Thursday, 20 December 2012

Bazalgette's Job Application

Joseph Bazalgette would achieve lasting fame as the civil engineer who designed London's sewers. The document below is part of his 1849 job application for the post of Assistant Surveyor to the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers. (The MCS was the ultimately rather ineffectual body established at the urging of Edwin Chadwick in 1848, to resolve the sewer problem. It would be replaced by the more productive Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855, for whom Bazalgette would finally become chief engineer, and set London's sewerage to rights.)

Bazalgette chose to frame this application with a plan for improving the sanitation of the capital - not with sewers, but with public toilets. Sadly, he did not get the job. The vision of a capital replete with Bazalgette's dainty classical conveniences, situated at careful intervals throughout the city, is a marvellous one. Perhaps the happenny charge for toilet paper was not to Chadwick's liking.

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[Printed by Order of Court, 22nd March, 1849.]

March, 1849.


With a view to forward my application to the Commissioners of Sewers for the appointment of Assistant Surveyor under the Commission I have already placed in your hands the testimonials in my favour given by gentlemen whose opinions on engineering matters would command general confidence; but as I take it for granted that the Commissioners would be desirous of forming their own opinion as to the propriety of complying with my application, I shall feel obliged by your submitting to them this paper, with the accompanying plans, at the earliest proper opportunity.
     The subject which I have selected is one which appears to be of very great importance to the inhabitants of a large city, and the effectual carrying out of a scheme for affording to those who traverse its streets relief from frequent personal inconvenience and occasional pain, if not physical injury, would secure to the Commissioners the good-will of a large portion of its inhabitants. The recent sanitary inquiries are throwing so much light on many of the subjects now brought within the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, that I cannot presume to offer the following suggestions as perfect; but they may, perhaps, serve as a groundwork for  improvement. With this view I have considered the subject of establishing public water-closets and urinals throughout the metropolis, and will proceed with a description of the system proposed.
Upon the accompanying map (*Wyld's Map of London) I have marked the positions in which I would propose to erect some of these buildings at first, leaving it for time to develope where their more extended adoption is required.
    At present there are but few urinals (mostly of a very primitive and insufficient kind) in existence, and as I conceive that the most profitable and effective management of such places would be accomplished by the combination of water-closets and urinals in one building, I have considered this city as at present destitute of any such accommodation, and have generally selected the foci of the main thoroughfares for their situation, and have placed them at such distances that, at the farthest, a man would have but a short walk to reach any one of them, varying this according to the density and character of the surrounding population and traffic through the streets.
    There is no map in existence large enough to define the exact spot where these buildings could be placed : and indeed the position of each one must be the result of particular local inquiry and treaty. The accompanying plan will suffice to show that these establishments can be arranged to occupy an exceedingly small space, in almost any position, so as to be at once conspicuous and inoffensive, or even ornamental if required.
Plan, section, and elevation A represent one of these buildings at the side of a street containing a private and two public water-closets, and four urinals, with an office for the person in charge, as hereafter described. The surrounding walls are of brickwork, either solid or hollow ; the flooring and partitions of slate, supported upon iron girders placed across the top of a tank, excavated to receive the urine; to be lined with brickwork, and cased with tarrass cement or asphalte, furnished with a manhole, discharge pipe for pumping the urine into water-carts, and a waste pipe into the other drains. The closets and urinals to be covered by cisterns of slate or earthenware, which at the same time would serve the purposes of roofing and cleansing, to be supplied by the Commissioners or a Water Company, and furnished with a waste pipe connecting with the pans ; so that during any overflow from rains, &c., a constant scouring of the pans and pipes would occur, in addition to the flow of water arising from the use of the water-closets. The urinals should be cleansed by a copious flow of water from the tank down the wall into the drains every night and morning, or oftener if necessary ; the communication with the tank being first closed, so that the bulk of the fluid to be carted away should not be increased. The fittings of the private water-closet to be superior to those of the public; to be covered, as well as the keeper's office, with slate roofing : the remainder of the area to be left open, to admit light and air.
     Figures B, C, and D, on the plan represent plans of buildings of similar construction arranged to suit other situations most likely to arise in carrying out this system, such as the corner of a public building or the side of a churchyard.

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With a population among whom are some prone to commit breaches of good order and decorum it is difficult, to propose any plan which shall in itself be sufficient without taking into consideration its after management ; and as such management would form an important item of profit, it is proposed to farm these establishments like turnpikes, requiring the tenant to be constantly at his post within certain hours (after which the doors of the closets should be locked), and holding him responsible for the cleanliness and order of his charge. His situation would be such as to command a view of every one entering; the profit would arise from the sale of papers and the hire of private water-closets to those persons preferring them to the free use of the public ones, at a fixed rate of charge, and the receipt of fines in cases of nuisance or misdemeanour, which would give him a direct interest in maintaining good order and decorum.
     It is proposed to construct four large reservoirs situated in the north, east, south, and west suburbs of the metropolis, carefully constructed so as to avoid any possible annoyance, into which the urine should from time to time be deposited, and where it would be increased in value as a manure by fermentation, from whence it could be conveniently distributed to the surrounding farmers and market-gardeners, to be diluted and applied by them as required. The admixture of water adding so materially to the cost of carriage, the dilution of the urine has been avoided, believing that whilst contained in a close tank there would be little or no evaporation or escape of the ammonia; and it having been ascertained that gypsum in the proportion of one quarter to one eighth per cent. fixes the ammonia, it is proposed to use this material in the suburban reservoirs.
     Taking the contents of each town reservoir as shown in design A at 658 cubic feet, and assuming the constant use of the urinals for six hours per day, this reservoir would require emptying every two months into one of the suburban reservoirs, each of these receiving the contents of one-fourth, or fifteen, of the town reservoirs. Retaining it for six months, they would require to be sixty feet long, fifty feet wide,
and ten feet deep, containing 30,000 cubic feet.

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This would arise from two sources, viz,, their management and the sale of the contents of the tank, to ascertain the probable amount and value of which I have made the following observations. At a urinal at the Royal Exchange, accommodating three persons at one time, there were counted from
10 to 10 30 A.M.  50 persons
1 30 to 2 P.M       90 persons {this being the greatest number the place could accommodate in the time occupied}
7 30 to 8 P.M.       61 persons

At the back of the Bank, with accommodation for two persons at one was time, the number observed from  2 to 2 30 P.M  was sixty, being the greatest  number the place could accommodate.
    At the back of the National Gallery, with accommodation for four persons at one time, the number observed was
From 9 30 to 10 A.M. 28 persons.
12 to 12 30 P.M.     86 persons
7 45 to 8 15 P.M.   80 Persons

At the Mansion-house, with accommodation for two persons at one tine, the numbers were

From 9 30 to 10 A.M. 26 persons.
2 to 2 30 P.M.    54 persons
8 to 8 30 P.M.    35 persons

At the corner of Hyde Park, with accommodation for four persons, the number observed was

