Home | Membership | News | Diary | Walks | Calvocoressi Fund | Books | Links | Database | e-papers | About us

Book reviews - August 1999

'The Great Stink of London, and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. Sir Joseph Bazalgette', by Stephen Halliday
The 221-page book (ISBN 0-7509-1975-2), published in May 1999 by Sutton Publishing Ltd, costs £19.99 (hardback)
The casual observer may think this book to be an biography of Sir Joseph Bazalgette. The author is the first to admit this is not so. There is so little written personal correspondence or personal diaries of J W Bazalgette that a biography is near impossible to write. The book explains just how the 'Great Stink' came about, the many suggestions as to how Victorian London and, in particular, the river Thames might be cleaned up, and exactly how the Metropolitan Board of Works, led by chief engineer Bazalgette, resolved the problem. Halliday picks his way through a labyrinth of commissions, committees and individuals who tried unsuccessfully to cleanse London and put an end to a series of cholera epidemics which killed Londoners by the thousands. He introduces us to a host of well-known personalities of the day who had their own theories as to the cause of the dread disease. The book is laced with vignettes of Sir Edwin Chadwick, Justus von Liebig, W H Smith, Robert Koch, Dr John Snow and many others, building a picture of those who were interested in solving the problems of London's ill health.

Halliday not only informs us how Bazalgette set about laying down over 82 miles of major intercepting sewers, the problems encountered, the building of the necessary pumping stations and outfalls, but also gives an insight to the many other projects with which the great man was involved.

The author's research has been widespread and thorough, evidenced by ten pages of annotation and six pages of bibliography. It is a shame, therefore, that inaccuracies have been allowed to creep in - the misspelling of 'toshers' to 'tossers', incorrect captioning of a photograph and the under-estimation of the weight of the beam engines installed at Crossness. That said, this is a book that should grace the library of every serious and self-respecting industrial archaeologist or indeed anyone with an interest in how London acquired its first comprehensive main drainage. Peter Skilton

'Discover Sydenham and Catford', by Darrell Spurgeon
The 96-page book (ISBN 0-9515624-7-9), published in May 1999, costs £5.99 (paperback). Copies are available from Darrell Spurgeon, 72 Kidbroke Grove, London SE3 0LG. Please make cheques payable to Darrell Spurgeon and add 50p for p&p
This is the eighth in a series of guidebooks of the south-east London area. It covers Sydenham, Crystal Palace, Forest Hill, Catford, Hither Green and Grove Park and contains much of interest to industrial archaeologists including entries on the Crystal Palace site, the Bell Green Gas Works, Livesey Memorial Hall, Honor Oak Pumping Station and the numerous railways that criss-cross this part of London. With introductions to each area, detailed gazetteers of key buildings/features, and maps, this book is a valuable companion to an area worth exploring.

© GLIAS, 1999