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60179.  Thu Mar 16, 2006 6:03 am Reply with quote

Throughout history the standard method of sewage disposal has been to bung it in the nearest river, which would ultimately carry it to the sea - the word 'sewer' is Old English for 'seaward'.

Very large concentrations of people overwhelm this system, though, so sanitation became a huge problem during the Industrial Revolution. London's population, for example, rose to 3 million, and there was sewage everywhere - piling up in alleyways and cellars and oozing through cracks in the floorboards. Three successive cholera epidemics swept through the city, killing 30,000 people. The disease was thought to be carried by the smell (rather than by the water), and things came to a head in 1858, the Year of the Great Stink. It was a hot summer, and the Thames, into which all sewage discharged, began to ferment. Parliament was evacuated; as ever, a problem which affected Hon. Members this directly resulted in an immediate legislative response, and the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette was commissioned to sort the problem out.

He built 82 miles of drains along the Thames to intercept the sewage so that it could be dumped downstream or, later, treated before going into the river, and 1100 miles of steet sewers. It took 318 million bricks, 880,000 cubic yards of concrete, and the excavation of 3.5 million cubic yards of earth and transformed the Thames into the cleanest metropolitan river in the world. Cholera and typhoid deaths tumbled, and similar systems were built in the other British cities. Most are still in use today.

Interestingly, this benign outcome was somewhat serendipitous: the drains were built to deal with the smell, not to divert the contaminated water, although that is what actually did the trick.

Bazalgette also built the Embankments over the tops of the sewers, with gardens and parks, as well as Battersmith, Hammersmith and Putney Bridges; he contributed more to the look of London than anyone other than Wren.

So that was all jolly good. So good, in fact, that no-one has felt the need to do much to the system since Bazalgette's time, with the consequence that it is now on the point of collapse. There are 186,000 miles of public sewers in Britain, which are being replaced or upgraded at a rate of 240 miles per year. The 125,000 miles of private sewers are in an even worse condition. (And, before someone blames privatisation of the water companies, the situation is worse in unprivatised Scotland than it is in England).

60180.  Thu Mar 16, 2006 6:04 am Reply with quote

Incidentally, 150-year-old sewers aren't so very remarkable; some of York's current sewage system was built by the Romans.

60181.  Thu Mar 16, 2006 6:04 am Reply with quote

Bazalgette's great-great-grandson is Peter 'Baz' Bazalgette, the man behind Big Brother and other reality and lifestyle TV innovations. A crack about TV going down the drain appears irresistible, to the point of being a bit of a cheap shot. Baz was formerly one of Esther Rantzen's 'boys' on That's Life.

60192.  Thu Mar 16, 2006 6:36 am Reply with quote

I can't work out if he's gone up or down in the world...

60650.  Sat Mar 18, 2006 8:50 am Reply with quote

“In the entrance to Roman taverns and workshops have been uncovered large stone vessels which can best be described as urinals. Here is the first physical evidence of London’s toilet facilities.”

“In the period of Saxon and Viking occupation there is evidence of excrement dropped anywhere and everywhere, even within the houses.”

“Regulations [in London] of the 13th century ordained that ‘no one shall place dung or other filth in the streets or lanes, but cause the same to be taken by the rakers to the places ordained.’” Human dung at that time was used on the fields outside the city.

Pigs were allowed to roam the streets, as rubbish-eaters, but they themselves became a nuisance, because they were always blocking narrow lanes, and wandering into people’s houses. There was a cull of pigs, after which they were replaced by kites. You could get the death sentence for killing a kite.

In 1349 Edward III wrote to the mayor of London complaining that the city’s thoroughfares were “foul with human faeces, and the air of the city poisoned to the great danger of men passing.” Resulting legislation damned this “grievous and great abomination” and appointed four “scawageours” (scavengers) in each ward, responsible for cleanliness.

However, emptying your bowels directly into the river was still thought to be fine; on London bridge there were 138 houses and a public latrine.

Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, London had variously three streets known as Pissing Lane or Pissing Alley, which were used for the purpose suggested. Also noted are Dunghill Lane and Dunghill Stairs. Pudding Lane is named after dung. Sherborne Lane is nothing to do with Dorset; it was once Shiteburn Lane.

The first public bogs (since Roman times) were built in the 13th century. “The new bridge across the river was equipped with one of these modern conveniences, which had two entrances, while the smaller bridges across the Fleet and the Walbrook also made provision for them. Against the streams and tributaries there were ‘houses of office,’ too, although many consisted simply of wooden planks with holes carved out of them. More elaborate public privies were constructed, some with four or more holes, culminating in Richard Whittington’s fifteenth-century ‘House of Easement’ or ‘Long House’ over the Thames at the end of Friar Lane. It contained two rows of sixty-four seats, one row for men and the other for women.”

In 1275, the White Friars complained to the king that the public privy above the Fleet gave out “putrid exhalations” which “overcame even the frankincense” and “had caused the death of manie Brethren.”

The law in the 14th century took lav-related crime pretty seriously. One man was charged for dung-dumping so bad that “there may neythir hors ne cart pas for his dong.” [sic]

Much later, Samuel Pepys recorded “Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar.”

Ackroyd seems to suggest that the Great Stink was caused by reform, not neglect. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers in 1847 ordered that all privy refuse was to be discharged directly into sewers. This was to keep the streets clean and healthy; previously cesspools had become a real menace. However, this reform meant that all effluent went “straight into the central reaches of the Thames. As a result the swan and the salmon, together with other fish, vanished in an open sewer.”

