London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers.


EVERY house built or rebuilt since the passing of the Metropolitan Sewers Act in , must be drained, with an exception, which I shall specify, into a sewer. The law, indeed, divested of its technicalities is this: the owner of a newlyerected house must drain it to a sewer, without the intervention of a cesspool, if there be a sewer within feet of the site of the house; and, if necessary, in places but partially built over, such owner must continue the sewer along the premises, and make the necessary drain into it; all being done under the approval of the proper officer under the Commissioners. If there be, however, an established sewer, along the side, front, or back of any house, a covered drain must be made into that at the cost of the owner of the premises to be drained. "Where a sewer," says the section of the Act, "shall already be made, and a drain only shall be required, the party is to pay a contribution towards the original expense of the sewer, if it shall have been made within years before the , the contribution to be paid to the builder of the sewer." . . . . . . "In cases where there shall be no sewer into which a drain could be made, the party must make a covered drain to lead into a cesspool or other place (not under a house) as the Commissioners may direct. If the parties infringe this rule, the Commissioners may


do the work and throw the cost on them in the nature of an improvement rate, or as charges for default, and levy the amount by distress."

I mention these circumstances more particularly to show the extent, and the far-continued ramification, of the subterranean metropolis. I am assured by of the largest builders in the western district of the capital that the new regulations (as to the dispensing with cesspools) are readily complied with, as it is a recommendation which a house agent, or any letting new premises, is never slow to advance ("and when it's the truth," he said, "they do it with a better grace"), that there will be in the course of occupancy no annoyance and no expense incurred in the clearing away of cesspoolage.

I shall at present describe only the housedrainage, which is connected with the public sewerage. The old mode of draining a house separately into the cesspool of the premises will, of course, be described under the head of cesspoolage, and that old system is still very prevalent.

At the times of passing both general and local Acts concerning buildings, town improvements and extensions, the erection of new streets and the removal of old, much has been said and written concerning better systems of ventilating, warming, and draining dwelling-houses; but until after the outbreak of cholera in England, in , little public attention was given to the great drainage of all the sewers. However, on the passing of the Building and Sanitary Acts generally, the authorities made many experiments, not so much to improve the system of sewerage as of house-drainage, so as to make the dwellinghouses more wholesome and sweet.

To effect this, the great object was the abolition of the cesspool system, under which filth must accumulate, and where, from scamped buildings or other causes, evaporation took place, the effects of the system were found to be vile and offensive, and have been pronounced miasmatic. Having just alluded to these matters, I proceed to describe the modernly-adopted connection of house-drainage and street-sewerage.

Experiments, as I have said, were set on foot under the auspices of public bodies, and the opinions of eminent engineers, architects, and surveyors were also taken. Their opinions seem really to be concentrated in the advocacy of remedy—improved house-drainage; and they appear to have agreed that the system which is at present adopted is, under the circumstances, the best that can be adopted.

I was told also by an eminent practical builder, perfectly unconnected with any official or public body, and, indeed, often at issue with surveyors, &c., that the new system was unquestionably a great improvement in every respect, and that some years before its adoption as at present he had abetted such a system, and had carried it into effect when he could properly do so.

I will show the mode and then the cost of the new system.

I find it designated "back," "front," "tubu- lar," and "pipe" house-drainage, and all with the object of carrying off all fæces, soil water, cesspool matter, &c., before it has had time to accumulate. It is not by brick or other drains of masonry that the system is carried out or is recommended to be carried out, but by means of tubular earthenware pipes; and for any efficient carrying out of the projected improvement a system of , and not as at present , supply of water from the several companies would be best. These pipes communicate with the nearest sewer. The pipes in the tubular drainage are of red earthenware or stoneware (pot).

The use of earthenware, clay, or pot pipes for the conveyance of liquids is very ancient. Mr. Stirrat, a bleacher in Paisley, in a statement to the Board of Health, mentioned that clay pipes were used in ancient times. King Hezekiah ( Book of Kings, chap. , and Book of Chronicles, chap. ) brought in water from Jerusalem. "His pool and conduit," said Mr. Stirrat, "are still to be seen. The conduit is feet square inside, built of freestone, strongly cemented; the stone, inches thick, evidently intended to sustain a considerable pressure; and I have seen pipes of clay, taken by a friend from a house in the ruins of the ancient city, of inch bore, and about inches in diameter, proving evidently, to my mind, that ancient Jerusalem was supplied with water on the principle of gravitation. The pools or reservoirs are also at this day in tolerably good order, of them still filled with water; the other broken down in the centre, no doubt by some besieging enemy, to cut off the supply to the city."

The new system to supply the place of the cesspools is a , while the old is principally a , system of house-drainage; but the new system is equally available for such separate drainage.

As regards the success of this system the reports say experiments have been tried in so large a number of houses, under such varied and, in many cases, disadvantageous circumstances, that no doubts whatsoever can remain in the minds of competent and disinterested persons as to the efficient self-cleansing action of well-adjusted tubular drains and sewers, even without any additional supplies of water.

Mr. Lovick said:—

A great number of small 4-inch tubular drains have been laid down in the several districts, some for considerable periods. They have been found to keep themselves clear by the ordinary soil and drainage waters of the houses. I have no doubt that pipes of this kind will keep themselves clear by the ordinary discharge of house-drainage; assuming, of course, a supply of water, pipes of good form, and materials properly laid, and with fair usage.

