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Guide to the Sanitary Reform of London: The Working Collection of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, ca. 1785-1969
DA676 .S26 1785  
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Access Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Sanitary Reform of London: the working collection of Sir Joseph Bazalgette,
    Date (inclusive): ca. 1785-1969
    Collection number: DA676 .S26 1785
    Creator: Bazalgette, Joseph
    Extent: 455 items
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Abstract: The collection documents the history of the sanitary evolution of London from the 1840s to the early twentieth century. Some 4500 separate printed, typescript, and manuscript items trace the stages by which the drainage and fresh water supply for London was introduced-- in its time perhaps the greatest feat of urban civil engineering that had ever been undertaken. Materials include maps, engineering designs, the working papers, both public and private, of the Metropolitan Water Board, legal briefs and numerous pamphlets describing sanitation projects outside London. The heart of the collection is the working library of Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), the chief engineer who designed and implemented London's drainage and embankment systems. Balzagette's library formed part of the collection at the original Board of Works, which later became the Metropolitan Water Board. The collection documents the early period of urban improvement which laid the basis for healthy life in the modern city.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    There are no restrictions on access.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.

    Preferred Citation

    Sanitary Reform of London: The Working Collection of Sir Joseph Bazalgette. DA676 .S26 1785. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased, 1997.


    formerly in the library of the Metropolitan Water Board (London, England).


    AUSTIN, Henry

    Water engineer. Henry Austin, Consulting Engineer for the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, wrote a paper for Chadwick's 1842 Enquiry into Large Towns and in 1844 became secretary of The Health of Towns Association. Described by Finer as Chadwick's 'favourite engineer'. According to Finer, Austin's plan for the sewers was 'beautifully imaginative'. The problem, that of Westminster, posed this question: how could one discharge sewage in a district lying below water-level? Austin's solution involved a series of pumps and small bore pipes, carrying the liquid manure to farms on all sides.

    BAZALGETTE, Sir Joseph W.

    Chief Engineer to the Board of Works. In 1851 a fourth Commission of Sewers was appointed. Bazalgette was to be chief engineer. His appointment confirmed the ascendency of engineers over Chadwick and the sanitarians. At the same time Cubitt and Stephenson were appointed consultants. Through 1854 Bazalgette and the engineers fought a battle with Chadwick and the Board of Health over the use of pipes. Bazalgette bore a personal grudge against Chadwick. He had applied for the post of Assistant Surveyor to the Metropolitan Commission in 1849, submitting as his theses a paper on "the Establishment of Public Conveniences", a matter then commanding much Metropolitan attention, but was beaten by John Grant who wrote on the "Working of Tubes in open ditches" (April 1849). The hostility between sanitarians and engineers was a sad fact. Those who should have worked together seemed to be expending their energy in opposing each other. Bazalgette circulated reports hostile to the Board of Health and these were of great use to those who opposed sanitary reform altogether. See S. E. Finer The life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick pp 448-452. By 1858 the Board of Health was completely extinguished and the Board of Works was set up in its place with Bazalgette appointed chief engineer. In the hands of this new body Bazalgette's intercepting sewer system was adopted and Chadwick's influence eclipsed.

    FORSTER, Frank.

    Engineer to the Commission of Sewers. In 1849 the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers and the General Board of Health were formally separated. A third Commission of Sewers was formed. Robert Stephenson was brought in and with him a clique of associates from the Birmingham Railway project. Their ideas of town drainage were nebulous, but they had experience of driving tunnels, and put great faith in the strength of the brick arch. Almost their first act was to appoint as Engineer to the Commission Frank Foster, an assistant to Stephenson. Forster was a firm believer in tunnel-sewers. This new Commission was deliberately constructed to exclude Chadwick's influence and to him it was a declaration of war for the sanitary destiny of London. In the event the principle of the intercepting tunnel was favoured, and Forster was bidden to prepare a workable scheme. In August 1850 his plan for the Southern out fall was accepted and in January 1851 the plan for the North bank. Thus the tunnel scheme had triumphed. See S. E. Finer, The life and Times of Sir Edwin Chadwick pp 380, 441.

    HAWKSLEY, Thomas.