The water supply for many Londoners was taken directly from the river, and the water “from this time forward” was often described as being of a “brownish” colour.

Ackroyd points out that the Stink was “the odour of progress,” since the massively rising middle-class consumption was partly to blame for it; affluence leads to effluence.

All the above from the book I might well choose for a desert island: ‘London the Biography’ by Peter Ackroyd.

61343.  Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:45 pm Reply with quote

Thanks for that.

This thought, posted by Jenny, could give a link from drains to Endemol, Peter Bazalgette's company, to dominoes and so to darts:

The Domino Sparrow was a bird shot in the Frisian Expo Centre in Leeuwarden in the Netherlands during the preparations for Domino Day 2005. With four days to go the bird flew into the building and knocked down 23,000 of the dominoes that had been set up for a record attempt. The damage would have been greater still if it hadn't been for the gaps in the row of dominoes which had been left as a precaution. Duke Faunabeheer was hired to remove the intruder. Efforts were made to capture it with a net, but eventually he shot it, for which he was fined 200 euros because it belonged to a protected species.

Animal rights activists protested against killing an animal in order to save a television show and offered a 5000 euro bounty to anybody who could knock down the rest of the dominoes. Nobody was able to claim this prize, though.

The bird's corpse was given to the Natural History Museum in Rotterdam, which will display it in their major exhibition on the house sparrow which opens in November 2006.

(I should have added that the Domino Day TV show was an Endemol production).

Last edited by Flash on Wed Mar 22, 2006 5:43 am; edited 1 time in total

61371.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 5:29 am Reply with quote

"Animal rights activists protested against killing an animal in order to save a television show and offered a 5000 euro bounty to anybody who could knock down the rest of the dominoes"

Pathetic. They should have offered a bounty for killing the killer, which no reasonable person could possibly object to. I wonder if it's too late to have a whip-round?

61374.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 5:49 am Reply with quote

Domino Day links to Doris Day and so to Dogs thusly:

This story ... is related by Kent Gavin, who was a Daily Mirror photographer. He was commissioned to photograph (Doris Day) in her apartment in New York. Shortly after he arrived, another visitor turned up, and while she was attending to the other visitor Gavin played with her dog, lobbing a ball around the room for it to run after. Unfortunately he threw the ball out of a window, and the dog jumped after it. He went and told Doris Day, and they rushed downstairs together to find the dog lying dead on the pavement. Gavin photographed Day's tearful reaction to the mishap, and the next day the Mirror ran a photo exclusive: "DORIS DAY WEEPS OVER DEAD DOG - Pictures by Kent Gavin".

I got this from a photographers' magazine, and it might be complete tosh for all I know, but it would be great if we could track it down and show the actual article.

post 25609

The story was also related by Piers Morgan in The Independent.

(on edit: see debunking post below)

Last edited by Flash on Fri Mar 31, 2006 8:59 am; edited 1 time in total

61375.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 6:01 am Reply with quote

To put the sparrow's efforts into context, the number of dominoes which were actually knocked over on Domino Day 2005 was over 4 million - even after 150,000 dominoes were disqualified for receiving an assist.

4,002,136 out of a total of 4,321,000 stones fell, setting a new world record. The initial world record of 4,155,476 had to be corrected after it was realized that in the final challenge, where one participant had to complete a line of dominoes while the other had to hold the bar the stones were placed on, the bar was undeliberately held askew, therefore toppling stones that would not have toppled on their own. Since these few stones were necessary for a huge field containing 150,000 dominoes to topple, the whole field had to be excluded.

61378.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 6:09 am Reply with quote

When reading the interview with Piers Morgan, I came across this classic:

Our front-page headline on the day Paul Burrell was arrested said DI BUTLER ARRESTED. The next day, a letter arrived from a Welsh reader called Mrs Di Butler, complaining quite seriously that we had made her life hell because all the neighbours think it's her who has been nicking Diana's possessions. I looked at my PA, Kerrie, and we both just slowly shook our heads.

61379.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 6:11 am Reply with quote

Could we give each panellist a box of dominoes and get them to build a structure to knock over at the end? Or would that be too distracting?

61389.  Wed Mar 22, 2006 7:05 am Reply with quote

Also, it might be a continuity nightmare.

Some domino-toppling tricks explained here:

Dominoes are so called after masquerade masks (because the spots recalled the eye-holes in the masks). The use of the word for masks itself derives from a French word for a clerical hood which was black on the outside and white on the inside.

Domino theory was used to justify US interventions in Vietnam and also in Central America under Reagan.

61659.  Thu Mar 23, 2006 4:52 pm Reply with quote

When you have finished using lavatory paper in Cyprus, you are not allowed to flush it, I am told by a returning tourist ... and to my surprise, it appears to be true. The bins provided by way of an alternative are emptied “on a regular basis.”

(I'm more of a Bognor man, myself.)

61664.  Thu Mar 23, 2006 6:29 pm Reply with quote

Same in Greece. The pipes just have too narrow a bore.

62232.  Tue Mar 28, 2006 8:53 am Reply with quote

First published in 1989, available in seven languages, and with 1.5 million copies in print, Kathleen Meyer’s book HOW TO SHIT IN THE WOODS is a guide to how to shit, in the woods. It’s subtitled “An environmentally sound approach to a lost art.”

Available in the UK from Eco-logic Books.


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