From 10 to 10 30 A.M 50 persons.
7 45 to 8 15 P.M. 46 persons

In estimating the size of the reservoir, a continuance of the greatest possible traffic (as shown by the above observations) is assumed for twelve hours per day ; and taking the average deposit of urine at half-a-pint per individual (ascertained upon medical authority), the four urinals would produce twenty-six cubic feet per diem. A reservoir of the area shown upon the plans, five feet deep, would require emptying every twenty-five days. It is probable, however, that this is taking an extreme view of the case, and that with the extended accommodation afforded by these conveniences, the reservoir would contain the fluid for double that time.
    Taking this more moderate view of the case, and assuming that each urinal is only occupied four hours each day, we have four hundred and eighty pints per day. The average quantity of urine discharged by each individual in the twenty-four hours being three pints, the accumulation of this deposit has been valued by Professor Johnson at six shillings per annum for each person. We lave, then, as the value of the produce of the four urinals, forty-eight pounds per annum. This sum appears large, and it is possible that but a small portion, or even no part of it, would at once be realised. It would probably be necessary to establish its value by conveying it to the farmers and market-gardeners at prices scarcely remunerating for the outlay and plant for removing. This would require an agent, whose business it should be to secure its extended trial in comparison with other manures. If, however, such authority as that of Professor Johnson, supported by others, is to be relied upon and the scheme properly worked, there can be no doubt that the result must eventually prove a decidedly profitable speculation.
    In proof of this, the experiments made by M. Maxime Paulet, described in his work " Theorie et Pratique des Engrais," shoving the following results, are offered, the weights and measures used by M. Paulet being reduced to the English standard.
    M. Paulet takes the quantity of azote (nitrogen) contained by the manure as determining its value, and assumes as a standard of comparison farm-yard manure, which contains four per mille of azote, 35.288 lbs. of azote being required to manure one acre of land.

This would require of—

Good farm-yard manure 8820 lbs.
Human urine not having undergone fermentation - 4939 lbs.
Poudrette of Montfaucon - - - - 1,985 lbs.
Mixed human excrements and blood from the abattoirs - 1175 lbs.
Bones- - - - - - -  173 lbs.
Guano, average taken from two specimens - - 452 lbs.
Urine in a state of fermentation, and imperfectly dried, from the public urinals - - - - 205 lbs.

The comparison between this latter and good firm-yard manure being as one to forty-three; bones, one to two and four-fifths; and guano, as one to two and one-fifth.

Assuming that only 60 people use the waterclosets in 24 hours, two-thirds of them purchasing paper at one halfpenny each - £0 1 8 per day
One-third pay 2d. each for a private water-closet - 0 3 4
[total] 0 5 0
Or per annum - - - - 91 5 0
Deduct keeper's wages, 25s. per week - 65 0 0
Leaving a clear profit from this source of - 26 5 0
To which may be added fines.

In the following estimate of the cost of constructions of these buildings I have assumed the use of the best materials at the current prices of the day; but considering the improvements and economy now in progress through the efforts of this Commission and others, I have no doubt that they will be constructed at a smaller


Excavation, 49 yards at 2s. £4 18 0
Brickwork, 1 10/11 rods reduced work 11l. 10s     21 19 0
Cement lining to tank, 43 yards at 2s 6d    5 7 6
Tile paving, coping to ditto     4 4 0
Iron girders, 6cwt at 10s    3 0 0
Slate paving, at per foot super 1s 4d.     6 17 6
Slate partitions, cisterns, &c. at 1s 8d    14 14 5
Weather boarding and lining to office    6 18 8
Bringing on water     5 0 0
Roofing, flooring, doors, windows, pans, drains, and fittings, complete, taken out in detail    23 3 9
Total   £96 2 10

Having seen a liquid manure cart, built for a gentleman at Banstead in Surrey, containing 505 gallons, being about eighty-one cubic feet, or (taking urine as equal in weight to salt water, at sixty-seven pounds to the cubic foot) 2½ tons, which is one-eighth part of the town reservoir; therefore, assuming that each of these carts would on the average make two journeys per day from the town to the suburban reservoirs, it would take one cart four days to empty each town reservoir, which, if required every two months, would give regular employment to one cart and three horses for each suburban reservoir.
    According to Professor Johnson's standard of the value of urine, it is worth 9s. 2d. per ton ; and one of these carts would contain about 23s. worth of urine.


Construction of 60 urinals £6000
Ditto 4 suburban reservoirs and stables 4000
Purchase of 6 water carts at 30l. each 180
Purchase of 12 horses and harness at 30l. 360
Purchase of pumps, hose, &c. 160
Total 10,700
Contingencies, 10 per cent. 1,070
Total: £11,770

Annual Working Expenses
Keep of 12 horses at 10s each per week £312
Wages of 8 men at 20s each per week 416
Wear and tear of horses, carts &c. taken at 20 per cent £144
Supervision, offices, printing &c. 728
Total £1,600

In the above estimate, provision is made for removing the produce of the urinals taken at six hours per day; but in estimating their produce as worth 48l. per annum, it has been calculated at only four hours per day; which is, in fact, deducting one-third from the revenue which might be realised without addition to the estimated capital and working expenses.

Taking, therefore, the produce of sixty urinals at 48l. per annum each  £2,880
From which deduct working expenses - - - 1,600
There is left a balance of profit of - - - £1,280
being more than 10 per cent. upon the capital of 11,770l from this source alone.
    Until, however, the attention of manufacturers, dyers, farmers, and gardeners has been called, and a free demand established for this article, there is a source of revenue to be derived from the use and management alone of these establishments as before shown, yielding 26l. 5s. each per annum  .... £1,575
Deduct 10 per cent. for wear and tear - - £600
Deduct for management, &c. - - - 375
Leaving a profit of - - - - £600
or 5 per cent, upon a capital of 12,000l. upon the worst view of the case; showing the speculation, therefore, a safe one.

    Upon the map of London I have marked the situations for about sixty of these buildings, considering that the carrying out this scheme, including the construction of the four suburban reservoirs and the purchase of water-carts, would require a capital of from ten to twelve thousand pounds. Should the Commissioners approve of the plan and give it their support, I have no doubt of being able to find a few individuals who would be willing to undertake the scheme as speculation at their own expense, under the general supervision of the Commission; the. Commissioners giving power to build upon the spots selected, assuming that the buildings would generally be erected on land already devoted to the public, and that, for the sake of securing a great public benefit, the Commissioners would not find any serious impediment offered by other authorities; the Company sharing the profit with the Commission, after realising say ten per cent. upon the outlay, or  some similar arrangement to be the subject of future decision.

     I am, &c
                Mem. Inst. C.E.

