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MAKING THE MODERN WORLD
Stories about the lives we've made
people:Sir Joseph William Bazalgette
Born: 28 March 1819, Enfield, England
Died: 15 March 1891, Wimbledon Park, England


picture zoom © Science Museum/Science and Society Picture Library

Civil engineer and designer of the London sewage disposal system.

In 1842 Bazalgette set up business in Westminster as a consulting engineer, working mainly on railways. In 1849 he was employed by the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, a recently created body responsible for drainage in London. In 1855 he was appointed chief engineer of its successor, the Metropolitan Board of Works.

By the mid-nineteenth century London was afflicted with severe sanitary problems culminating in the 'great stink' of 1858. The Disraeli government passed an Act in that year handing control for the building of a new London sewer system to Bazalgette's Board of Works. Over 83 miles of large intercepting sewers were constructed to cover an area of over 100 square miles. The system was opened in 1865 by the Prince of Wales although it was not completed until 1875.

The Royal Commission of 1884 bore strong testimony to the excellence of the original scheme but also to the professional skill shown by Bazalgette 'in carrying it through all the intricate difficulties of its construction'.

Bazalgette also designed and directed construction of the Victoria Embankment on the Thames. The idea was proposed by Sir Christopher Wren but not started until 1862, and then was complicated further by the inclusion of works for the low-level sewers and the Metropolitan District underground railway.

Bazalgette was knighted in 1874, and died in 1891 in Wimbledon. A bronze bust of Bazalgette on the Thames embankment at the foot of Northumberland Avenue forms part of a mural monument erected by his friends.

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