London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the London Street-Drains.
WE have as yet dealt only with the means of removing the liquid refuse from the houses of the metropolis. This, as was pointed out at the commencement of the present subject, consists principally of the gallons of water that are annually supplied to the London residences by mechanical means. But there still remain the gallons of surface or rain-water to be carried off from the miles of streets, and the roofs and yards of the houses which now form the British metropolis. If this immense volume of liquid were not immediately removed from our thoroughfares as fast as it fell, many of our streets would not only be transformed into canals at certain periods of the year, but perhaps at all times (except during drought) they would be, if not impassable, at least unpleasant and unhealthy, from the puddles or small pools of stagnant water that would be continually rotting them. Were such the case, the roads and streets that we now pride ourselves so highly upon would have their foundations soddened. "If the surface of a road be not kept clean so as to admit of its becoming dry between showers of rain," said Lord Congleton, the great road authority, "it will be rapidly worn away." Indeed the immediate removal of rain-water, so as to prevent its percolating through the surface of the road, and thereby impairing the foundation, appears to be of the main essentials of road-making.
The means of removing this surface water, especially from the streets of a city where the rain falls at least every other day throughout the year, and reaches an aggregate depth of feet in the course of the twelvemonth, is a matter of considerable moment. In Paris, and indeed almost all of the French towns, a channel is formed in the middle of each thoroughfare, and down this the water from the streets and houses is continually coursing, to the imminent peril of all pedestrians, for the wheels of every vehicle distribute, as it goes, a muddy shower on either side of the way.
, however, have not only removed the channels from the middle to the sides of our streets, but instituted a distinct system of drainage for the conveyance of the wet refuse of our houses to the sewers—so that there are no longer (excepting in a very small portion of the suburbs) open sewers, meandering through our highways; the consequence is, the surface-water being carried off from our thoroughfares almost as fast as it falls, our streets are generally dry and clean. That there are exceptions to this rule, which are a glaring disgrace to us, it must be candidly admitted; but we must at the same time allow, when we think of the vast extent of the roadways of the metropolis ( miles!— nearly -half the radius of the earth itself), the deluge of water that anuually descends upon every inch of the ground which we call London ( gallons!—a quantity which is almost sufficient for the formation of an American lake), and the vast amount of traffic, over the greater part of the capital—the vehicles that daily cross , the conveyances that traverse in the course of hours, the that go through , and the that ascend and descend between in the morning and at night, the omnibuses and the cabriolets that are continually hurrying from part of the town to another, and the private carriage, job, and cart horses that incessantly the metropolis—when we reflect, I say, on this vast amount of traffic—this deluge of rain—and the wilderness of streets, it cannot but be allowed that the cleansing and draining of the London thoroughfares is most admirably conducted.
The mode of street drainage is by means of what is called a gully-hole and a gully-drain.
is the opening from the surface of the street (and is seen generally on each side of the way), into which all the fluid refuse of the public thoroughfares runs on its course to the sewer.
is a drain generally of earthenware piping, curving from the side of the street to an opening in the top or side of the sewer, and is the means of communication between the sewer and the gully-hole.
The gully-hole is indicated by an iron grate being fitted into the surface of the side of a footpath, where the road slopes gradually from its centre to the edge of the footpath, and down this grate the water runs into the channel contrived
|for it in the construction of the streets. These gully-grates, the observant pedestrian—if there be a man in this hive of London who, without professional attraction to the matter, regards for a few minutes the peculiarities of the street (apart from the houses) which he is traversing—an observant pedestrian, I say, would be struck at the constantly-recurring grates in a given space in some streets, and their paucity in others. In there is no gully-grate, as you walk down from to where becomes ; whilst in some streets, not a of the length of , there may be , , , or grates. The reason is this:— There is no sewer running down ; a contiguous sewer, however, runs down Great Wyld-street, draining, where there are drains, the courts and nooks of the poor, between and Lincoln's-inn-fields, as well as the more open places leading down towards the proximity of . This Great Wyld-street sewer, moreover, in its course to Fleet Bridge, is made available for the drainage (very grievously deficient, according to some of the reports of the Board of Health) of Clare-market. Grates would of course be required in such a place as , only the street is thought to be sufficiently on the descent to convey the surface-water to the grate in .|
The parts in which the gully-grates will be found the most numerous are where the main streets are most intersected by other main streets, or by smaller off-streets, and indeed wherever the streets, of whatever size, continually intersect each other, as they do off nearly all the great streetthoroughfares in the City. Although the sewers may not be according to the plan of the streets, the gully-grates must nevertheless be found at the street intersections, whether the nearest point to the sewer or not, or else the water would not be quickly carried off, and would form a nuisance.
