Joseph Bazalgette

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Joseph Bazalgette

Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819 – 1891) was the chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works. Born in London on the 28th March 1819, Bazalgette began his career as a railway engineer. During this role he gained considerable experience in land drainage and reclamation.

When the London Metropolitan Board of Works was established in 1856, Joseph Bazalgette was elected the first and only chief engineer. The board of works was the first organisation provided to supervise public works all over the city.


Mid-19th Century London

In the mid-19th century, London was struck by a cholera epidemic, which killed over 10,000 people. At the time it was thought that the disease was caused by foul air that filled the streets of London. Along with the frequent occurrence of cholera outbreaks, a hot summer brought with it the ‘Great Stink’, which overwhelmed the city.


The Solution

The condition of Mid-19th Century London was an incentive for parliament to give legislation to the Board of Works. The Legislation allowed them to begin improvements on the sewers and streets. It was expected that the new sewer system would eliminate the great stink, which would reduce the outbreaks of cholera.

Bazalgette’s solution was to create a sewer network for central London that extended 82 miles. The underground network consisted of main sewers to intercept sewage outflows as well as street sewers. These new sewers would replace the raw sewage flowing through the thoroughfares and streets of London.

Although the impression was that foul air caused cholera was wrong, it didn’t mean that the sewer system was set up to fail. Instead, the sewers eliminated the disease by removing the contamination carried in the water supply.

The system was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and was fully completed 10 years later.


Sustainable drainage systems today

Concrete drainage systems have been the material of choice for over a century. They can offer the most environmentally friendly and competitive installed option today.  Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s sewers were the first sustainable drainage system to be built. Overall the system required 670,000m³ of concrete and it is still in use now. The inherent strength and durability of precast concrete drainage can help protect the system during construction and throughout its long lifetime of operation.


To find out more about sustainable drainage systems, visit the British Precast Drainage Association (BPDA) website:

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