A Letter to Edwin Chadwick

Richard Kelsey was the City of London Surveyor, who felt himself much maligned by both the comments of John Roe (his equivalent in Holborn) and Edwin Chadwick's sarcastic commentary, recorded in Chadwick's famous 1842 report on sanitation. He believed, probably quite rightly, that Chadwick was angling to centralise the ancient Commissions of Sewers and using very selective evidence to go about it. This is his forty page response, written direct to Chadwick. For those of you interested in sewers and lost rivers (well, the Walbrook) there is some useful information. For those of you with more normal enthusiasms, skip the sewers and just enjoy some of the language, particularly the beginning and end - "There, dog! each your undeserved crust, and be thankful!"

My attention having been directed to a Report upon the Sanitary condition of the Labouring classes, drawn up by you, presented by the Poor Law Commissioners, and, by the Rt Hon the Secretary of State, laid before both Houses of Parliament in July 1842. I have carefully read it and, while as a member of Society, I can admire the able manner in which so momentous a subject has been arranged; yet, as an individual whose professional character has, under Providence, hitherto been his means of subsistence, I feel myself deeply injured; and injury the more deeply, because that, unless you will devise some method of making this my defence co-extensive with an accusation which has been spread over the whole realm, I am left without redress.
Although I may feel that there is a tone in your remarks which none of the circumstances justify, I yet must acquit you of any deliberate intention to injure me personally, because that you do not know me, and because that you must have been misled by assertions upon which you too readily relied. Still I do feel that, as my good friend Mr. Tite, and Mr. Thomas Piper Junior did me the honour of saying that, if you wanted any information as to the City Sewers, I was best qualified to give it you; and telling me that I might expect to be called upon by you; it is exceedingly unfortunate for me that you did not avail yourself of that opportunity, which would have saved me from wanton or malignant injury, and you from the painful sense (doubly painful to a man of station and of honourable feeling) of having been made the instrument of wrong.
If it were a common case, I could not expect you to devote time to read this paper: but I have been injured and by your instrumentality. That, I doubt not, must give me a claim upon your time, your attention and your justice: and, I trust you will not disappoint my expectation by throwing it aside for another day.
In page 317 of the Report is this passage: "as regards the appointment of Surveyors to the Commissioners of Sewers, I would observe that, in my opinion, very few of them are properly qualified by education or otherwise to perform the important duties entrusted to them, in an effective and proper manner.
In page 55 you say, Mr. Roe "is perhaps the only officer having the experience and qualifications of a Civil Engineer."
And in page 317, this is followed up thus "but in the structural arrangement, in only one commission do any of the works executed approach the existing state of Science.". "In that one, the Holborn and Finsbury trust, they happened to obtain a Surveyor, having science and practical experience as an Engineer, whose advice was acted upon and that officer effected the only considerable improvements of a Scientific character that have been made in the Sewerage of the Metropolis.
As to the general defamation of the Metropolitan Surveyors of Sewers, conveyed in your words, the names and works of such men as Joseph Swift, Edward Plimsoll, John Newman, James Walker (I recite them alphabetically) are sufficient to refuse this imputation sought to be cast upon them. Had they only been Lady's maids, they must be this time, by the very nature of their land, have perforce been converted into Civil Engineers; but they are and were educated, and will remain well known and highly  respected as Architects and Engineers, and not one word which I could use would either add to or diminish their repute: It is therefore sufficient that I, who am but a pigmy, should defend myself; and in so doing justify my masters.
With respect to my qualifications: I lay claim to no higher professional epithet than that of Surveyor.
I do not call myself an Architect, yet was I brought up in an Architect's office. During four years I prepared most of the construction drawings of an extensive public building. I have perpetrated a little Architecture and, if report be true, George the Fourth said "I am much obliged to one of my subjects for setting up so pretty an object for one to look at."  In three successive years I obtained rewards for my Architectural compositions, the last constituting a Gold Medal, Life Student of the Royal Academy.
I do not call myself a Civil Engineer, although it so happens I have had to amend the work of a Civil Engineer of no mean repute, whose name I will not mention, only because that I cannot but suppose he had been egregiously deceived by his workmen. But I will ask you, Sir, to hear what my Sewers works say for themselves.
Immediately that there was a prospect of obtaining an outlet to the Thames at London Bridge, my master and predecessor in office, proposed its construction. It was carried from the then margin of the River and branched towards Gracechurch Street and Cannon Street, with the intention of taking the then only open road to intersect the Town ditch at Bishopsgate, which line would have required a depth of at least fifty feet at the high level of Cornhill. Upon his retirement in November 1832, I was unanimusly chosen to fill his place. It became needful to carry the mouth of this Sewer out to the intended new line of embankment, in front of the new Adelaide Hotel. I knew that I had the eyes of Engineers upon me. I laid my plan, after my own fashion. I carried forward my work one hundred and thirty four feet in length, into the River, and that in deepish water, and having to cut through the Standings of old London bridge, and to contend against the Stream through three arches, without a coffer dam, and while the Gentlemen, in mere frolic, were running down to the shore, daily looking for my failure; got myself out of danger and finished it. That it has not been done very unskilfully, or very unsoundly, is somewhat attested by the state of the buildings which have been placed upon it.
Immediately that ti was decided to form a Street up to the Mansion House, I took my resolution to abandon my predecessor's intended main line, and to strike at once into the hollow ground of Moorfields. Acting upon my advice the Commissioners authorized me so to do. It was no very plain sailing, under and through old foundations at a depth of more than forty feet, but it was done. My next line was in Princes Street. There I encountered one of the most formidable obstacles I ever wish to meet, in bog land to a depth of thirty two feet, full of piling and decayed vegetable matter reduced to a state approximating to clay, mixed with still discernible grass and roots. The drainage of this soil and its consequent compression under the weight of the buildings, severely fractured the Clerk's residence at Grocer's Hall, and the Company sued the Commission. After lengthened litigation it was decided, upon argument before the Judges, in favour of the Commissioners, because their work was necessary to be done, and they had done it in "a skilful, proper and workmanlike manner, in all respects." This work was executing [sic] by tunnelling but as a large portion of the Bank of England stood upon the same kind of soil, and its planking and sleepering were rotten, and their land full of water, the Directors under the advice of Mr. Cockerell, and Sir Robert Smirke, and Mr. George Rennie, requested it might be open-cut. I felt that open cutting was of the two attended with more risk: but the Commission deferring to the desire of the Bank, directed me so to do. The manner in which I proposed to effect this was submitted to those Gentlemen; and in allusion to it, Sir Robert is reported to have said, "He is building a wall of brass".
Completing this, I next ran along Moorgate Street and at its head intercepted the County waters coming from the City road. Allowing the work to rest some months so as to let the boggy ground under Finsbury Circus get gradually dry, I next passed along London wall into Broad Street, there intersecting the Town ditch. Thence I deepened the bed of the Ditch into Bishopsgate Street, and so provided an additional discharge for the County waters from Bishopsgate without and gave relief to the Irongate Sewer.
After a  further pause for the additional drying of the bog; at the express request of the Holborn and Finsbury Commission, and unaided by them, it was directed to be continued to Queen Square in Elder Street at as great a depth as possible to catch their West Long Alley Sewer. Beyond that point they asked nothing. I, however, thought that was not the fit place to stop at, and therefore carried it on to Wilson Street and up to the limit of the City Commission, and there finished it at a depth of twenty feet, being eleven feet eleven inches below the former level.
