London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers.


IN this enumeration I speak only of the outlets into the river, controlled and regulated by public officers.

The orifices or mouths of the sewers where they discharge themselves into the Thames, beginning from their eastern, and following them seriatim to their western extremity, are as follows:—

 Limehouse Hole. Bridge-street, Westminster. 
 Irongate Wharf. 
 Ratcliffe Cross. Pimlico. 
 Fox-lane, Shadwell. Cubitt's(also in Pimlico). 
 London Dock. Chelsea Bridge. 
 St. Katharine's Dock. Fulham Bridge. 
 The eleven City outlets, which I shall specify hereafter. Hammersmith Bridge. 
 Sandford Bridge (into a sort of creek of the 
 Essex-street, Strand. Thames), or near the four bridges. 
 Norfolk-street, Strand. 
 Durham Hill (or Adelphi). Twickenham. 
 Northumberland-street. In all, 32. 

It might only weary the reader to enumerate the outlets on the Surrey side of the Thames, which are in number, so that the public sewer outlets of the whole metropolis are in all.

The public sewer outlets from the City of London into the Thames are, as I have said, in number, or rather they are usually represented as , though in reality there are such orifices—the "Upper" and "Eastern" Sewers (which are distinct) being computed as . These outlets, generally speaking the most ancient in the whole metropolis, are—

 London Bridge. Tower Dock. 
 Ancient Walbrook. Pool Quay. 
 Paul's Wharf. Custom House. 
 The Fleet-street Sewer at Blackfriars Bridge. New Walbrook. 
 Dowgate Dock. 
 (I mention these four first, because they are the largest outlets). Hamburg Wharf. 
 Puddle Dock. 

Until recently, there was also Whitefriars Docks, but this is now attached to the Fleet Sewer outlet.

The Fleet Sewer is the oldest in London. No portion of the ditch or river composing it is now uncovered within the jurisdiction of the City; but until a little more than years ago a portion of it, north of , was uncovered, and had been uncovered for years. Indeed, as I have before intimated, barges and small craft were employed on the , and the City determined to "encourage its navigation." Even the "polite" Earl of Chesterfield, a century ago (for his lordship was born in , and died in ), when asked by a Frenchman in Paris, if there was in London a river to compare to the Seine? replied that there certainly was, and it was called Fleet Ditch! This is now the sewer; but it was not a covered sewer until , when the Corporation ordered it to be built over.

The next oldest sewer outlet is that at , and London antiquaries are not agreed as to whether it or the Fleet is the oldest.

The Fleet Sewer at is feet high; between and Fleet Bridge (about the foot of ), feet inches high; at Bridge, feet; and in its continuation in the long-unfinished , feet inches. In all these localities it is feet wide.

The New Sewer, built or rebuilt, wholly or partly, in , is feet by at its outlet; decreasing to the south end of , where it is feet by ; while it is feet by in Moorgate-street.

Paul's Wharf sewer is feet inches by feet inches near the outlet.

With the exception of the , none of the City sewer outlets are covered, the Fleet outlet being covered even at low water. The issue from the others runs in open channels upon the shore.

Mr. Haywood (), in a report of the City Sewer Transactions and Works, observes,—"During the year () the outlet sewers at and Whitefriars, of the outlets of main sewers which discharged at the line of the River Wall, have been diverted (times of storm excepted); there remain, therefore, but main outlets within the jurisdiction of this commission, which discharge their waters at the line of the River Wall.

As a temporary measure, it is expedient to convey the sewage of the whole of the outlets within the City by covered culverts, below lowwater mark; this subject has been under the consideration both of this Commission and the Navigation Committee.

Whether the covered culvert is better than the open run, is a matter disputed among engineers (as are very many other matters connected with sewerage), and into which I need not enter.

Mr. Haywood says further:—"The Fleet sewer already discharges its average flow, by a culvert, below low-water mark; with exception only, I believe, none of the numerous outlets, which, for a length of many miles, discharge at intervals into the Thames at the line of the River Wall, both within and without your jurisdiction, discharge by culverts in a similar manner."

