Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, UK

History of water supply, sanitation and drainage.
Wastewater Reuse Activities
Ancient China
Roman Empire
Islamic World
Medieval Europe
Classic and early modern Mesoamerica
Sewage farms for disposal and irrigation
Modern age
Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, UK

As cities grew during the 19th and 20th centuries, sanitation and storm drains were developed alongside the cities. The splendour and accessibility of indoor lavatories by the 1840s meant that cesspools were no longer needed as waste was disposed of by flushing it with water. The stench of the waste was considered the largest problem during this period and so, to reduce this problem, the waste was drained to a lagoon or was settled so that the solids could be retracted and discarded separately. This technique is now referred to as “primary treatment” and the solids that are retracted are referred to as “sludge.”
Bristol, Liverpool, London and other cities, UK.

The United Kingdom rapidly industrialised throughout the 19th century but this meant that, in some parts of the country, the sewage systems remained old-fashioned and inadequate for the developing cities. Within these areas typhoid and cholera remained a risk as the water and sanitation systems had not been updated sufficiently to eliminate these diseases.

Efforts to prevent pollution in the River Thames in London had been ongoing from as early as 1535 where an act was passed to prevent human waste being discarded into the river. Before the Industrial Revolution, the Thames is reported to have been dark and hefty with sewage and to have “smelt like death.” Britain, being the first country to industrialise, was also the first country to experience the negative effects of major urbanisation. This meant that they were also the first country to develop a modern system of sewers so that the dirty and unsafe conditions could be mitigated for the population. At the beginning of the 19th century, chronic outbreaks of cholera were caused by the waste that was being dumped into the Thames as the Thames became, effectively, a large sewer. Attempts to modernise the sewer system had been made during 1858 but were unable to go ahead due to a lack of funds. Parliament became aware of the scale of the issue, however, after the Great Stink in 1858 and began working on the creation of a new, more effective sewage system.

Ten years before the Great Stink, and in the north of England, James Newlands, as well as two other celebrated officers, were appointed by the Borough of Liverpool Health of Towns Committee under the Liverpool Sanatory Act. The other two officers appointed were William Henry Duncan and Thomas Fresh as the Medical Officer for Health and as an early version of the Environmental Health Officer respectively. Newlands, who was originally a Scottish engineer, was made the Borough Engineer of Liverpool in 1847.

James Newlands created a meticulous survey of Liverpool and the surrounding area. This survey involved roughly 3,000 geodetical findings and resulted in a contour map of the town and the neighbouring areas with a scale of one inch to twenty feet. This extensive survey allowed for Newlands to create a proposal for a complete sewer system out of main and secondary drains and sewers which extended over nearly 300 miles. This proposal was then presented in early 1848 to the Corporation and was given their approval.

Construction of Newland’s system began in July 1848 and took 11 years for 86 miles of new sewers to be constructed. Another 58 miles were added to the construction over the six years between 1856 and 1862 before the system was concluded in 1869. Life expectancy in Liverpool before this system was only 19 years but by Newland’s retirement, this figure had more than doubled.

The management and responsibility for the similar work that was needed in London was given to Joseph Bazalgette, the Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works. His programme involved constructing an elaborate system of underground sewers which would divert waste from the Thames downstream to the Thames Estuary and so away from the main population of the city. To achieve this, six main sewers were built, totalling around 100 miles in length, which incorporated some of London’s forgotten rivers. Most of these sewers were on the north of the river with the lowest levelled and most southern one being added to the Thames Embankment. The Embankment also created the space for new roads, the circle line of the Underground system and space for new, public outside spaces.

The intercepting sewers, built between 1859-1865, were connected to 450 miles of major sewers that were then connected to 13,000 miles of compact, localised channels. The creation and production of this system used 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of burrowed land and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete. Gravity helped the sewage to move eastwards in most parts of the city but, in areas like Chelsea, stations were created to pump the sewage and to create an adequate flow. North of the Thames, the sewers connect to the Northern Outfall Sewer which then transports the waste to Beckton, where there is a major treatment works. The Southern Outfall Sewer then collects the waste from the south of the river and transports it to an equivalent treatment works in Crossness. Minor modifications have been made to Bazalgette’s system throughout the years but his accomplishment does remain as the foundation for sewage design in the modern day.
A vast town in South Wales, Merthyr Tydfil, experienced sewage overflowing onto their streets when most households disposed of their own waste into their own cess-pits. These cess-pits often overflowed and the sewage would then make its way onto their streets and pavements.