It may be said that all this exhibits no proof of Engineering ability. True Sir. But when I tell you that my attempt to give to the land, as far as I could, an ample equivalent for the long destroyed and forgotten streamlet named "the Walbrook" was attended by this (to me) highly gratifying result; that my water bed not only cut but eighteen inches above the ancient water bed of the Walbrook where  it had crossed Princes Street; but at Little Moorgate it ranged only two inches aboev the floor of a Roman Culvert, the mouth of which I haced [?]  out and found it cut to the slope of the ditch of the massive fortification of which it was an accessory (this ruin was probably earlier than the time of Antoninus) and at Rose and Crown Court up to the queen Square it fell somewhat below the shingly bed of the ancient stream, long buried in the accumulated bog land: I cannot but fancy you will allow there must be some little engineering qualification in a man, whose untaught judgment as to what was fittest to be done, led him so nicely to hit the proper level for the drainage of a country as to coincide with that of Nature.
I know that this is egotistical. My accuser forces me to be so. But the accusation of unskillfulness comes with an ill grace frrom an Officer of that Commission which has benefitted so largely by my work as, if common report speak truly, to be able now to obtain a drainage twelve feet in depth for the low land at Holloway, in preparation for which a Sewer has already been driven by them as far as to Old Street road.
I rest my claim not to the epithet Civil Engineer; that I neither affect nor covet; for I have always called myself by the title of my office only, and seek no other; but I do claim to be exempted from the censure of not possessing so much of the qualification of a Civil engineer as fits me for that office; judgment to plan, and ability to execute what I have planned so as fully to ensure the attachment of my masters' object: and I rest my claim upon this work especially, because the discovery of ancient water beds indisputably prove it to have been correctly devised
I have executed several lines of Sewage besides this. I do not however appeal to them as proofs of my judgment because that in them there are none of the everlasting marks of Nature to corroborate me. Let the person who seeks to defame me put his finger of  censure upon either, and I am prepared to defend it, certain that, if I have erred, it is generally on the side of depth, and capacity, and stability.
In page 374, Mr. Roe having said that his Commissioners "now adopt a series of levels suited for the lowest outlets of the surrounding districts" being asked 'Have you heard of any alterations made in the surrounding districts on the same principle' answers "I have heard of none as adopted generally. The City have lowered some of their outlets."
In page 309, you caustically observe that "The Surveyor of the City Sewers speaks in a tone of grievance and oppression, that the waters of the County would run into the municipal jurisdiction" &c
And in page 310 "It need scarcely be pointed out that this municipal division had until they chose to drain operated as a barrier to all the water described, which was kept back to the injury of the County" &c.
I am persuaded you could not have adopted these sarcastic expressions had you not been quite in the dark as to the facts: and your right feeling will lead you to regret having so done. The facts are simply these.
The City, within the ancient walls, fell from a general central ridge all ways into its ditch and into the River Thames, and into Turnmill brook, being only cut through by the depressed track of the Walbrook. The line of Bishopsgate Street without falls bodily northward, so as that Spital Square is about level with Eastcheap: while Aldgate High Street falls wholly Eastward. With such a formation of surface it is quite clear that no portion of the land to the Northward and Eastward would have drained naturally into the City, but the waters must have flowed from it. Artificially they have been thrown into the City by the Bishopsgate Street Sewer whose current is the contrary of that of the surface; and, if justice and any body of men have any community of feeling, Justice would have told the Commissioners of Holborn and Finsbury that too much water ought not to have been poured into an outlet afford to them in kindness: and I fancy you will see that it is a little unfair in you to attempt at holding me up to ridicule as if I were to silly as to complain of water taking its natural course, downward.
With respect to the watercourse of the Walbrook, it is very different. That was a natural water bed. The dust of ages has long slumbered over the causes which destroyed this once beautiful streamlet. That it was intentionally obstructed there can be no doubt; and my strong impression is, that it was so obstructed at a time co-eval with if not anterior to Roman conquest (for most Roman relics lie high above its bed) for the express purpose of spreading its water over the land, as a protection. The bog was thus formed; and because that the whole water could not be for ever retained a trench was left to carry off that which was superfluous. This trench became the common Sewer and was only fourteen feet below the present surface in Princes Street, to its paved bottom, while the water bed of the natural stream was at the same point thirty two feet three inches below the present surface.
So far had the County been injured but unknown centuries before Commissioners of Sewers existed. In process of time, as London increased, more waters were thrown into these wretched Sewers than they could contain.
The Commissioners of the City knew it and were desirous of alleviating the evil. In 1773 4&5 they carried a new line of Sewer from Dowgate dock to Cripplegate Church, at as great as depth I doubt not as they dared to go. It was the utmost remedy they could then apply, and, anxious as they were to effect a perfect cure, your own knowledge of the narrow irregular streets and alleys formerly lying between London wall and the Thames must shew you that to carry a capacious Sewer that way was as nearly impossible as any thing of the kind could be. In 1804 they sought for an outlet at the Old London Bridge; but could they have passed between Saint Magnus Church and the Bridge, who would have dared to cut a deep and wide trench in front of the Monument!
Notwithstanding this, the buildings and drainage of the County greatly increased; and, realizing the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb, the County Commissioners of former days vituperated those of the City for flooding them.
Immediately that the hand of improvement began to work my predecessor eagerly seizing the first opportunity commenced an adequate Main line. I conducted it into Moorfields. Having effected that, and obtained effectual relief there the Commissioners acting upon my advice and without waiting to be asked, ran along Red Cross Street, and to the City boundary in Golden lane, offering an outlet fifteen feet nine inches in depth. Passing thence along Bridgwater Gardens and Fan Street with one line, and along the upper end of Aldersgate Street to the Bars with another, they not only presented the Holborn and Finsbury Commission with two outlets each sixteen feet in depth, but allowed every one who chose it, whether in the City or not, to have drainage into their Sewer. At Leather Lane they opened another line up to the City boundary thirteen feet deep, and had the County wished it they might have had eighteen feet. At Glasshouse Yard Aldersgate Street, another branch was carried up to the boundary at Sixteen feet in depth. Of all these the Holborn and Finsbury Commission have availed themselves; and in return they have carried a branch from the Fleet ditch to the City boundary in West Street.
It cannot be very indecorous to ask if it be quite fair of Mr. Roe to slur these liberal works over in the words "the City have lowered several of their outlets". And, had not your mind been poisoned, you never could have used the sneering expression "until they chose to drain." In fact, they not merely "chose to drain" they anxiously sought for and embraced the earliest time at which improved drainage was possible, and having relieved themselves, at once tendered a helping hand to their suffering neighbours.
Again, Sir, at the suggestion of their incompetent Surveyor, the City Commission rebuilt the line of Sewer in Holborn, but instead of merely renewing the "Old Bourne" some seven feet in depth, their new level was taken at a depth of eighteen feet. The adjacent Commission when applied to at the time said they wanted not additional depth, had they asked for thirty or forty feet, they would have had it.
Eastward - the City Commission carried as deep at Sewer as they could to Whitechapel bars, where it is fifteen feet ten inches deep and subsequently in conjunction with the Tower Hamlets Commission passed through the whole length of Petticoat Lane and Sandy's Row, thus draining a sad place, which before was almost utterly destitute. Indeed, wherever there was a point at which their Sewers could be made beneficial there did they work, and made a gratuitous and unrequested and, as it now turns out, ill-requited offer of aid.
Nor have their confined their exertions to the boundaries. The Sewage line has been made complete, including new and old Sewers from Temple bar, and along the River to Tower Hill. Another line has been completed from Saint Paul's Church Yard nearly to Tower Hill. Another has been finished from Holborn Bars to Whitechapel bars. That from Aldersate Street in an irregular line to Aldgate has been carried out. Various lines from North to South have been built; and although one cannot yet say that not a Street, or Court, or Alley in the City is without drainage; there is fair ground for hope that much time will not elapse before it can be said.