" of the earliest illustrations of the tubular system," it is stated in a Report of the Board of Health, "was given in the improved drainage of a block of houses in the cloisters of ,


which had been the seat of a severe epidemic fever. The cesspools and the old drains were filled up, and an entire system of tubular drainage and sewerage substituted for the service of that block of houses.

The Dean of Westminster, in a letter on the state of this drainage, says, 'I beg to report to the Commissioners that the success of the entire new pipe-drainage laid down in St. Peter's College during the last twelve months has been complete. I consider this experiment on drainage and sewage of about fifteen houses to afford a triumphant proof of the efficacy of draining by pipes, and of the facility of dispensing entirely with cesspools and brick sewers.' Up to this time they have acted, and continue to act, perfectly.

Mr. Morris, a surveyor attached to the Metropolitan Sewers Commission, gives the following account of the action of trial works of improved house-drainage:—

'I have introduced the new 4-inch tubular house-drains into some houses for the trustees of the parish of Poplar, with water-closets, and have received no just cause of complaint. In every instance where I have applied it, I found the system answer extremely well, if a sufficient quantity of water has been used.

'The answer of the householders as to the effect of the new drainage has invariably been that they and their families have been better in health; that they were formerly annoyed with smells and effluvia, from which they are now quite free.

'Since the new drainage has been laid down there has been only occasion to go on the ground to examine it once for the whole year, and that was from the inefficiency of the water service. It was found that rags had been thrown down and had got into the pipe; and further, that very little water had been used, so that the stoppage was the fault of the tenant, not of the system.'

Mr. Gotto, the engineer, having stated that in a plan for the improvement of Goulston-street, Whitechapel, not only was the removal of all cesspools contemplated, but also the substitution of water-closet apparatus, gave the following estimate of , provided the pipes were made and the work done by contract under the Commissioners of Sewers:—

 Water-closet Apparatus, &c. 
   £ s. d. 
 Emptying, &c., cesspool . . 0 12 0 
 Digging, &c., for 8-feet pipe drain, at 4d. . . . . . . 0 2 8 
 Making good to walls and floor of water-closet over drain, at 3d. . 0 2 0 
 8 feet run of 4-inch pipe, at 3d. 0 2 0 
 Laying ditto, at 2d. . . . 0 1 4 
 Extra for junction . . . 0 0 4 
 Fixing ditto . . . . 0 0 2 
 Water-closet apparatus, with stool cock . . . . . . 0 10 0 
 Fixing ditto . . . . 0 2 0 
 Contingencies (10 per cent.) . 0 3 6 
   1 16 0 
   £ s. d. 
 Brought forward . . 1 16 0 
 The yard sink and drain would cost . . . . . . 0 11 2 
 Kitchen sink and drain . . 0 15 7 1/2 
 So that the cost of back draining one house, including water-closet, would be . . . . . 3 2 9 1/2 

The tubular drainage of a similar house (with yards of carriage-way to be paved) would cost ; or the drainage would cost, according to the old system,

The engineering witnesses who have given their special attention to the subject," state the Board of Health, in commenting on the information I have just cited, "affirm that upon the improved system of combined works the expense of the apparatus in substitution of cesspools would not greatly exceed one-half the expense of cleaning the cesspools.

The engineers have calculated — stating the difficulty of coming to a nice calculation — that the present system of cesspools entailed an average expenditure, for cleansing and repairs, of a week on each householder; and that by the new system it would be but The Board of Health's calculations, however, are, I regret to say, always dubious.

The subjoined scale of the difference in cost was prepared at the instance of the Board.

Mr. Grant took blocks of houses for examination, and the results are given as a guide to what would be the general expenditure if the change took place:—

"In block of houses—

The length of drains by back drainage was feet.

Cost (exclusive of pans, traps, and water in both cases) of back drainage, , or per house.

Cost of separate tubular drainage, , or per house.

Cost of separate brick drains, , or per house.

"In another block of houses—

The length of back drains was feet.

Of separate drains, feet.

The cost of back tubular drains, , or per house.

Of separate tubular drains, , or per house.

Of separate brick drains, , or per house.

"In another block of houses—

The length of back drainage, feet.

Ditto by separate ditto, feet.

The cost of back tubular drainage, , or per house.

Ditto of separate ditto ditto, , or per house.

Ditto of separate brick ditto, , or per house.



"In a block of houses—

The length of back drains, feet.

Ditto of separate ditto, feet.

Cost of back tubular drainage, , or per house.

Ditto of separate ditto ditto, , or per house.

Ditto of separate brick ditto, , or per house."

I have mentioned the diversity of opinion as to the best form, and even material, for a sewer; and there is the same diversity as to the material, &c., for house and gully or street-drainage, more especially in the of the larger volume. The pipe-drainage of any description is far less in favour than it was. reason is that it does not promote another is the difficulty of repairs if the joints or fittings of pipes require mending; and then the combination of the noxious gases is most offensive in its exhalations, and difficult to overcome.

I was informed by a nightman, used to the cleansing of drains and to night-work generally, that when there was any escape from of the tubular pipes the stench was more intense than any he had ever before experienced from any drains on the old system.

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 Title Page
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work