Sewers aren't things most of us think about or are even aware of (until they overflow, of course) but how did this really important part of any cities infrastructure develop. Stephen Halliday's fascinating book reveals in words and illustrations how the heroes of Victorian engineering and architecture created the groundwork for what is still in use today under our streets.
The fear of cholera and the smell of cities was the driving force behind the idea of putting egg shaped conduits below ground to carry waste away. Joseph Bazalgette was the engineer who solved the problem for London and by 1868 the city had sewers north and south of the Thames and all for about £21 million. Paris, like London, had a river flowing through the city and regarded by many as a convenient sewer until George Haussmann and Eugene Belgrand were commissioned to design something to solve the problem. Their sewers were unique because they became a tourist attraction, page eighty-two has a picture of ladies and gentlemen sitting in a boat pulled along by sewermen. Unique because the sewers only collected water and debris from streets and didn't handle human waste. In 1883 it was estimated that 25,000 Parisian wells were polluted during heavy rain.
The author considers the history of underground sewers in several cities around the world like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tokyo, Melbourne, Prague, Hamburg, Berlin all illustrated with historical photos, diagrams and maps (almost five hundred in all). Chicago, in 1855, had a problem because the city was a just a few feet above Lake Michigan and lacked the gravity to take wastewater into the Lake. The solution was to raise the level of streets nearest the Lake. George Pullman (who created sleeping car trains) installed six thousand jacks under buildings and raised them slowly each day until there was enough space below to put in pipes to the Lake at a steeper angle.
The book's last section 'Revolutions of purity' brings the story up to date by examining contemporary sewage works and what to expect in the future. In London the sixteen mile Thames Tideway Tunnel will collect the overflows from thirty-four outfalls that currently go into the Thames after heavy rain. New York has a sixty mile 'Tunnel No.3' to improve the cities water supply, vacuum sewers are in use in Norway and Sweden and Japan was a rather expensive Toto Toilet with a heated seat and warm water to use instead of paper.