Having, I trust, shewn that upon the question of the fittest level for drainage a given tract of land, the Surveyor to the City Commission is not grievously wanting in skill; and that as an officer, and as a Citizen (in the largest sense of the word) he has constantly kept an open eye for any chance of benefitting not merely the City but all the lands adjacent: I address myself to those exclusive claims for improvements set up by Mr. Roe, the truth of which alone could justify your observation that the Holborn and Finsbury Commission have "effected the only considerable improvements of a scientific character, that have been made in the Sewers of the Metropolis".
In pages 57 and 376 Mr. Roe says "The prevalent practice is to join Sewers at angles, frequently at right angles." "The Commissioners of the Holborn and Finsbury divisions agreed to require that the curves in Sewers passing from one Street to another shall be formed with a radius of not less than twenty feet." the which radius I take to be that which describes what he terms "the true curve."
As this is question of dates, it is to be observed Mr. Roe says, page 373, that he had acted as Surveyor of Sewers "nearly four years" but the date of his examination is not given.
In the confined streets of the City of London there is very little opportunity for obtaining any curve, but we can see what the Commissioners officers, and their predecessors have done in this small way.
In 1668 the mouth of the Sewer in Fleet Street was built in a waved line: and that of Fetter Lane started off at a very acute angle, better than any curve.
In 1692, the curve of the Sewer in King Street Cheapside at the junction with Cateaton Street was struck by a radius of eighteen feet.
In 1769 and 1806 the communication of the Sewers of Threadneedle Street and Cornhill with the trench line were formed the one with a  curve of nineteen feet radius, the other with a large sweep cutting in at an acute angle.
In 1774 the Sewer from Charlotte row into the Poultry was built to a radius of nineteen feet, that from the Poulty into the Old Jewry with a radius of fourteen feet six inches, that from the Old Jewry into Coleman Street in a waved line formed by two radii of eighteen feet and thirty four feet and in 1775 that from Coleman Street into Fore Street has a curve of eleven feet six inches radius.
In 1783 the Main Sewer of Aldersate street was turned into the end of Little Britain with a quadrant of thirteen feet radius. At the end of Long Lane in Smithfield the Sewer sweeps to a forty two feet radius, that in Snow Hill to a eighty feet radius, and a much older line in Snow Hill is curved to a fifty six feet radius.
In 1794 the Sewer from South Street into South Place was turned with a quadrant curve of twenty five feet radius, and in 1814 the connexion of the Sewer in Elder Street with the Sewer from South Street out into it at a sharp angle.
Nor has practice slept:
In 1831 were the branches formed at the head of the main trunk of King William Street, in plan like the bite of a leech, the three angles being equal and meeting in the centre.
In 1835, the head of the Sewer in Aldgate High Street was branched with two curves of thirty feet and thirty seven feet radius, sweeping towards Petticoat Lane and Somersett Steet.
In 1836, at the head of Red Cross Street, the branches were swept in a similar way by radii of eighteen feet six inches and twenty eight feet towards Beech Street and Barbican.
Indeed, Sir, I should weary you if I were to state every instance of curved junctions. Suffice it to say that in all the line from London Bridge up to Wilson Street Moorfields, in that throughout Cheapside into Newgate Street and Saint Martin's-le-Grand, and in every other Sewer built by me, have the junctions been made ni curved lines wherever it has been in any way practicable.
Mr. Roe well knows the Cutwater [?]  which I formed to throw the water in equal quantities into the double line of Sewer in Farringdon Street. Mr. Donaldson and Mr. Angell, both architects of no mean rank, were pleased to term it my beautiful work. I fancied it to be little more than an every day affair, and in this and all other similar things felt but the pleasure of the eye in contemplating a nicely flowing line, little thinking it to be an achievement in Civil Engineering: and I dare venture to say my poor predecessors thought no more of their great and good deeds.
Again, as to the claim to the origination of a new sectional form for Sewers:
In page 378 are given cuts of the "Westminster Sewer" and of the new, egg shaped Sewers of the Holborn and Finsbury divisions; and in page 373 Mr. Roe says "In the City they have built some of their Sewers in a form nearly similar to those adopted in the Holborn and Finsbury divisions; that is, approaching to semicircular." "Most new Sewers are making an approach to the better form by having segments."
The inference intended to be conveyed necessarily being that the City and other places have stolen without acknowledgement Mr. Roe's invention of form four or five years old.
If memory serve me rightly, some French Architect or 'Ingenieur' several years back wrote an essay recommending egg-shaped Sewers; and it also happens that the facts and dates in respect to the City and other Sewers are sorely against his claim.
In 1756 Mr. George Dance directed the first Sewer built by the Commissioners for the City, in Aldermanbury Postern. This indeed was built with a flat bottom but
In 1775 and 1778 the Sewer of Bishopsgate Street without was built with a semicircular top and bottom and in 1795 a Mr. Stevens Totton claimed "satisfaction to be made him as the first proposer of a plan for constructing Sewers, barrelled at bottom in the nature of a reverse arch." because that the  City Commission had so built the sewer in this street. Upon enquriy, it was however ascertained that Mr. George Wyatt, being appointed Surveyor, in 1768; in 1769 a drain was allowed to be made across the Minories, upon condition that it be made with a circular bottom. Mr. Jacomb, in 1769 also had leave to build a sewer in Dowgate, with a concave bottom, as had the Inhabitants of Snow Hill upon like condition; and, as in 1756, Ware published his "Compleat body of Architecture" giving sections of Sewer and drains built with inverted arches as executed in the Horse Guards, it was presumed that George Wyatt and other Surveyors must have been fully acquainted with the advantages of such construction; and Mr Stevens Tottons claim was rejected.
In 1777 the Sewer on the west side of the then Quarters of Moorfields was built under the direction of George Wyatt and in 1779 it was continued up to Tindals burial ground (now Bunhill Fields). This Sewer has straight sides and a semicircular top and bottom.
In 1782 the Main Sewer of Smithfield was built, in part circular in part in Ellipsis.
In 1783, the Sewer in Aldersgate Street was built with inclined sides; that is, it is a close approximation to the Egg shape!
The Old Town ditch Sewer under Newgate is ciruclar.
George Wyatt abnd his successor Nathaniel Wright built all their Sewers with semicircular bottoms, many of them set in Tarras: and so did his successor Samuel Acton, until, in the last years of his holding office, and when in consequence of his ill health, I had more of the controul [?] in my own hands.
In 1829 the Main Sewer from London Bridge was began. This is an ellipsis ten feet high and eight feet wide. My main reason for making it elliptical was that it had to pass beneath the land piers of the Bridge, where the greatest strength was required. It was a beautiful form and I continued it only varying in size up to Londno wall, where it is eight feet three inches high, and six feet nine inches wide.
In 1832 the Sewers of Pauls Wharf, Bennets Hill, Godliman Street, Little Carter Lane, Old Change and Watling Street and Great Knight rider Street were all built elliptical.
In 1833, the Sewer along Holborn was rebuilt. It is elliptical and hard by the Sewers Office in Hatton Garden.
I should have continued to build them in that form, but I found that owing to the very regularity of its curvature rendering it difficult for the eye readily to detect any variation in its dimensions, while filled with workmen and centering, my Clerks of the Works were open to deception. I reverted to the Egg shaped with bevelled sides because that, the top and bottom being semicircular could not be varied much, and the most careless or cunning workman could not well leave out a whole course of bricks in the side wall, without direct detection.
I however built the Fleet ditch Sewer in New Farringdon Street elliptical and horizontal; but by gradually flattening the invert as I approached the County acquired my Current.
But my predecessors and myself have no exclusive credit in all this. An unfortunate Surveyor of Sewers, but nevertheless, one before whose talents and gentlemanly principle Ditraction [sic] herself would stand dumb; in 1849 built many hundred yarsd of elliptical Sewers, five feet three inches high and four feet six inches wide, in the Surrey division; from the River Thames near to Battle Bridge Stairs through the Maze, Western Street, and Snows fields to the Borough High Street, and thence to Stone's end, under circumstances of such trying difficulty that he was obliged to form a large portion of the invert in Cast Iron; and I shrewdly suspect that every new Sewer in that whole division has a semicircular invert.
