Joseph Bazalgette lived from 1819 to 1891 and was one of the most distinguished Civil Engineers of the period. After considerable experience on railway projects he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1855, having previously been in the employ of the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers.The ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, when the Houses of Parliament became so smelly that the members demanded action, was the starting point of the sewer system as we know it today. Bazalgette built 83 miles of ‘interceptory’ sewers that prevented raw sewage from running into the Thames and took it to the east of London where it could be put into the river with minimal effect on the population. This system involved three major pumping stations, at Abbey Mills (in the Lea Valley), at Deptford, and at Crossness on the Erith marshes. Whilst the building remains at Abbey Mills, the pumps and engines were removed earlier this century. However, at Crossness the spectacular building and the engines and pumps they contain remain as a monument to Bazalgette’s genius in solving London’s problems.
In addition to his achievement in establishing an effective sewerage system for the whole of London, Bazalgette was also responsible for the Thames Embankments, for Battersea, Hammersmith and Putney Bridges, and many other of London’s capital projects.