London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage.


THERE is other purpose toward which a sewer is available—a purpose, too, which I do not remember to have seen specified in the Metropolitan Reports.

The first, and perhaps most important purpose of sewers, as respects health," says the Report of Messrs. Walker, Cubitt, and Brunel (1848), "is, as under-drains to the surrounding earth. They answer this purpose so effectually and quietly, and have done it so long, that their importance in this respect is overlooked. In the Sanitary Commissioners' Reports we do not find it once noticed, and the recommendation of the substitution of stone or earthenware pipes for the larger brick sewers, seems to show, that any provision for the under-drainage was thought unnecessary, although such a provision is in our opinion most important.

Under the artificial ground, the collection of ages, which in the City of London, as in most ancient towns, forms the upper surface, is a considerable thickness of clean gravel, and under the gravel is the London clay. The present houses are founded chiefly on the artificial or 'made ground,' while the sewers are made through the gravel; and it is known practically, that however charged with water the gravel of a district may be, the springs for a considerable distance round are drawn down by making a sewer, and the wells that had water within a few feet of the surface have again to be sunk below the bottom of the sewer to reach the water. Every interstice between the stones of the gravel acts as an underdrain to conduct the water to the sewer, through the sides of which it finds its way, even if mortar be used in the construction.

Hence the salubrity of a gravel foundation, if the water be drawn out of it by sewers or other means, as is the case with the City and with Westminster. A proof of this principle was afforded by the result of a reference to physicians and engineers in 1838, to inquire into the state of drainage and smells in and near Buckingham Palace, as to which there had been complaints, though none so heavy as Mr. Phillips now makes, when he says, 'that the drainage of Buckingham Palace is extremely defective, and that its precincts are reeking with filth and pestilential odours from the absence of proper sewerage!'

The Report then shows the pains that were taken to ensure dryness in the Palace. Pits were dug in the garden feet below the surface, and feet below high-water mark in the river, and they were found dry to the bottom. The kitchens and yard of the palace are, however, only inches above Trinity high-water mark in the Thames, and therefore inches below a very high tide. The physician, Sir James Clarke, and the engineers, Messrs. Simpson and Walker, in a separate Report, spoke in terms of commendation of the drainage of the Palace in , as promotive of dryness. Since that time a connecting chain has been made from the Palace drains into the canal in St. James's-park, to prevent the wet from rising as formerly during heavy rains. "The Palace," it is stated in the Report of the engineers, "should not be classed with the low part of , where the drainage is, we believe, very defective, and to which, for anything we know to the contrary, the character given by Mr. Phillips may be applicable."

Unfortunately, however, for this array of opinions of high authority, and despite the advantages of a gravel bed for the substratum of the palatial sewerage, the drainage and sewerage about Buckingham Palace is more frequently than that of any other public place under repair, and is always requiring attention. It was only a few days ago, before the court left Windsor Castle for London, that men were employed night and day, on the drains and cesspoolage channels, to make, as of them described it to me—and such working-men's descriptions are often forcible—"the place I was hardly ever," he added, "in such a set of stinks as I've been in the sewers and underground parts of the palace."

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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