    Water engineer. Hawksley was one of the witnesses called by Chadwick to give evidence to the Health of Towns Commission which reported in 1844 and which was the basis for all the subsequent legislation of the 'forties and 'fifties. He was the only water engineer called. In 1830 Hawksley had undertaken a new waterworks at Nottingham and it was his success here which first brought him to Chadwick's attention. At the start Chadwick placed great reliance on Hawksley's evidence and opinion. Hawksley had proved the efficiency and economy of "constant supply" on the proof of which the whole structure of Chadwick's sanitary plan depended. In 1844 when Chadwick made his only illfated attempt into private business with the creation of the "Towns improvement company" it was Hawksley he choose to one of the companies engineers. By 1847 however Chadwick had managed to provoke the undying hostility of Hawksley and the water engineers - a matter which was to have a sinister outcome for Chadwick's career. In that year Chadwick took Roe's side against Hawksley in a technical debate and from then on began consistently to discredit Hawksley's work. Hawksley now became Chadwick's most pertinacious enemy. In 1851 he set out to show that water-supply and drainage should not be united under one body: "In the one case it is a supply of ...goods...in the other simply removal of a nuisance!" In saying this Hawksley struck at Chadwick's core belief in one unified arterial water and sewage system. By 1850 the pattern had become one of entrenched opposition between Chadwick and the engineers. On the one hand Chadwick champion a system of pipes where the engineers favoured brick-built sewers. The engineers resented the continuous intrusion of a nonprofessional in the details of their own profession. Also they thought of their profits. Chadwick on the other hand was motivated by a desire for efficiency and economy which he thought would result from his single unified system. The antagonism between Chadwick and Hawksley did not abate. In 1876 the committee of the Social Science Association invited, of all people, Hawksley to take the presidency, and to an audience from which Chadwick was notably absent he delivered a paper attacking parliamentary interference and centralization in the history of sanitary improvement. Too much can be said of the unfortunate conflict between Chadwick and Hawksley. Hawksley was described by Chadwick's champion F. E. Finer as "England's greatest water engineer." His invention of the "constant system" conferred one of the greatest practical benefits technology was to bestow on Victorian populations. His part in the creation of the water and sewage system of London was of the greatest importance. To mark his eminence he was elected president of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1901.

    HEYWOOD, William

    Surveyor to the Commissioners for Sewers. In 1846 William Haywood at the age of twenty-four, a man of considerable abilities, was appointed full time surveyor to the Commissioners of Sewers. He immediately drew up competent surveys, began to clean out cess pools by machine, and in 1848 embarked on a plan for flushing the sewers. Heywood was in fact responsible for introducing a good sewer system and sanitation to the City of London and he worked in close co-operation with Sir John Simon. The City, it seems, regarded Haywood's as the more important contribution; in 1853 Simon's salary was £800 a year whilst Heywood's salary was increased to £1,200 - a token of the City's growing regard for his sanitary work.

    LETHEBY, Henry.

    Medical Officer of Health for London. Henry Letheby, of the London Hospital, regularly advised the Corporation on Gas and other questions. He stood against Simon in the election for the Medical Officer of Health for London in 1848, his candidature supported by the Lancet. In October 1849 he succeeded John Simon as Medical Officer of Health for the City of London. Unlike Simon he was uninspired, plodding and efficient and possessed just those qualities of meticulous, patient administrator which Simon lacked. The result was that the Second Officership of Health in the years 1855-74 produced several very solid achievements. Letheby, in 1857, secured a special Lodging House Inspector and, in 1866, four full time Sanitary Inspectors and was thus able to make the supervision system against the evils of bad housing much more effective. His achievement was to fulfil Simon's 'visionary' programme of 1849 and the City long remained the model for Sanitation. See Royston Lambert, Sir John Simon p.214-6

    RAWLINSON, Robert.

    Engineer. He was a distinguished engineer and stood against Bazalgette for the post of chief engineer to the Board of Works in 1851. In 1869 he was called in to examine a claim by the inhabitants of Barking that the river was seriously polluted there by sewage out falls. Rawlinson accepted that the out falls may have been too close to central London but in the main his enquiry did not support the complaint. See David Owen The Government of Victorian London. 1982 p. 44, 66. Later Rawlinson became Chief Inspector to the Local Government Board.

