The group of writers from Hourly History provided this free read, Joseph Bazalgette, A Life from Beginning to End. Because I signed up for the Hourly History newsletter, I receive an email each Friday which offers several, usually six, free books. These same books are available on Amazon, sometimes free and sometimes for USD 2.99. The way Hourly History rotates the books they offer for free, almost everything offered on Amazon is offered through the newsletter at one time or another for free. Theme-based collections are treated differently and are not usually offered free, but the books in the collections can be read separately for free. How is this not a total win for readers?
Most books I see offered from Hourly History are about individuals, institutions, or ideas I know something about. But there is always some obscure fact or new perspective that I find in each Hourly History offering. For Joseph Bazalgette, I read the work with no prior knowledge. True, I could have used Google or Wikipedia, but I wanted to enjoy this presentation about the life of someone completely unknown to me. What has this person contributed to the relatively comfortable lifestyle I lead? Can I bring up his name at party conversations and impress friends with new knowledge? At the very least, I can introduce my colleagues to Hourly History.
The problem outlined in this book, the pollution of the Thames and the resultant diseases suffered by the populace of London, should make modern-day climate change advocates and critics wake up. Before Bazalgette’s improvements to the city’s drainage system, Cholera, Typhus, and Typhoid were a common presence in city life. The diseases were wiped out almost overnight when the cause and effect connection between the diseases and filthy water was accepted. Bazalgette pioneered construction of a drainage system using previously untried building materials. He also established a set of minimum standards for acceptable construction.
Joseph Bazalgette is an example of a person who gave back to society out of a sense of duty. With a wealthy grandfather who was a member of the nobility and a father who lived a comparatively comfortable life as a military pensioner, Joseph did not have to worry about money. He served as an apprentice to a renowned bridge and road builder which served as a basis for his education as an engineer. By age 23, Joseph had opened his civil engineering consultancy firm. By age 30, he was appointed an assistant surveyor to the Metropolitan Sewers Commission
Chapter Three gives a background of London’s water supply from the thirteenth century up to 1849, the year in which Bazalgette joined the Metropolitan Sewers Commission. This chapter deals with problems the government caused by incompetence and good intentions. It would probably be difficult to assign responsibility to an individual or an organization for the problem. Seven organizational authorities dealt with water supply and sewage. With no coordination between them, a systemic improvement by any one authority would put increased pressure on the others. This lack of coordination did not stop the implementation of a city-wide order that decreed all cesspools would be joined to a sewer system draining into the Thames. There was already a problem of cesspools leaking into groundwater that eventually made its way to the Thames; the city-wide mandate added to the problem.
From 1849 to 1856 there were a series of six commissions organized to solve sewage problems. Bazalgette served in some position on all commissions which, once again, gave him an education about the problem, various proposed solutions, financial requirements, and the political realities of getting support for proposed programs. At the same time Bazalgette was concerned with sewage problems, he was directed to find solutions to increased London traffic congestion. These were somewhat related problems as Bazalgette had to consider building sewage tunnels and pumping stations without disrupting roads. His solution, the construction of embankments created out of earth dredged from rivers, led to the creation of new roads. Bazalgette then had to come up with schemes to connect the new roads to established thoroughfares. These visible constructions, not the concealed sewer system, brought Bazalgette public recognition and eventually a knighthood.
Bazalgette was also tasked with eliminating tolls on bridges. When he began the task, there were only three toll-free bridges. In attempting to take over the private, toll bridges, many were found inadequately maintained. Bazalgette was forced to destroy some of them and design better bridge replacements.
Another associated task that fell to Bazalgette was dealing with slum housing. The problem became prominent as the land had to be purchased for rights of way for newly constructed roads. Those living in slums had to be rehoused. While constructing sewers, building roads and bridges, and clearing slums, Bazalgette designed aesthetically with a view to a future that included land area reserved for city parks.
Bazalgette had a very busy life publicly and professionally. This book enumerates the many projects that still exist and are functional today. This book will please those who love detail. Exactly how many miles of sewer were constructed? Why was Portland cement chosen by Bazalgette for the construction of sewer bricks? This book has the answers. London residents will also enjoy this history of the construction of their city.
Personally, Bazalgette found the time to head a family that included ten children. Building never stops. I rate this novel at five stars inside a series, Hourly History, that also deserves five stars. I will continue to read their quick surveys of history.