Joseph Bazalgette

From Academic Kids

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Memorial to Sir Joseph Bazalgette on Victoria Embankment

Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (28 March 181915 March 1891) was one of the great Victorian civil engineers. As the chief engineer of London's Metropolitan Board of Works, his major achievement was the creation of a sewer network for central London that helped relieve the city from cholera epidemics, while beginning the clean-up of the River Thames that had reached a nadir with "The Great Stink" of 1858.



He was born in Enfield, the son of a captain in the Royal Navy and grandson of a French immigrant, and began his career working on railway projects articled to noted engineer Sir John MacNeill and gaining sufficient experience (some in Northern Ireland) in land drainage and reclamation works for him to set up his own London consulting practice in 1842. By the time he married, in 1845, Bazalgette was deeply involved in the expansion of the railway network - working so hard that he suffered a nervous breakdown two years later.

While he was recovering, London's shortlived Metropolitan Commission of Sewers ordered that all cesspits should be closed and that house drains should connect to sewers and empty into the Thames; a cholera epidemic (1848-49) then killed 14,137 Londoners.

Bazalgette was appointed assistant surveyor to the Commission in 1849, taking over as Engineer in 1852, after his predecessor died of "harassing fatigues and anxieties". Soon after, another cholera epidemic struck, in 1853, killing 10,738, while medical experts argued whether the disease was water-borne or was a miasma carried by foul air.

Championed by fellow engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Bazalgette was then appointed chief engineer of the Commission's successor, the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1856 (a post he retained until the MBW was abolished and replaced by the London County Council in 1889). In 1858 Parliament passed an enabling act and Bazalgette's proposals to revolutionise London's sewerage system began to be implemented.

Sewer works

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The old Abbey Mills Pumping Station

At the time, the Thames was little more than an open sewer, devoid of any fish or other wildlife, and an obvious hazard to Londoners' health. Bazalgette's solution (similar to a proposal made by painter John Martin 25 years earlier) was to construct 83 miles of brick-built sewers to intercept sewage outflows, and 1100 miles of street sewers, to prevent raw sewage running into the river. These outflows were then diverted to east London where they could be dumped in the river with less adverse effect on the city's population (though there are now extensive sewage treatment works at both sites).

The scheme involved major pumping stations at Deptford (1864) and at Crossness (1865) on the Erith marshes, both on the south side of the Thames, and at Abbey Mills (in the River Lea valley, 1868) and on the Chelsea Embankment (close to Grosvenor Bridge; 1875), north of the river.

The system was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865, although the whole project was not actually completed for another ten years.


Bazalgette was knighted in 1875, and elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1888.


He lived for some years at 17 Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood, north London, where there is now a blue plaque in his honour.

He later moved to Morden, then in 1873, with his wife, six sons and four daughters, to Arthur Road in Wimbledon, where he died in 1891, being buried in nearby St Mary's churchyard.

A formal monument (see photo above) on the riverside of the Victoria Embankment in central London commemorates Bazalgette's genius.

Other works

External links


  • The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Capital - Stephen Halliday Stroud, Gloucestershire : Sutton Pub., c1999 ISBN 0750919752
  • Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891): Engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works - D P Smith: Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1986-87 Vol Bazalgette

fr:Joseph Bazalgette


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