The 1800s was a smelly, unhygienic time for citizens of London, England. Greater London’s waste system was essentially an open sewer, with bacteria such as ‘vibrio cholerae’ causing cholera outbreaks and various other epidemics that threatened the population of the capital city.
In 1958 the smell that surrounded London because of the open sewer became almost unbearable and hygiene was at its very lowest. This prompted the London Government to sort out the problem once and for all, and they commissioned the construction of what would be known as the London Sewerage System.
Built in the late 1800s, the original London Sewerage System still makes up a small section of the one that’s in use today. It comprises six intercepting sewers, 21,000 kilometers of smaller sewers and several pumping stations to serve the areas where gravity cannot promote the easy flow of sewage to the east. The waste is diverted away from central London, to the Thames Estuary so that sanitation is at its highest where the greatest number of people live. The sewer system was designed by Joseph Bazalgette; the Metropolitan Board of Works’ Chief civil engineer who managed to incorporate its construction into the roadworks of London, and what was to later become the London Underground train system’s circle line as well.
Due to a huge increase in population since the 1850s, London’s modern sewerage system is around 100 times bigger than Bazalgette’s original construction. At the time, however, this design was revolutionary and desperately needed.
Construction of the London Sewerage System began in 1859 and went on for six years until completion in 1865. 318 million bricks were used for job, as well as 670,000 meters squared of mortar and concrete. The main sewers that made up this system spanned an incredible 450 miles, not to mention the six interceptory sewers which ad a total length of 100 miles.
The pumping mills, used at various point along the Victorian London Sewerage System, were (and still are) mostly house-like structures where people would work to keep the sewage flowing in the right direction. The sewers were designed to largely run using gravity, but the pumping stations ensured that in areas the needed it, the water and sewage levels were raised to keep it flowing towards the east (or in the case of the north and south sewers, flowing to Beckton and Crossness treatment works respectively). Abbey Mills Pumping Station, along with a lot of the pumping stations from the Victorian sewerage system, has been renewed.
The London Sewerage System was repaired and reinforced in the 1900s, as was the treatment of the water throughout it so that the North Sea and the Thames Estuary would suffer less waste pollution. It is now 100 times bigger, so that it can cope with the increase in population and therefore the huge increase in waste in the capital. Compared to 250 years ago, the water flowing through London is much cleaner and much more safe.
How to Get There:
As you can imagine, visiting the actual sewers of London would be an unpleasant trip, considering they are all still in use today. It is, however, possible to visit the old Abbey Mills pumping station in Stratford, as a new one has been built to replace it, but the old one still stands.
To get to the Abbey Mills pumping station from abroad you should have no problems as London is served by three main airports: Heathrow, Gatwick and Luton. Heathrow Airport is the nearest to Abbey Mills pumping station and once you land it is a 22 mile taxi ride across central London to Stratford.
Where to Stay:
Luckily for visitors, London is full of budget, mid range and luxury hotels. Try the Hotel Ibis on Romford Road for mid-range rooms starting at around £75 ($121 USD) per night. Budget rooms, on the other hand, can be found at Hotel Citystay on Bow Road where they start as low as $73 per night. Do bear in mind, however, that Hotel Citystay only has 19 rooms within it, so you will need to book early.
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel nearer London then look no further than the Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf. It may be a further drive from the Abbey Mills pumping station than the others, but the luxury rooms are worth it.