Our mission is to find, map, photograph and catalogue every stinkpipe in the Greater London area, though out of London is welcome too. Please send your stinkpipe pics here or to stinkpipes@gmail.com Twitter: @stinkpipes Holder of 6Music's Geek of the Week accolade, 1st October 2011

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The History of the Stinkpipe

The Great Stink [BBC, ]
After Thomas Crapper’s groundbreaking invention around 1850, public water closets became increasingly commonplace in London. Eventually the primitive sewers of the time could not cope with the volume of faeces and it came to standstill. A great festering, stinky standstill, known from then till now as The Great Stink, which occurred during June of 1858. Faeces was backed up everywhere. There was no escape, even Parliament suffered.


New Sewage System
Two engineers were called in to solve the problem. Joseph Bazalgette was given £3m to build a sewer network that did not deposit London’s personal effluent into the Thames and he ended up spending over £20m.
Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, of Cornwall, was the other. He was asked to do something about the smell emanating from the sewers. His solution was to  attach a pipe to the sewer, strapped it up the side of Big Ben's clock tower and stood at the top with a match.
Another source relates the following: He thought he could burn off the noxious gases [sewer gas]. So he connected the main Victorian sewer to the chimney in the Clock Tower of the Houses of Parliament. 


Christopher Jones in his book, 'The Great Palace of Westminster' takes up the story.


"Unfortunately the gases would not light. Next, Gurney put a coal fire at the base of the Clock Tower and tried again; this time the gases burned. One day though when Mr Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineerat the Metropolitan Board of Works, was examining the pipe that led from the main sewer to the Clock Tower, he discovered that there was a leak from a fractured coal-gas pipe into the sewer, and only a trap-door in the sewer was stopping the coal-gas from reaching the furnace at the bottom of the Clock Tower. There had already been one small explosion, although no one was hurt and no damage done. If the full blast of coal-gas and sewer gas had reached the furnace, then the chances are that the Clock Tower would have taken off for the moon, and the rest of the Palace would have been destroyed with it. Gurney, who so nearly blew up the Palace of Westminster, died knighted and respected in his bed. Guy Fawkes, a bumbling plotter of ludicrous incompetence, died in excruciating agony on the scaffold not far away, in Old Palace Yard."
and tantalisingly, but with little detail, and no evidence:
“Not everyone realises that Britain's iconic symbol, the Westminster Clock, not only serves as national timekeeper but as a sewer ventilation chimney.”
So any further info on that would be gratefully received!


Joseph Bazalgette designed an extensive underground sewerage system that diverted waste to the Thames Estuary, downstream of the main centre of population. Six main interceptor sewers, totalling almost 100 miles (160 km) in length, were constructed between 1859 and 1865, some incorporating stretches of London's 'lost' rivers.

Sewers north of the Thames feed into the Northern Outfall Sewer, which feeds into a major treatment works at Beckton. South of the river, the Southern Outfall Sewer extends to a similar facility at Crossness.


However, while parliament and the great and the good were saved from the horrific stink, Bazalgette's work had not solved the problem entirely. 


Despite Bazalgette’s ingenuity, the system still dumped tons of raw sewage into the Thames - sometimes with unfortunate results. The death toll from the sinking of the pleasure boat Princess Alice in 1878 would certainly have been smaller if it had sunk elsewhere on the Thames. As it was, it went down close to one of the main sewage outfalls. Approximately 640 passengers died, many poisoned rather than drowned. Horror at the deaths was instrumental in the building of a series of riverside sewage treatment plants. [Science Museum]

Stinkpipes
Clearly, Gurney’s ventilation pipe principle was put into practice along much of the length of the Victorian sewers, as you can still see the pipes in place today more or less following the route of the main sewers and on many of the connecting sewers too.

"The gas is mainly hydrogen sulphide and it gives that rotten eggs smell, " said Gary Paley, of Darlington, who has been a sewerage engineer for 18 years in Yorkshire. "It usually occurs when sewage is being pumped long distances. It can become septic as it does not travel from A to B quick enough. It can also occur in flat areas where the speed of flow is slower."The gas will eat concrete if not dealt with. I remember that the sewer near the racecourse in Thirsk had been almost totally eaten by the gas and just the reinforcing bars from inside the concrete pipes were left. "

So the sewers were vented.

The pipes had to be tall so the noxious fumes escaped way above nose-level, and the Victorians were given a new canvas on which to show off their casting skills. As sewer gases can be heavier than air, it was necessary for the wind to disperse them before they could settle at ground level.

A number of manufacturers were able to build and supply the ventilation pipes, usually with ornate designs, probably massively over-engineered, and many ,many of which survive in place to the present day.

Companies such as J.Stone and co, founded in 1842 by Josiah Stone, George Preston and John Prestige. Marine, railway and general engineers, based in Deptford, London. Henry Edie and Co of Bow Foundry, in east London, established in 1843, AC Woodrow & Co; Frederick Bird & Co West Drayton near London, engineers; Ham Baker.


More about them next time.


sources:
The Northern Echo

2 comments:

  1. I would like to give 5 star for your knowledge sharing, I would be waiting for more in future

    Thanks
    Marcus White Lisdoonvarna

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi - I had to look this up, because I'd never heard about it, but the Gurney story is quite true ... can be found in a government report from 1857-58 "Report from the Select Committee on the River Thames". I haven't checked it out, but I suspect the Gurney pipe was removed after the report. The idea for burning off gases goes back much further than 1858, but Gurney's must be one of the most striking attempts to test its merits.

    To be really picky, I must add that Crapper didn't invent the toilet, but refined it in, I think, the 1870s. The WC was around throughout the 18th century, and then became increasingly popular from roughly the 1820s onwards - indeed, contributing to the great sewage problem.

    ReplyDelete