Sir Joseph Bazalgette

There are many 19th century civil engineers who had a significant impact on, in, over and under London. Bazalgette (1819 to 1891) is a particular example of the right man at the right time – to be the Chief Engineer of the London Metropolitan Board of Works. He may be best known for his achievements with the London sewer system. This was in response to the 1858 Great Stink, cholera epidemics and a filthy River Thames. Main sewers (82 miles), street sewers (1,100 miles) and pumping stations which were a true programme of projects – operational by 1865 with a further ten years to complete. What can we learn from Bazalgette? He built things to last. For sizing of drains he took the highest densities of occupation with the largest discharges – and then doubled the size of drains. That is why they are still working today. He introduced quality control methods for mass production and testing of materials such as Portland cement – following on from initiatives such as for the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition. However possibly Bazalgette’s more visible legacy is the number of elegant bridges that still span the River Thames at Putney, Albert, Battersea, Blackwell; embankments Albert, Victoria, Chelsea; and streets such as Charing Cross Road, Northumberland Avenue and Shaftesbury Avenue.

His legacy is all around in Central London; and celebrated with a blue plaque at 17 Hamilton Terrace and a monument on Victoria Embankment.

Other engineers of that period who also made significant contributions through their management of projects include Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Thomas Telford and others (a visit to the Institute of Civil Engineers in Westminster may be of assistance).

PM Legacy: Sir Joseph left many physical legacies; but overall it is possible for things to look good, do their jobs and last for ages.