similarities with septic tanks or with soak pits. Traditionally, it was a deep cylindrical chamber dug into the earth, having approximate dimensions of 1 metre diameter and 2–3 metres depth. Their appearance was similar to that of a hand-dug water well.

Bazalgette was appointed assistant surveyor to the Commission in 1849, taking over as Engineer in 1852, after his predecessor died of "harassing fatigues and anxieties." Soon after, another cholera epidemic struck, in 1853, killing 10,738. Medical opinion at the time held that cholera was caused by foul air: a so-called miasma . Physician Dr John Snow had earlier advanced a different explanation, which is now known to be correct: cholera was spread by contaminated water. His view was not then generally accepted.

Miasma theory Obsolete medical theory about the transmission of disease through bad air

The miasma theory is an obsolete medical theory that held diseases—such as cholera, chlamydia, or the Black Death—were caused by a miasma, a noxious form of "bad air", also known as night air. The theory held that the origin of epidemics was due to a miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter. Though miasma theory is typically associated with the spread of disease, some academics in the early nineteenth century suggested that the theory extended to other conditions as well, e.g. one could become obese by inhaling the odor of food.

Championed by fellow engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Bazalgette was appointed chief engineer of the Commission's successor, the Metropolitan Board of Works, in 1856 (a post which he retained until the MBW was abolished and replaced by the London County Council in 1889). In 1858, the year of the Great Stink, Parliament passed an enabling act, in spite of the colossal expense of the project, and Bazalgette's proposals to revolutionise London's sewerage system began to be implemented. The expectation was that enclosed sewers would eliminate the stink ('miasma'), and that this would then reduce the incidence of cholera.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel English mechanical and civil engineer

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, was an English mechanical and civil engineer who is considered "one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history", "one of the 19th-century engineering giants", and "one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution, [who] changed the face of the English landscape with his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions". Brunel built dockyards, the Great Western Railway, a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.

London County Council Local government body for the County of London, 1889 to 1965; replaced by Greater London Council

London County Council (LCC) was the principal local government body for the County of London throughout its existence from 1889 to 1965, and the first London-wide general municipal authority to be directly elected. It covered the area today known as Inner London and was replaced by the Greater London Council. The LCC was the largest, most significant and most ambitious English municipal authority of its day.

Great Stink event in central London in July and August 1858

The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames. The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera before the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.

Sewer works

The old Abbey Mills Pumping Station Abbey Mills Pumping Station3.jpg
The old Abbey Mills Pumping Station
Interior of the Octagon at Crossness Pumping Station showing its elaborate decorative ironwork The Octagon, Crossness Pumping Station.jpg
Interior of the Octagon at Crossness Pumping Station showing its elaborate decorative ironwork
Drainage reports by Bazalgette in the Institution of Civil Engineers' archives ICE editathon - One Great George Street - 19 July 2013 61 Bazalgette reports.jpg
Drainage reports by Bazalgette in the Institution of Civil Engineers' archives

At that time, the River Thames was little more than an open sewer, empty of any fish or other wildlife, and an obvious health hazard to Londoners.

Bazalgette's solution (similar to a proposal made by painter John Martin 25 years earlier) was to construct a network of 82 miles (132 km) of enclosed underground brick main sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of street sewers, to intercept the raw sewage which up until then flowed freely through the streets and thoroughfares of London.

The plan included major pumping stations at Deptford (1864) and at Crossness (1865) on the Erith marshes, both on the south side of the Thames, and at Abbey Mills (in the River Lea valley, 1868) and on the Chelsea Embankment (close to Grosvenor Bridge; 1875), north of the river. The outflows were diverted downstream where they were collected in two large sewage outfall systems on the north and south sides of the Thames called the Northern and Southern Outfall sewers. The sewage from the Northern Outfall sewer and that from the Southern Outfall were originally collected in balancing tanks in Beckton and Crossness, respectively, before being dumped, untreated, into the Thames at high tide. [2]

The system was opened by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1865, although the whole project was not actually completed for another ten years.

