Another extract from my collection of the Illustrated London News of 1845 – this time a short item on the enlargement of the earlier sewer system running under Fleet Street.

As subterranean structures are a long running passion of mine, the two pictures are what make the item of most interest for me. Click on the images for larger versions.

You will also probably notice in the first drawing below, the Temple Bar in its original location blocking Fleet Street. It was removed in 1878 and sold to the owner of Theobalds House in Hertfordshire, where it remained until being moved back to London in 2004 and placed next to St Paul’s Cathedral.


Englarging the Fleet Sewer - 1


The works in progress for deepening the Sewer of Fleet-street have attracted considerable attention, partially from the obstruction which they have presented to the public traffic. They are, however, of intrinsic interest although the Sewer of Fleet-street cannot compete, in antiquity, with the ancient water-course known as the Fleet Ditch, –

The king of dykes, than whom no slice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood

It appears that although Sewers have been constructed in London for upwards of four centuries, it is only within the last ten or fifteen years that the drainage of the City has been satisfactorily accomplished. Hitherto, it was very defective and imperfect; some of the smaller streets having a Sewer, while the larger thoroughfares, as Cheapside, Ludgate Hill, &c., had none. From time to time, however, this evil has been remedied; and the Sewerage is now nearly completed.

The Sewer of Fleet-street, the subject of our Engraving, having been found insufficient to carry of the water, for which it was intended, it became necessary to cut deeper, and construct a new sewer: the greatest requisite depth is 25 feet, which decreased to about 17 feet near Temple Bar; hence the Sewer runs easterly to Water Lane, where it is joined by another Sewer, which runs into Whitefriars Dock.

One of our Engravings conveys an idea of the extraordinary labour requisite for excavating the ground to the requisite depth, and the numerous provisions against accidents in the dangerous operation. Such is the underground labour; whilst the difficulty of keeping open the traffic, so as not to extinguish the “very animated appearance” of Fleet-street, is a work of much difficulty. The cost of the present undertaking, contracted for by Messrs. Ward and Son, of Aldersgate-street, is £2000.

There do not appear to be published data from which the total extend of the metropolitan Sewers can be ascertained. The Holborn and Finsbury divisions contain eighty-three miles. In addition to these, there are sixteen miles of smaller Sewers, to carry off the surface-water from the streets and roads, and two hundred and fifty-four miles of drains leading from houses to the main Sewers.

Englarging the Fleet Sewer - 2


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  3. […] through a series of pipes and culverts. Joseph Bazalgette integrated these rivers into his sewer system, using them as storm-relief drains to carry overspill into the Thames when the main east-west […]

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