    SIMON, Sir John. (1816-1904),

    first Medical Officer of Health of the City of London. Simon entered government service when Chadwick retired (or was forced out) of it. The unpopular General Board of Health did not long survive Chadwick. Its powers were transferred to a committee of the Privy Council with Simon as medical officer and then to the Medical Department of the Local Government Board. The Local Government Board ran from 1870 to 1919 and during that period was one of the most powerful and important departments of state. What inevitably happened was a struggle between the old Poor Law officials and the officials for the Board of Health within the new Board. In this struggle the Poor Law officials came out triumphant and Sir John Simon, who might have expected to become Joint Secretary, was pushed to one side. John Lambert became supreme and the old Poor Law administration continued unchanged. In effect Public Health became absorbed into and subordinate to the Poor Law. The Local Government Board remained supreme until 1919 when some of its powers were transferred to the new the Ministry of Health - a Ministry which Bentham had advocated nearly a hundred years before. The Privy Council epoch 1858-1872 was Simon's period of greatest achievement. Chadwick and the officials of the Poor Law Board were suspicious of purely medical solutions. Their emphasis was on prevention. Simon, in fact, felt strongly that public health reform had been ill-served by being subsumed within Poor-Law considerations. His training in scientific research gave him a professional authority which Chadwick lacked. According to Sir Arthur Newsholme, sometime Medical Officer of Health for the Local Government Board, "Simon led, and in a large measure determined, the course of public health reform between the year 1855, when he left the service of the City for that of the State, and the year 1876 when the left the Local Government Board.

    WICKSTEED, Thomas.

