The Info List - London Sewerage System

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The London
sewerage system is part of the water infrastructure serving London, England. The modern system was developed during the late 19th century, and as London
has grown the system has been expanded. It is currently owned and operated by Thames Water
Thames Water
and serves almost all of Greater London.


1 History 2 Modern development needs

2.1 Thames Tideway Scheme

3 Literary or media references 4 See also 5 Notes 6 References 7 External links


The original Abbey Mills pumping station

Interior of the Octagon at Crossness
showing its elaborate decorative ironwork, which was heavily influenced by Moorish imagery

During the early 19th century the River Thames
River Thames
was an open sewer, with disastrous consequences for public health in London, including cholera epidemics. These were caused by enterotoxin-producing strains of the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Although the contamination of the water supply was correctly diagnosed by Dr John Snow in 1849 as the method of communication, it was believed that miasma, or bad air, was responsible right up to the outbreak of 1866.[1] Proposals to modernise the sewerage system had been made during 1856, but were neglected due to lack of funds. However, after the Great Stink
Great Stink
of 1858, Parliament realised the urgency of the problem and resolved to create a modern sewerage system.[2] Joseph Bazalgette, a civil engineer and Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, was given responsibility for the work. He designed an extensive underground sewerage system that diverted waste to the Thames Estuary, downstream of the main centre of population. Six main interceptor sewers, totalling almost 160 km (100 miles) in length, were constructed, some incorporating stretches of London's "lost" rivers. Three of these sewers were north of the river, the southernmost, low-level one being incorporated in the Thames Embankment. The Embankment also allowed new roads, new public gardens, and the Circle line of the London
Underground. Victoria Embankment
Victoria Embankment
was finally officially opened on 13 July 1870.[3][4] The intercepting sewers, constructed between 1859 and 1865, were fed by 450 miles (720 km) of main sewers that, in turn, conveyed the contents of some 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of smaller local sewers. Construction of the interceptor system required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete.[5] The innovative use of Portland cement
Portland cement
strengthened the tunnels, which were in good order 150 years later.[6] Gravity
allows the sewage to flow eastwards, but in places such as Chelsea, Deptford
and Abbey Mills, pumping stations were built to raise the water and provide sufficient flow. Sewers north of the Thames feed into the Northern Outfall Sewer, which feeds into a major treatment works at Beckton. South of the river, the Southern Outfall Sewer extends to a similar facility at Crossness. During the 20th century, major improvements were made to the sewerage system and to the sewage treatment provision to substantially reduce pollution of the Thames Estuary
Thames Estuary
and the North Sea. Modern development needs[edit]

The new Abbey Mills Pumping Station

The original system was designed to cope with 6.5 mm (1/4") per hour of rainfall within the catchment area, and supported a smaller population than today's. London's growth has put pressure on the capacity of the sewerage system. During storms, for example, high levels of rainfall (in excess of 6 mm per hour) in a short period of time can overwhelm the system. Sewers and treatment works are unable to cope with the large volumes of rainwater entering the system. Rainwater mixes with sewage in combined sewers and excess mixed water is discharged into the Thames. If this does not happen quickly enough, localised flooding occurs (surcharge). Such sanitary sewer overflow can mean streets becoming flooded with a mixture of water and sewage, causing a health risk. In redeveloping the Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs
and Royal Docks
Royal Docks
areas of east London during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the London
Docklands Development Corporation invested in major new drainage infrastructure to manage future sewage and surface water run-off from proposed developments. Consulting engineer Sir William Halcrow & Partners designed a system of large diameter tunnels served by new pumping stations. In the Royal Docks, approximately 16 miles (25 km) of foul and surface water drains were built, plus pumping stations at Tidal Basin (designed by Richard Rogers
Richard Rogers
Partnership) and North Woolwich (architect: Nicholas Grimshaw).[7] The Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs
drainage network is served by a stormwater pumping station situated in Stewart Street, designed by John Outram
John Outram
Associates.[8] Thames Tideway Scheme[edit] Main article: Thames Tideway Scheme Increasing the carrying capacity of London's sewerage system has been debated for some years. Proposals for the 'Thames Tideway' include a wide diameter storage-and-transfer tunnel (internal diameters of 7.2 m and 9 m have been suggested), 22 miles (35 km) long, underneath the riverbed of the Thames between Hammersmith
in the west and Beckton/ Crossness
in the east,[9] but as the cost of such a megaproject is likely to be substantial (estimated at £1.7 billion in 2004), investment decisions have been slow in forthcoming. In March 2007 the Mayor of London
announced that the project will proceed with completion expected by 2020.[10] Because design and construction of such a tunnel will take an estimated 15 years, a shorter-term (and slightly lower cost) interim solution has also been developed. This £1.6 billion scheme (2006 prices) involves two shorter tunnels (one taking storm water from Hammersmith
to Battersea
for treatment or storage, the other carrying water from Abbey Mills south to the river at Beckton) and improvements to associated treatment facilities.[11] Literary or media references[edit]

The system plays a large part in English writer Neil Gaiman's 1996 novel Neverwhere. The system plays a part in Australian writer Michael Robotham's 2005 novel Lost (a.k.a. The Drowning Man). It featured as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World in the BBC television series of the same name. Eleanor Updale's Montmorency (beginning with Montmorency: Liar Thief Gentleman?) novels are set against the backdrop of construction of the London
sewerage system. The construction of the London
sewer system is central to the plot of Anne Perry's 2006 novel Dark Assassin, in which the Great Stink
Great Stink
is also mentioned. The title character from Terry Pratchett's Dodger, based on the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist, spends much of his time in London's sewers alongside notable historical figures including Bazalgette.