Partly as a result of the Princess Alice disaster, extensive sewage treatment facilities were built to replace the balancing tanks in Beckton and Crossness in 1900.

Bazalgette's foresight may be seen in the diameter of the sewers. When planning the network he took the densest population, gave every person the most generous allowance of sewage production and came up with a diameter of pipe needed. He then said 'Well, we're only going to do this once and there's always the unforeseen' and doubled the diameter to be used. His foresight allowed for the unforeseen increase in population density with the introduction of the tower block; with the original, smaller pipe diameter the sewer would have overflowed in the 1960s, rather than coping until the present day as it has.

The unintended consequence of the new sewer system was to eliminate cholera everywhere in the water system, whether or not it stank. The basic premise of this expensive project, that miasma spread cholera infection, was wrong. However, instead of causing the project to fail, the new sewers succeeded in virtually eliminating the disease by removing the contamination. Bazalgette's sewers also decreased the incidence of typhus and typhoid epidemics. [3]

Bazalgette's capacity for hard work was remarkable; every connection to the sewerage system by the various Vestry Councils had to be checked and Bazalgette did this himself and the records contain thousands of linen plans with handwritten comments in Indian ink on them "Approved JWB", "I do not like 6" used here and 9" should be used. JWB", and so on. It is perhaps not surprising that his health suffered as a result. The records are held by Thames Water in large blue binders gold-blocked reading "Metropolitan Board of Works" and then dated, usually two per year.

Private life

Bazalgette lived at 17 Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood, north London, for some years. Before 1851, he moved to Morden, then in 1873 to Arthur Road, Wimbledon, where he died in 1891, and he was buried in the nearby churchyard at St Mary's Church.

In 1845 at Westminster, he married Maria Kough (1819–1902). Lady Bazalgette died at her residence in Wimbledon on 3 March 1902. [4] They had children including:

  1. Joseph William, born 20 February 1846
  2. Charles Norman born 3 March 1847
  3. Edward, born 28 June 1848
  4. Theresa Philo, born 1850
  5. Caroline, born 17 July 1852
  6. Maria, born 1854
  7. Henry, born 14 September 1855
  8. Willoughby, born 1857
  9. Maria Louise, born 1859
  10. Anna Constance, born 3 December 1859
  11. Evelyn, born 1 April 1861

Awards and memorials

Memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette on Victoria Embankment JosephBazalgette.jpg
Memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette on Victoria Embankment
Detail of Hammersmith Bridge, designed by Bazalgette Hammersmith Bridge Detail.jpg
Detail of Hammersmith Bridge, designed by Bazalgette

Bazalgette was knighted in 1875, and elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1883.

A Greater London Council blue plaque commemorates Bazalgette at 17 Hamilton Terrace in St John's Wood in North London, [5] and he is also commemorated by a formal monument on the riverside of the Victoria Embankment in central London.[ citation needed ]

Dulwich College has a scholarship in his name either for design and technology [6] or for mathematics and science. [7]

Other works

Notable descendants

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  1. Halliday, Stephen (2013). The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. The History Press. ISBN   978-0752493787.
  2. "How the system worked". Crossness Engines. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012.
  3. "'Dirty Old London': A History of the Victorians' Infamous Filth". NPR . 12 March 2015. Archived from the original on 23 June 2017. Retrieved 13 March 2015. [the famous great sewer network of the mid-19th century] basically took away the possibility of wholesale cholera epidemics in the city, typhus and typhoid – they all were reduced.
  4. "Obituary – Lady Bazalgette". The Times (36706). London. 4 March 1902. p. 8.
  5. "Bazalgette, Sir Joseph William (1819–1891)". English Heritage. Archived from the original on 1 August 2011. Retrieved 20 October 2012.
  6. The Master's Report to the Governors for the School Year 2004–2005 (PDF) (Report). Dulwich College. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 December 2007.
  7. The Master's Report to the Governors for the School Year 2006–2007 (PDF) (Report). Dulwich College.[ dead link ]

Further reading

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
James Brunlees
President of the Institution of Civil Engineers
December 1883 December 1884
Succeeded by
Frederick Bramwell