A Brief History
On June 15, 1858, Chancellor of the Exchequer Benjamin Disraeli called the Thames River in London, England, a “Stygian pool, reeking with ineffable and intolerable horrors.” The growth of London as a major industrial giant had turned the river into an open sewer that became so foul the Queen and Prince Consort were forced off the waters and Parliament could not conduct business due to the stench!
The summer of 1858 was a hot one, with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit, grossly aggravating the stench from a river that took in human and industrial waste with no treatment. Tossing 200 tons of lime into the river failed to solve the problem.
Londoners built a sewer system in the 1600s to relieve the horrible cesspits that dotted the city, stinking up the place and leaking flammable methane gas. Sadly, moving the waste into the river made little improvement.
An enormous sewer building frenzy ensued, moving much of the sewage farther from the city, but still not treating the waste. Sewage continued to flow into the Thames until 1887.
Question for students (and subscribers): Have you been to London? What did you think of the city? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Clark, Clare. The Great Stink. Harper Perennial, 2006.
Paeff, Colleen. The Great Stink: How Joseph Bazalgette Solved London’s Poop Pollution Problem. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2021.
The featured image in this article, a cartoon from Punch Magazine, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or fewer.
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