In the teeth of all this, Mr. Roe says, page 373, " as far as I am informed they are built with upright walls. I know none but the New Sewers in Holborn and Finsbury divisions that are built with curved sides."
In page 376 Mr. Roe says "Under the prevalent system the gullies and shoots are formed so as to retain deposit, on the principle that it is cheaper to get the deposit out of those than out of the Sewers." but that the Holborn and Finsbury Commissioners "have also adopted a new description of Gulley and Shoot which I proposed to them, for the purpose of conveying the whole of the deposit into the sewers".
In the whole City there is but one Gulley the refuse from which is prevented getting at once into the Sewer. That is in Rose Street Newgate Market. There were two others in Gracechurch Street which had cesspools and vertical gratings, to intercept the broken hay upon the Coach stand, and one in Aldgate High Street. But these were so repeatedly choake that they have been destroyed.
I, following with some amendment, as I conceive, the example of my predecessors, ever have formed the gullies and shoots so as at once to discharge the water from the Streets into the Sewers. There is not, nor ever has been the slightest intentional obstacles in the way. But it is really somewhat amusing as regards Mr. Roe's claim to great credit for this one of "the only considerable improvements of a scientific character" that the City Commissioners and their stolid Surveyor were most loudly and indecently reprobated by Doctor Birkbeck, for their dogged obstinacy in not forming cesspools, at the head of every gulley shoot.
I have placed his flaps in more than a thousand gullies to keep the stench away from the houses, and ventilating grates in the manholes to allow the escape of inflammable gas from the Sewers.
Whenever an old carriageway has to be repaved, the Commissioners insert new gullies wherever they may be needed and in layign down a new Sewer, the gullies are generally placed in pairs at every hundred or hundred and fifty feet in length, and my Masters do this, because they are Commissioners of Pavements, as well as Commissioners of Sewers. I feel very doubtful if so much can be said of even the Holborn and Finsbury divisions in respect to their systematic provision for surface drainage.
Having so far set square these claims to credit for structural improvements and "put the saddle upon the right horse" I may almost strive to felicitate myself with the hope that as those are termed "considerable improvements" and "of a scientific character" and that as they are clearly shewn, if not assuredly to have originated in, to have been so fostered for very many years by the City Commission, as to have become their own, by adoption, some little ray of the scientific halo may be accorded them; or that, at the least, they may be exempted from the reproach of supineness.
Mr. Roe makes however one true claim and that is to systematically cleansing Sewers by them with water. Not that it is altogether new. It had, before his time, been done surreptitiously by Contractors for cleansing the Sewers; who, having had their easing measured to them as it lay in the Sewer, were interested to escape the cost of the hoisting and cartage and cared little where the soil went to, if they could get rid of it. In this way, some thirty or forty loads of soil were flushed into the Sewer of Bishopsgate Street from Norton Folgate, directly after it had been cleansed: and after strikin the dams of the East and West Long Alley Sewers, when the new line in Moorfields was built; the whole line of Eldon Street had swept into it broken pottery, stones and other refuse, to nearly eighteen inches in depth, which had to be cleared out at the cost of the City.
All the mechanism and the adoption of that openly, and as a principle, which was before done by stealth is I dare say his own; but as to the question of its adoption, it may be worth consideration whether it be morally right for the Holborn and Finsbury Commission to flood their sulliage down upon the City, and for the City to flood down both that and their own into the Thames.
The pollution of the Thames has long been no unjust theme of reprobation, and was the stalking horse of Mr. Martin's intended Joint Stock Company for its prevention; and his scheme was recommended by the highest names in the land.
There is nothing unpraiseworthy in rightly seeking whatever credit a person is rightfully entitled to; and had there not been an attempt wrongfully to destroy the reupte of, and to hold up every other Surveyor of Sewers to contempt, the other claims to the origination of improvements would have been left to find their own level.
However, as among others, I have been cried down as unfit to hold my office, I must in justice to myself, and in justification of those Gentlemen who appointed me and have confided in me, offer some other proof that the works entrusted to me have not been very unskilfully performed.
When, acting in the capacity of Surveyor of the Pavements (although then only Surveyor's Clerk) I found it necessary to exert myself in remodelling the management of that part of my duties, I first made a plan of every Street which had to be re-paved (and there are more than fifty miles of public way within the City). In consequence of my so doing, I was enabled quietly to correct all irregularities of width and level which had crept in, and they were reduced to rightliness and order.
My Master first advised the Commission to use that which has been termed Cubed Granite. He was pleased to consult with me thereon. I carried out his ideas adding some few of my own, and have been gratified to see this systematic mode of procedure spread into other parts of the Metropolis.
My predecessor had deemed it impossible to ferret out and obtain accurate plans of all the Sewers. When I became Surveyor; with the very zealous and able assistance of my Inspector William Saulter, the elder; I after years of research and labour conjointly with him laid before the Commission forty one sheets of antiquarian paper covered with accurate plans of all the Sewers in the City, together with  a condensed history of each, its age, dimensions, depth, and direction of current: and a general plan of the city with its Sewers has been printed for each Commissioner's use.
As it does not legitimately grow out of this my defence, I will not trouble you now with remarks upon some of the suggestions of Captain Vetch as to pavements and subways, or Mr. Roe and Mr. Stables upon ventilation of Sewers and other matters. When the fit time shall come, I can shew that all the subjects of these suggestions have been tried, or considered and rejected by my Masters, as inapplicable to the existing City; and your proposition of uniting the care of Sewers and roads under one jurisdiction is nothing new: It has for many years been the case in the City. Indeed, somehow or other, the experience of the City has in more things than one, set an example to other than Citizens.
Believing that I have succeeded in shewing, That the Commissioners of Sewers of the City of London have, through a long series of years, been alive to the duties of their trust:
That they ever seized the earliest opportunity for effecting improvements.
That, without their Surveyors presumptuously applying to themselves the, often impudently assumed and much prostituted title of Civil Engineer, they have conducted their works with judgment and foresight, and success:
That they have done as much, if not more, in proportion than any other Commission for the improvement of the health and advantages of the Metropolis:
That they have anxiously and carefully sought for, and at length happily accomplished a complete system of deep Sewage, adapted for their own purposes and largely contributing to the welfare of all the adjacent lands, more especially those under the Holborn and Finsbury Commission.
That, instead of Mr. Roe having originated three of "the only considerable improvements of a scientific character that have been made in the Sewerage of the Metropolis" that is curving Sewers at their junctions: building Sewers with semi-circular bottoms and making egg-shaped sewers: and forming gullies and shoots so as not to retain deposit: all these had been in use, in the City, some long before he was born and others long before he became a Surveyor of Sewers.
I now ask you, with some confidence, to accord me the common justice between man and man of doing your utmost to remove the slanderous imputations cast upon me and my employees. I ask it because you have traduced my character: I ask it because you have striven to deprive me of my daily bread.
It is quite true that, while you seek to get all power into one iron gripe [sic]; you say that the present Surveyors should retain all thei emoluments. But is it nothing, Sir, to blast a man's repute; to stigmatise him with incompetency; by the very act of a putting 'a Nurse' in to keep him from mischief-doing; and after having crushed and degraded and insulted him, to render the insult still more bitter by saying "There, dog! each your undeserved crust, and be thankful!"
I trust, Sir, you will not do so. You will do justice for the wrong of which you have unwillingly been made the instrument; and you will duly value the man who has sought to aggrandize himself y the destruction of others.
I have the honour to be,
        Your very obedient Servant,
                Richard Kelsey