I am informed, on good authority, both as regards the City and Metropolitan Commissions, that the average distance of the gully-grates is yards from another, including both sides of the way. Their number does not depend upon population, but simply on the local characteristics of the highways; for of course the rain falls into all the streets in proportion to their size, whether populous or half-empty localities. As, however, the more distant roads have not such an approximation of grates, and the law which requires their formation is by no means—and perhaps, without unnecessary interference, cannot be—very definite, I am informed that it may fairly be represented, that, of the miles of London public ways, more than -thirds, "or" remarked informant, "say miles, are grated on side of the street or road, at distances of yards." This would give gully-holes in every of the miles of street said to be so supplied. Hence the total number throughout the metropolis will be .
, which is the street-drain, always presents now a sloping curve, describing, more or less, part of a circle. This drain starts, so to speak, from the side of the street, while its course to the sewer, in order to economize space, is made by any most appropriate curve, to include the reception of as great a quantity of wet streetrefuse as possible; for if the gully-drains were formed in a direct, or even a not-very-indirect line, from the street sides to the sewers, they would not only be more costly, more numerous, but would, in fact, as I was told, "choke the under-ground" of London, for now the subterranean capital is so complicated with gas, water, and drain-pipes, that such a system as will allow room for each is indispensable. The new system is, moreover, more economical. In the City the gully-drains are nearly all of -inch diameter in tubular pipeage. In the metropolitan jurisdiction they are the same, but not to the same extent, some being only inches.
, or even years ago, the old street channels for gully drainage were costly constructions, for they were made so as to suit sewers which were cleansed by the street being taken "up," and the offensive deposit, thick and even indurated as it often was in those days, drawn to the surface. Some few were and even feet square; some feet inches wide, and or feet high; all of brick. I am assured that of the extent or cost of these old contrivances no accounts have been preserved, but that they were more than twice as costly as the present method.
In all the reports I have seen, metropolitan or city—the statements of the flushermen being to the same purport—there are complaints as to the uses to which the gully-holes are put in many parts, every kind of refuse admissible through the bars of the grate being stealthily emptied down them. The paviours, if they have an opportunity, sweep their surplus grout into the gullies, and so do the scavagers with their refuse occasionally, though this is generally done in the less-frequented parts, to get rid of the "slop," which is valueless.
In a report, published in , Mr. Haywood points out the prevalence of the practice of using the gully-gratings as dustbins! A sewer under accumulated in a few months many cart-loads, composed almost wholly of fish-shells; and cart-loads of fish-shells, cinders, and rubbish were removed from the sewers in the vicinity of (); these had accumulated in about months. "Reconstructing the gullies," he says, "so as to intercept improper substances (which has been recently done at ), might prevent this material reaching the sewers, but it would still have to be removed from the gullies, and would thus still cause perpetual expense. Indeed, I feel convinced that nothing but making public example by convicting and punishing some offenders, under clause of 'The City of London Sewers' Act,' will stop the practice, so universal in the poorer localities, of using the gullies as dustbins."
—with very few exceptions, report states, while another report intimates that gully-trapping has no exception at all. The trap is resorted to so that the effluvium from
|a gully-drain may not infect the air of the public ways; but among engineers and medical sanitary inquirers, there is much difference of opinion as to whether the system of trapping is desirable or not. The general opinion seems to be, however, that all gullies should be trapped.|
Of the City gully-traps, Mr. Haywood, in a report for the year , says, as regards the period of their introduction:—
The gully-traps are on the principle of selfacting valves, but it is stated in several reports, that these valves often remain permanently open, partly from the street refuse (especially if mixed with the dábris from new or removed buildings) not being sufficiently liquified to pass through them, and partly from the hinges getting rusted, and so becoming fixed.
 Gully here is a corruption of the word Gullet, or throat; the Norman is guelle (Lat. gula), and the French, goulet; from this the word gully appears to be directly derived. A gully-drain is literally a gullet-drain, that is, a drain serving the purposes of a gullet or channel for liquids, and a gully-hole the mouth, orifice, or opening to the gullet or gully-drain.