    Mechanical engineer. Engineer to the London Sewage Company, 1847, dissolved 1848. Formed and managed Patent Solid Sewage Company at Leicester 1851-65. One of the group of engineers opposed by Chadwick. In Leicester Chadwick tried to prevent Wicksteed's appointment. R. Stevenson stepped in to defend him.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    "London was the first city to create a complex civic administration which could coordinate modern urban services, from public transport to housing, clean water to education. London's County Council was acknowledged as the most progressive metropolitan government in the world. Fifty years earlier, London had been the worst slum city of the industrialized world over-crowded, congested, polluted and ridden with disease. Public outcry and Victorian confidence, backed by support from the press, led to inspired planning legislation, and crucially, to the creation of the L.C.C. This pioneering approach to London's management survived 100 years. "
    --Sir Richard Rogers. The fourth Reith Lecture. March, 1995.
    The collection embodies the history of the sanitary evolution of London. It dates mainly from the 1840's and 50's when reform really began until the formation of the London County Council, the Metropolitan Water Board and beyond well into the twentieth century. It documents in enormous detail the stages by which the drainage and fresh water supply for London was introduced - in its time perhaps the greatest feat of urban civil engineering that had ever been undertaken. The collection spans the whole early period of urban improvement which laid the basis for healthy life in the modern city.
    It is the collection of the working books, official papers, and pamphlets of Sir Joseph Bazalgette which formed part of the collection at the Board of Works, later transferred to the Metropolitan Water Board. It was continuously added to and grew to be an archive of considerable size and was, until recently, housed at the head Office of the Metropolitan Water Board at Sadler's Wells, London.
    Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891) joined the Metropolitan Commission for Sewers in 1848. In 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works came into being with Bazalgette as chief engineer. Schemes for the drainage of London came to a conclusion in 1858 when Disraeli passed an enabling act and Bazalgette' s designs began to be implemented. In 1865 the magnificent system of main drainage was opened by the Prince of Wales, though the whole work was not finished until 1875. The other great engineering work with which Bazalgette's name will always be associated is the London Embankment, a task which he was asked to undertake in 1862. Bazalgette remained chief engineer to the Board of Works until its abolition in 1889 when it was replaced by the London County Council.
    This is the working collection of the man and the agency at the heart of the implementation of sanitary reform and as such is a collection which could not be recreated. Nothing has been added. Some useful secondary material is present which supplements the research archive of primary materials. Much of this is unique, and has almost certainly never been systematically examined by scholars in the field.
    The collection contains in all some 4,500 separate printed, typescript and manuscript items bound, in the main, in some 550 substantial volumes. A large number of these items are Board of Works or Metropolitan Water Board working papers and memoranda. Typically each important Report or Enquiry is present together with the various stages of manuscript proposals or minutes of meetings, private printed papers, drafts, proof copies emended in manuscript, blue papers, white papers and the eventual public document or government paper when there was one. Each of these - and there are a large number - provide an insight into how public work was carried out whether by the Board of Works, the Water Board or Government Committees. Taken together they provide an immense amount of evidence about how the sewage and water system London and other cities evolved.
    Of an overall total of 4,500 items nearly 500 are pamphlets from the period 1849-1871 - 30 at least by Bazalgette himself. These pamphlet collections, bound in 16 fat octavo volumes, bear throughout presentation inscriptions, signatures, and ownership markings of Joseph Bazalgette. These form the core of the collection.
    When in 1887 Benjamin Ward Richardson came to make his selection of the works of the eminent sanitarian and poor-law reformer Edwin Chadwick he cleverly entitled his work The Health of Nations. This resonant title clearly contains a reminder of Adam Smith's great work on economics published just over a century earlier. Smith and the economists of the eighteenth century had spoken about the creation of wealth and the importance of free industry in the pursuit of that goal. Chadwick and the social reformers of the nineteenth century focused instead on the living and working conditions of the masses of the people whose labour had enabled that creation of wealth to proceed.
    The article on Laissez - Faire in the 1925 edition of Palgravets Dictionary of Political Economy lists among "recent laws interfering with free industry ...laws relating to town life," including the various public health acts. To these could be added the factory acts and the numerous government measures regulating the working and living conditions of the people. Just as Britain had been the home of the industrial revolution so it was also the place of origin for the whole framework of regulation and social provision which set out to temper the effects of unbridled industrial capitalism on the lives of the masses of the people. The philosophy of the greatest happiness of the greatest number arose at precisely the moment when it was needed as a rationale for distributing the benefits created by the industrial process. Bentham and his foremost disciple Chadwick set in process a massive programme of regulation and control which was to culminate in the creation of the great instruments of state intervention, the boards and later the ministries such as the Local Government Board and its successor the Ministry of Health and, as far a local government was concerned, the London County Council and its ancillary, the Metropolitan Water Board.
    Chadwick had campaigned tirelessly for the nationalisation of water. All his experience showed him that it was something that could not be left to private profit. It is worth remembering that when Edwin Chadwick came to examine the accounts of some of the private water-supply companies in and around London - the same companies which for profit had been poisoning and killing the inhabitants of London with sewage-polluted drinking water - he found "a good round sum" set down for opposing the Public Health Acts. The Metropolitan Water Board was a unified public monopoly for the distribution of one of the vital necessities of life. Although Chadwick did not live to see it, its creation in 1902 was none the less in some large part his doing. And the motivation for all this was more than a philanthropic spirit or a mere desire for fairness: the terrible epidemics of cholera which ravaged the great cities of Britain in the mid-century were the nemesis of generations of squalid and insanitary housing and working conditions and overcrowded and unplanned urban developments which came with the industrial revolution. Slowly it entered the consciousness of the rich and the comfortable, whose numbers rapidly increased with Victorian prosperity, that they had a vital interest in the health and welfare of the poorer masses of society for it directly affected their own.
    This is the context for the story of the sanitary development of London. The prophet, the architect and visionary behind the planning was Edwin Chadwick. His middle class love of order, his hatred of waste whether of material or human resources, his care over details, his exceptional diligence, his faith in systematic organization, his mastery of the bureaucratic technique exactly fitted him for the task of implementing Bentham's theories. Chadwick in his turn looked to men like Joseph Bazalgette and Thomas Hawksley, the great Victorian civil engineers, to turn his vision into reality. The successes and failures of Chadwick's endeavour, his relationship with Bazalgette, his championship of and then conflict with Hawksley, the story of the struggle between the vested interest of the water companies and the public good as Chadwick perceived it are all revealed in the details of this magnificent collection in incomparable detail it reveals the process of implementation of what is arguably the most important public health reform ever seen in this country. The results in terms of a better quality of life, and the improved mortality of towns and cities are incalculable.
    This is a collection of obvious national importance but its implications are in fact even wider. The civil engineering techniques for providing clean water and a system of sewage disposal pioneered in London and British industrial cities set a model for the developing world to follow. The broader issues of town planning and control of the urban environment are also of the greatest importance. Indeed the issues of pollution and the effect on the environment of man's industrial processes and of his concentration in crowded cities has suddenly become, in the last two decades of the twentieth century, a matter more pressing and urgent than it was even to our Victorian ancestors. It is a problem for which individualism or even the individual action of states will not provide the answer. Its solution will certainly need the determination, the diligence and above all the collective will of which Victorian civilization, in its best aspects, provided such a notable and admirable example.

    Access Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
    Sewage disposal--England--London.
    Metropolitan Water Board (London, England)
    Bazalgette, Joseph William, Sir, 1819-1891.