Surveyor to the Commissioners of Sewers of the City of London and Liberties Thereof
73 Chiswell Street
September 5th 1842

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Sewer Gas

The Victorians remained convinced that gas from sewers caused disease, for most of the nineteenth century. I include this letter, however, not because it tells us much about Victorian sanitation, but because I like the tone:

Sir – I am afraid that complaints like that of your correspondent “L” would fill your generous columns if you allowed them to.
    I am the father of three small brats and live in a lovely locality on the South-Western Railway, but I live ni a semi-detached stuccoed villa, and suffer nuisances inconceivable. When I first took the house the cesspool and the well were in peaceful communion. The analysis of both was the same. Then I had the well closed and water laid on from waterworks. Still I was not happy. Illness appeared and a little cousin died next door of typhoid. Then we have the houses examined and lo! The only vent for the sewage gas was up the closet into the middle of the house. The place had to be pulled about and in my horror of the expenditure I weakly applied to my landlord to help me. He laughed, said I had a repairing lease, that he had no children and never drank water. These last two, I can quite believe.
Now, Sir, until the law steps in and compels landlords to make their houses fit to live in (we cannot expect them to care for our comfort), compels them to put proper drainage and supply water, speculating builders will still pile up fortunes and multiply their iniquities for the benefit of the plumber first and the undertaker afterwards.
    I am,Sir, yours faithfully,

The Times, 5 October 1876

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Omnibus Subway Company

Another great idea for London transport that never came to pass. Well, perhaps not quite 'great' but we love the name:

I beg to report that I have examined the Plans and Schedule deposited by the Omnibus Subway Company. This Company proposes constructing a Subway starting at the Royal Exchange, passing through Cheapside, the North Side of St. Paul's, Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, the Strand, Charing Cross, and Parliament Street, to the Houses of Parliament, having stations at every quarter of a mile upon its length; it is to be constructed at but a moderate depth beneath the streets, so as not to be interfere with the Gas amd Water pipes and will be in thhe centre of the Roadway to avoid interference with the vaults and cellars.

The widths of the carriages will be only sufficient to carry two persons abreast in the 2nd class carraiges, - and two line sof rails will be laid; trains are proposed to run every four minutes, and the time occupied in going from the Exchange to Charing Crosss will be about 16 minutes, including stoppages: the internal surfaces of the subways will be perfectly white and they will be lighted throughout with gas.

The system of traction proposed is that of an endless rope worked by stationary engines at the Termini; - locomotives with their heat and smoke will therefore not traverse the subways.

The project carried out will involve the reconstruction of the whole of the sewers throughout the entire length of the subway within the City as well as that of many othes in collateral streets and would cause during its construction much temporary inconvenience: the means of access; area of the public way to be astracted, if any; the effect of the scheme upon the general traffic at certain points; the ventilation of the subways, if on to the public ways; and general question of the appropriation of a large space of the soil beneath the highways, with other points require much additional explanation and the careful attention of the Commission before its decision can be safely given upon the scheme.

Pending that investigation it seems to me that it would be unwise in any way to damp the enterprise by denial of your sanction further than may be absolutely needful to enable you to retain your power of protectionb of the public rights; for alttohugh the project is startling at first sight, yet upon consideration it will be found to be worthy of close attention and if successful in the first case, it is a system capable of direct extension tto all parts of London to the public advantage; and considering the annual increase in the closely inhabited areaof the metropolis, the gigantic traffic which now almost stagnates in its main thoroughfares, the impediemtnns which beset their improvement, the poor instalments of increased street accommodation which are given only after years of discussion and consideration, insalments which but retard and must ultimately rendre nobler measures still more costly than they now would be, it would be in every respect a matter of congratulation if by commercial enterprisses relief could be obtained in the way proposed.

