Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Out of Sight

The central heating fires up automatically. We turn on a tap to fill the kettle and drinking water pours out. We flip a switch and the kettle boils. We have a nice strong cup of tea. [See how to make one properly here]. Some time after we need to go to the loo and we flush our waste products away.

All of these things are part of the unseen infrastructure of our daily lives. We just take them for granted. I am a fan of Victorian engineering. Brunel is the most famous I suppose because his bridges are still there and highly visible. In those days things were built to last. Imperial typewriters and Singer sowing machines are still many and plenty. They don’t wear out. Everyone has got one tucked away in the attic somewhere. Those huge brick built viaducts up north that take the Carlisle to Settle railway across the dales could not be built today – planning permission would a problem for a start never mind the skills needed.
a plan of the London sewers Which brings me to Joseph Bazalgette – my favourite, and the subject of a recent BBC article here. He is the engineer who built the London sewers. There are some surface structures like the fabulous pumping station at Abbey Mills in Stratford but they go largely un-noticed. Click for some impressive photos. The sewers themselves are a marvel of engineering, brick built to the same standards as those viaducts and just as impressive. Click. They are still there and they still do their unseen daily work despite the increased load placed upon them. Can you imagine anything built today lasting that long? The Northern Outflow Sewer runs through Newham down to Beckton Sewage works and is largely above ground level covered by earth and grass. The surface is now classed as a Greenway and when I lived in Newham I would take my kids cycling there. I knew what was underneath and that I was riding on the work of a giant.


  1. Quintessential of the age. From Victorian giants to modern pygmies (no disrespect to the Baka).

    The best that Joseph Bazalgette's great-great grandson Peter can do is to bring us "Big Brother".

    The mental infrastructure is crumbling indeed.

  2. It seems His great great grandson is still dabbling in crap.
    Ron King