In the summer of 1858, Londoners witnessed possibly the worst of stenches in known history. The smell which terrorised London for two months came from the river Thames. Along with the smell, spread a lot of deadly diseases, including cholera. This was a result of the fermentation of sewage because of a heatwave.
From 1850-1858, the population of London more than doubled. As a result, a lot of waste was produced. This waste was straight away dumped into the Thames.
Around the same time, flushable toilets were being installed in the city. Having no separate pits, all the flushed-out excreta was also channelled to the river.
Three years before the Great Stink, renowned scientist Michael Faraday is known to have said that waste from the sewers had converted the river’s water into an “opaque pale brown fluid”, having an unpleasant smell and covered with fecal matter.
In came the heat wave of 1858. Because of it, the enormous amount of waste rotting in Thames fermented at an unexpected pace, producing the intolerable odour. The then British newspapers coined the term ‘Great Stink’ describing it.
A newspaper article of the time read, “Gentility of speech is at an end–it stinks, and whoso once inhales the stink can never forget it and can count himself lucky if he lives to remember it.”
It was a widely spread information that the river was causing deadly diseases like cholera. From 1831 to 1854, 3 cholera epidemics were reported in London, killing thousands each time. Despite this, many from the higher authority believed that the fear related to the Great Stink was completely misplaced.
Thanks to scientists, we now know that cholera might have spread because of the consumption of contaminated water and not the stink. But, it is for sure that the contaminated air carried many pathogens along with it.
However, not everything was wrong with the Stink. It resulted in a series of worldwide developments in science and engineering. Because of the severity of the situation, the British Parliament passed a bill to create a new sewer system for London.
To this date, many people believe that the government took the step only because the parliament house was situated on the north bank of Thames.
An engineer named Joseph Bazalgette was assigned the task of constructing a 82-mile-long sewer system for the city. After the system was constructed, all the waste was taken away from the city and dumped into the ocean.
By finding a way to pollute the ocean, London was successful in cleaning ‘Father Thames‘ along with the drinking water.
More than 150 years later, another not so pleasant thing happened with the sewage of London. In 2017, authorities decided to find out what was clogging the sewers of London.
On investigating, the authorities came to know of a 143-ton ball of sewage. The ball was mostly made up of poop, condoms and fat. It was the size of 11 double-decker buses, even larger than the London Tower Bridge.
Here are 18 bizarre facts about the ‘Great Stink’: