The construction of pipe and underground systems have been around in one form or another for thousands of years, with the Romans developing cement and concrete similar to that used today.
The first sewer pipes were built of brick and mortar in the Indus Valley in 2500 BC. Some of these systems, constructed by the Persians, Macedonians and Minoans, contained brick-lined pits similar to modern septic systems. Eventually, the Romans and Greeks built extensive open sewer systems of brick and stone that carried effluent and trash to cesspools constructed of stone or concrete. Solids would then settle to the bottom and liquid would flow to nearby bodies of water. Rivers and waterways were used as free-flowing open sewers causing illness and death through the Country.
In the mid-19th century, London was suffering from recurring epidemics of choler, with more than 10,000 people dying of the disease between 1853 – 1854. It was believed at the time to be caused by foul air.
The hot summer of 1858 created the ‘Great Stink of London’, which overwhelmed all those who went near the Thames – including the occupants of Parliament. This, together with the frequent occurrence of cholera, gave impetus to legislation enabling the metropolitan board to begin work on sewers and street improvements. By 1866 most of London was connected to a sewer network devised by London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, Chief Engineer, Joseph Bazalgette.
He ensured that the flow of foul water from old sewers and underground rivers was intercepted and diverted along new, low-level sewers, built behind embankments on the riverfront and taken to new treatment works.
By 1870 both the Albert and the Victoria Embankments had been opened. These replaced the tidal mud of the Thames shore with reclaimed ground for riverside roads and gardens behind their curved river walls. The Victoria Embankment protected Bazalgette’s low-level sewer, as well as a service subway and the underground railway. The Chelsea Embankment was completed in 1874, reclaiming over 52 acres from the Thames. Six main interceptor sewers, totalling almost 160 km (100 miles) in length, were constructed, some incorporating stretches of London’s “lost” rivers.
Three of these sewers were north of the river, the southernmost, low-level one being incorporated in the Thames Embankment. The Embankment also allowed new roads, new public gardens, and the Circle line of the London Underground. Victoria Embankment was finally officially opened on 13 July 1870.
The intercepting sewers, constructed between 1859 and 1865, were fed by 450 miles (720 km) of main sewers that, in turn, conveyed the contents of some 13,000 miles (21,000 km) of smaller local sewers. Construction of the interceptor system required 318 million bricks, 2.7 million cubic metres of excavated earth and 670,000 cubic metres of concrete.
The innovative use of Portland cement strengthened the tunnels many of which are still in good order.
The first sewer systems in the United States were built in the late 1850s in Chicago and Brooklyn. In the United States, the first sewage treatment plant using chemical precipitation was built in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1890.
For over 150 years, concrete pipes have been used in the UK, with a proven history of performance these pipes are still in operation. When a concrete pipe was discovered in 1891 it was found to be in good working order.
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