See also[edit]

Medical Officer of Health for London Metropolitan Commission of Sewers Tosher


^ Cadbury, Deborah (2003). Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. London
and New York: Fourth Estate. pp. 165–6, 189–192.  ^ Abellán 2017, p. 9. ^ Cadbury 2003, pp. 194–196. ^ Baker, Margaret (2002). Discovering London
Statues and Monuments. Osprey Publishing. p. 125. ISBN 9780747804956.  ^ Goodman, David C. and Chant, Colin (1999). European Cities and Technology (London: Routledge). ^ Cadbury 2003, p. 183. ^ Royal Docks, LDDC Completion Booklet, 1998 ^ "Pumping Station" – An 'Architectural Primer', John Outram. Retrieved 2011-09-30. ^ Brown, Paul (10 April 2004). "£2bn tunnel to carry sewage under Thames". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 11 June 2009.  ^ "London's new sewer". Metro. UK. 22 March 2007. Retrieved 11 June 2009.  ^ Lee Tunnel, Thames Water. Accessed 2011-07-20.


Abellán, Javier (2017). Water supply and sanitation services in modern Europe: developments in 19th-20th centuries. 12th International Conference of the Spanish Association of Economic History. University of Salamanca.  Trench, R. and Hillman, E. (1984) London
Under London: A Subterranean Guide (London: John Murray).

External links[edit]

Tales of the underworld from The Guardian
The Guardian
Wednesday 30 March 2005

v t e

Water supply and sanitation in London


Affinity Water Anglian Water Essex and Suffolk Water Sutton and East Surrey Water Thames Water

Major infrastructure

Supply infrastructure Sewerage system Northern Outfall Sewer Southern Outfall Sewer

v t e

Thames Water


John Backhouse Joseph Bazalgette Edmund Colthurst Great Stink London
sewerage system London
water supply Metropolitan Board of Works Metropolitan Water Board Hugh Myddelton William Chadwell Mylne New River Company New River John Snow (physician) 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak William Webster

Major projects

Abingdon Reservoir Thames Tideway Scheme, including Thames Tideway Tunnel and Lee Tunnel Thames Water
Thames Water
Desalination Plant Thames Water
Thames Water
Ring Main


Thames Water Reservoirs Predecessor companies

v t e

Metropolitan Board of Works


Fulham (dissolved 1886) Greenwich Hackney (dissolved 1894) Holborn Lee/ Plumstead
(re-named 1894) Lewisham Limehouse Poplar St Giles St Olave St Saviour's Strand Wandsworth Westminster Whitechapel

Headquarters at Spring Gardens

Incorporated vestries

Original vestries (1855)

Battersea Bermondsey Bethnal Green Camberwell Chelsea Clerkenwell Hampstead Islington Kensington Lambeth Mile End Old Town Newington Paddington Rotherhithe St George Hanover Square St George in the East St Luke Middlesex St Martin in the Fields St Marylebone St Pancras Shoreditch Southwark St George the Martyr Westminster St Margaret and St John Westminster St James Woolwich

Later vestries

Fulham (1886) Hammersmith
(1886) Hackney (1894) Plumstead
(1894) Stoke Newington (1894)


Metropolitan Buildings Office Metropolitan Commission of Sewers Metropolitan Fire Brigade

Major works

Charing Cross Road Hammersmith
Bridge London
sewerage system Northumberland Avenue Putney Bridge Southwark Street Shaftesbury Avenue Thames Embankment Waterloo Bridge


Royal Commission on the City of London Metropolis Management Act 1855 Local Government Act 1888 London
Government Act 1899


Francis Fowler Frederick Marrable James McGarel-Hogg John Thwaites Joseph Bazalgette List of Members

v t e

History of London


Londinium Lundenwic City of London City of Westminster Middlesex County of London Greater London Timeline


Roman London Anglo-Saxon London Norman and Medieval London Tudor London Stuart London 18th-century London 19th-century London 1900–39 The Blitz 1945–2000 21st century


Peasants' Revolt Black Death Great Plague Great Fire 1854 cholera outbreak Great Stink Great Exhibition 1908 Franco-British Exhibition The Battle of Cable Street Festival of Britain Great Smog Swinging London London
Plan 1966 FIFA World Cup Final 7/7 bombings Olympic Games (1908 1948 2012) 2012 Summer Paralympics Grenfell Tower fire


Metropolitan Board of Works London
County Council Greater London
Council Greater London
Authority London
Assembly Mayor of London London


Bow Street Runners Metropolitan Police Service London
Ambulance Service London
Fire Brigade Port of London
Authority London
sewerage system London

City of London

City of London
Corporation Lord Mayor of the City of London Wards of the City of London Guildhall Livery Companies Lord Mayor's Show City of London
Police Bank of England


St Paul's Cathedral Tower of London Palace of Whitehall Westminster Hall London
Bridge Tower Bridge Westminster Abbey Big Ben The Monument Fortificatio