These outlets are far from being the whole number which give their contents into "the silver bosom of the Thames," along the bank-line of the City jurisdiction. There are (including the ) outlets; but these are not under the control (unless in cases of alteration, nuisance, &c.) of the Court of Sewers. They are the outlets from the drainage of the wharfs, public buildings, or manufactories (such as gas-works, &c.) on the banks of the river; and the right to form such outlets having been obtained from the Navigation Committee, who, under the Lord Mayor, are conservators of the Thames, the care of them is regarded as a private matter, and therefore does not require further notice in this work. The officers of the City Court of Sewers observe these outlets in their rounds of inspection, but interfere only on application from any party concerned, unless a nuisance be in existence.

To convey a more definite notion of the extent and ramified sweep of the sewers, I will now describe (for the time in print) some of the chief , and then show the proportionate or average number of public ways, of inhabited houses, and of the population to each great main sewer, distinguishing, in this instance, those as which have an outlet into the Thames.

The reader should peruse the following accounts with the assistance of a map of the environs, for, thus aided, he will be better able to form a definite notion of the curiously-mixed and blended extent of the sewerage already spoken of.

, then, as to the ramifications of the great and ancient Fleet outlet. From its mouth, so to speak, near , its course is not parallel with any public way, but, running somewhat obliquely, it crosses below into , Blackfriars, then occupies the centre of , and that street's prolongation or intended prolongation into the New (the houses in this locality having been pulled down long ago, and the spot being now popularly known as "the ruins"), and continues until the City portion of the Fleet Sewer meets the Metropolitan jurisdiction between Saffron and Mutton hills, the junction, so to call it, being "under the houses" (a common phrase among flush- ermen). A little farther on it connects itself with an open part of the Fleet Ditch, running at the back of , Clerkenwell. In its City course, the sewer receives the issue from public ways (including streets, alleys, courts, lanes, &c.), which are emptied into it from the , , or smaller class sewers, from and its proximate streets, the St. Paul's locality, and its adjacent communications in public ways, with a series of sewers running down from parts of , &c. The accession of sewage, however, which the Fleet receives from issue, is a few yards beyond where the City has merged into the Metropolitan jurisdiction; this accession is from a -class sewer, known as "the Whitecrossstreet sewer," because running from that street, and carrying into the Fleet the contributions of crowded streets.

After the junction of the covered City sewer with the uncovered ditch in Clerkenwell, the Fleet-river sewer (again covered) skirts round Cold Bath Fields Prison (the Middlesex ), runs through Clerkenwell-green into the Bagnigge Wells-road, so on to Battle-bridge and King's-cross; then along the Old Saint Pancras-road, and thence to the King's-road (a name now almost extinct), where the Workhouse stands close by the turnpike-gate. Along Upper (Camden-town) is then the direction of this great sewer, and running the canal at the higher part of Camden-town, near the bridge by the terminus of the Great North Western Railway, it branches into the highways and thoroughfares of Kentish-town, of Highgate, and of Hampstead, respectively, and then, at what informant described as "the outside" of those places, receives the open ditches, which form the further sewerage, under the control of the Commissioners, who cause them to be cleansed regularly.

In order to show more consecutively the direction, from place to place, in straight, devious, or angular course, of this the most remarkable sewer of the world, considering the extent of the drainage into it, I have refrained from giving beyond the connection with the Fleet, an account of the number of streets sewered into this old civic stream. I now proceed to supply the deficiency.

From a large outlet at Clerkenwell-green (a very thickly-built neighbourhood) flows the connected sewage of streets. At , beyond King's-cross, a district which is now being built upon for the purposes of the Great Northern Railway, the sewage of streets is poured into it. In the course of this sewer along Camdentown, it receives the issue of some branches, or streets, &c. About other issues are received before the open ditches of Kentish-town, Highgate, and Hampstead are encountered.

It is not, however, merely the sewage collected in the precincts of the City proper, which is "outletted" (as I heard a flusherman call it) into the Thames. Other districts are drained into the large City outlets nearing the river. "Many of


your works," says Mr. Haywood, the City surveyer, in a report addressed to the City Commissioners, ," have been beneficially felt by districts some miles distant from the City. outlets have been provided by you for the sewage of the County of Middlesex; the high land of and about Hampstead, drains through the Fleet sewer; Holloway and a portion of can now be drained by the sewer; and the densely-populated districts adjacent are also relieved by it."