William Haywood, 24th January 1859

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Here's a very short story I wrote last year, which was - peculiarly enough - placed in an art exhibition. It's about London and time travel.


‘I think I shall go and sit on the Embankment,’ said Herbert George Smith, as he left the dusty office.
Relieved to be out in the open air, he walked down Milford Lane and settled on one of the familiar benches. He rested his briefcase against the cast-iron Sphinx and gazed at the dreary Thames. There was nothing particularly interesting in watching the dirty brown water – the occasional steamboat might chug past – but it gave him something to do whilst he ate his sandwiches.
It was a warm, summer’s day and, after he had eaten and taken a sip or two from his flask, he felt rather tired. He was loath to go back to the office before the lunch-hour was out; but did not possess the energy or discipline to take a walk round Temple Gardens.
Instead, he lolled back in the warm embrace of the sun and closed his eyes. It occurred to him that – if anyone were to walk past – they might think he was drunk.
He fell asleep, listening to the thunderous rattle of iron-shod wheels on the road behind him, and the steady clip-clop of horses’ hooves dragging them along.


Herbert felt a sinking sensation and awoke with a start. He was glad to find that he was still on the bench; but his relief turned to amazement. The scene before him had altered. The change presented itself to him subtly at first – a growing sense of disquiet – without any specific information permeating his conscious mind. Then it became stronger, as he experienced sudden flashes of confusion.
The bridge had gone!
Waterloo Bridge had been destroyed – how was it possible? – and a strange edifice of plain, unadorned concrete stood in its place, stone balustrades replaced by a set of white railings.
His eyes rested upon the southern shore of the Thames. The small fleet of coal-barges moored by the bridge – they, too, had vanished. The timber-yards and warehouses; the narrow wharves and the shot-tower of the great lead-works – all had been transformed.
It was, in truth, a neat and tidy transformation, a mirror of the embankment on which he was sitting. It was an improvement: a neat stone river-wall; iron lamps; trees in full leaf. At first, he wondered if some callous youths had somehow carried him, sleeping, across the bridge and he was merely looking at where he had begun. But no – that was the impossibility of it – the distinctive bend in the river –  he had not moved.
He tapped the Sphinx’s head to reassure himself that he was not dreaming; but he did not feel reassured.
The noise of the traffic forced him to cautiously turn around. A stream of automative vehicles – each and every one utterly unfamiliar, forged from coloured sheets of shining metal – were crawling along the road behind him. He looked about the Embankment, anxiously, desparate for some unchanging starting-point to grasp reality. The bench, at least, was identical – and the green lawns of the Temple – reassuringly untouched by whatever strange power had somehow intervened in the lives of men.
He wondered if he had gone mad.


He did not move; not at first. Then, at last, he stepped over to the stone wall and peered over the edge, looking down at the unchanging river.
The sudden movement was too ambitious. He felt slightly queasy and returned hurriedly to his seat. At the same moment, a woman sat down beside him.
She was a young woman – no more than twenty one or two years old – but dressed in a black costume which utterly dumbfounded him. The trousers were the most peculiar aspect – straight silken masculine trousers as might be worn by a junior clerk, her legs shamefully delineated.
It was not – he thought to himself – remotely decent. Not on the Embankment.
He looked at her and wondered if she was some breed of actress, come from rehearsal at the Gaiety or Lyceum.
Or was she something worse?
He studied her discreet decolletage – milk-white breasts just visible beneath a cream-coloured blouse – her arms concealed by a masculine jacket. He stared at her face – a painted face – painted!
No decent woman painted. He wondered how she dared sit next to him.
Did she have no fear of the police?
‘Can I help you?’ said the young woman.
The strange girl was rather beautiful. He felt ashamed of himself, staring at her.
‘I beg your pardon – I am quite lost –’


Herbert George Smith returned home in an instant of nausea and migraine, lights popping in his head.
He pondered the incident for many years. He would, in time, marry and have two daughters. But neither his wedding day, nor the birth of his children, remained so startling and vivid in his imagination.
In his dotage, as the bombs fell on the East, and his family struggled to get him to the shelter, they were mystified by the phrase he repeated to himself.
‘I think I shall go and sit on the Embankment.’


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Traffic Returns

Ludgate Hill traffic on March 10 and 11, 1843, from 6am to 6pm
1233 Cabs and Gigs
1169 Omnibuses and stages
1385 One horse carts
373 Two horse private carriages and hackney coaches
302 Waggons, three horses and upwards
247 Other vehicles
161 Saddle horses
72 Hand-trucks
Note on the Gain of Power by Levelling the Surface of the Streets of Populous Districts, 1843

16 January, from 6 in morning to 12 at night by the Pantheon
1507 Light carts and sundries
935 Four wheel carriages
890 omnibuses
752 four-wheel hackney carriages
621 two-wheel hackney carriages
372 Waggons and drays
347 Gentlemen's two wheel carriages
91 stage coaches
The Champion and Weekly Herald 19 May 1839

Oxford Street, 8 May 1871, eastbound traffic
4468 cabs
1428 carriages
1222 omnibuses
1138 carts
674 vans
372 waggons
Traffic of Oxford Street, Times, 17 July 1872

Monday, 3 December 2012

Idea for Cycle Lanes in London


Sir,—At a time when so much interest is centred in Municipal affairs by reason of the London County Council Elections and the proposed Incorporation of certain parts of London, may I be allowed to make a few suggestions to those whom it may concern for the greater convenience and accommodation of the public? The removal of all unsightly obstructions, such as sand boxes, street orderly boxes, &c., by the substitution of square boxes sunk on a level at the edge of the pavement, with a sliding lid and a slanting bottom to facilitate the use of the shovel. The construction of a bicycle track in roads made of wood blocks, at no additional cost whatever, by laying a line of, say, two blocks parallel with the pavement. On the same principle as the whitewashing of the edge of railway platforms, this would act as a warning to foot passengers not to step off the pavement without previously looking for the approach of bicycles. In time the cyclist would keep to his track and the vehicles to the middle of the road as might be convenient. To provide proper lavatory accommodation at all railway stations, with access direct from the street. Abandon all pillar post boxes for wall boxes, and every railway stationin particular to have a wall-box. To provide an "arm" clock at all railway stations. The boon would be enormous and many lives might be saved, as so many people with weak hearts run for a train which has gone and afterwards succumb to the effects of the exertion. To provide newspaper kiosks, to license their tenants, and to put down the present deafening brawl of "Special." These itinerant newnendon, however, should have the preference in the allotment of kiosks. To provide for the more efficient control of processions with brass bands, and to give the same power to the occupier as he now posseses with regard to the ordinary street piano.organ. To provide for the express delivery of small parcels and letters by trams and omnibuses, after the plan adopted in Brussels.—Yours, &c.,

Morning Post, 1 March 1898