On the other hand, the Irongate sewer ( of the most important), which has its outlet in the Tower Hamlets, drains a portion of the City.

The reader must bear in mind, also, that were he to traverse the Fleet sewer in the direction described—for all the men I conversed with on the subject, if asked to show the course of sewerage with which they were familiar, began the outlet into the Thames—the reader, I say, must remember that he would be advancing all the way the stream, in a direction in which he would find the sewage flowing onward to its mouth, while his course would be towards its sources.

On the left-hand side (for the account before given refers only to the right-hand side) proceeding in the same direction, after passing the underground precincts of the City proper, there is another addition near , of the sewage of streets; then at Gray's-inn-road is added the sewage of streets; New-road (at King's-cross), more streets; from the whole of Somers-town, a populous locality, the sewerage concentrating all the busy and crowded places round about "the Brill," &c., the sewage of streets is received; and at , Camden-town, other streets.

Thus into this sewage-current, directed to final outlet, are drained the refuse of streets, including, of course, a variety of minor thoroughfares, courts, alleys, &c., &c., as in the neighbourhoods of Gray's-inn-road, in Clerkenwell, Somerstown, &c. Some of these tributaries to the efflux of the sewage are "barrel-drains," but perform the function of sewers along small courts, where there is "no thoroughfare" either or the surface.

The sewer runs up to Moorgate-street, along Finsburysquare into the City-road, diverging near the Wharf-road, which it crosses the canal near the , and thence along the Lower-road, , by , through Highbury-vale; after this, at the extremity of Holloway, the open ditches, as in the former instance, carry on the conveyance of sewage from the outer suburbs.

The King's Scholars' Pond Sewer—which seems to have given the Commissioners more trouble than any other, in its connection with Buckingham Palace, St. James's Park, and the new Houses of Parliament—runs from Chelsea-bridge past Cubitt's workshops, and along the King's-road to Eatonsquare, the whole of which is drained into it; then "turning round," as man described it, it approaches Buckingham Palace, which, with its grounds, as well as a portion of St. James's and the Green parks, is drained into this sewer; then branching away for the reception of the sewage from the houses and gardens of , it drains , and, crossing the Knightsbridge-road, runs through or across Hyde-park to the Swan at Bayswater, whence its course is by the Westbourne District and under the canal, along Paddington, until it attains the open country, or rather the grounds, in that quarter, which have been very extensively and are now still being built over, and where new sewers are constructed simultaneously with new streets.

Thus in the "reach," as I heard it happily enough designated, of each of these great sewers, the reader will see from a map the extent of the subterranean metropolis traversed, alike along crowded streets ringing with the sounds of traffic, among palatial and aristocratic domains, and along the parks which adorn London, as well as winding their ramifying course among the courts, alleys, and teeming streets, the resorts of misery, poverty, and vice.

Estimating, then, the number of sewers from the number of their river outlets, and regarding all the rest as the branches, or tributaries, to each of these superior streams, we have, adopting the area before specified as being drained by the metropolitan sewers, viz., square miles, the following results:—

Each of the sewers having an outlet into the Thames drains statute acres.

And assuming the number of houses included within these square miles to be , and the population to amount to , or twothirds of the houses and people included in the Registrar-General's Metropolis, we may say that each of the sewers would carry into the Thames the refuse from individuals and inhabited houses. This, however, is partly prevented by the cesspoolage system, which supplies receptacles for a proportion of the refuse that, were London to be rebuilt according to the provisions of the present Building and Sanitary Acts, would be carried, without any interception, into the river Thames by the media of the sewers.

In my account of cesspoolage I shall endeavour to show the extent of fæcal refuse, &c., contained in places not communicating with the sewers, and to be removed by the labour of men and horses, as well as the amount of fæcal refuse carried into the sewerage.


[] This outlet is known to the flushermen, &c., as "below the backs of houses," from its devious course under the houses without pursuing any direct line parallel with the open part of the streets.

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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