Diary of Joseph Bazalgette


Katie has written diary entries from the point of view of Joseph Bazalgette, who revolutionised London sewers to prevent disease. Such a well-researched and thoughtful piece of writing.

Monday 9th July 1849

I have rediscovered something abominable. The sewers and streets of London. The endless pipes act as catacombs for the thickening layers of bodily waste that line the walls. The streets alone are riddled with piles of faeces that are occasionally carted off only to be replaced by a more odorous, fresher piles of excretion. I was brought into this world of inhumane filth after an outbreak of cholera besieged a large area of London near me. I had had enough…

I have been adopted into the Metropolitan Commissioners of sewers as an assistant surveyor. My first task was to assess the state of the sewage system at an adapt level. Never have I felt more disgusted by London’s hygiene.


Tuesday 10th July 1849

The Metropolitan Commissioners and I have had no breakthroughs and no ideas, so we have turned to the public. One of our men wrote an article in The Times to ask whether anyone had ideas. Obviously, everyone wanting to make a difference, and I being the one standing for change, I have been sorting through 137 replies that are ridicules. One, Mr W H Smith wrote in, saying that the waste should be carried out of London on trains! If I did not know what it was for, I would be thinking that they were writing into a fictional stories competition. We have nothing. Why must cholera happen?!



20th November 1855

I do not know what day it is, nor do I need to. Every day merges into one long, endless life, day after day, night after night. There is nothing distinguishable between them. I do not sleep, hardly eat, and I feel like a ravenous cloud is lingering over my heads, determined not to be shaken off. The metropolitan management act has created the Metropolitan board of works which (apparently) will govern over a hundred square miles of London, making sure it has the correct roads, lighting, bridges, tunnels, and , outrageously , sewers! It is preposterous that they intend to place yet another board in to override ours, do they think we are not doing a good enough job? The whole ordeal is absurd! I do not know what I will do. I am up to my neck in files and plans, when the Metropolitan management act comes along and says someone else is handling it now. I will not stand for this!


June 1858

I feel suffocated, imprisoned, trapped. I am being scrutinised by pernickety politician who are brainless when it comes to sewages! I am going to persevere. I will fight this tedious battle of endurance and brutality. I have managed to ensure that the MPs pass over the legislations that enable me to start my work. They only accepted after they failed their attempt of making things better, for them at least. They put chloride or lime all over their curtains, attempting to make the air fresher, however, when that did nothing but become a nuisance, they turned to me. Yes, me, the man they criticise for not doing something about the issue quick enough. I would like to see them come up with a solution! I have made the separate sewage systems unite into one, the rain is working temporarily well enough to help wash away some of the waste. The politician are still on my case, persisting with their draconian ways, pessimists at the extreme, condemning my every move.


1866 July (I think)

I have managed to link the majority of London to a series of sewer systems I developed. I have made it so that the stream of vulgar effluent has been intercepted, and set along a new, lower levelled set of sewer pipes that are built just behind the embankments river front, and there it is taken to new treatment works. There, the waste and dirt will be separated from the water. The water will then be free to go back into the rivers, without polluting the flow. The muck will be used for fertilizing. Slowly, slowly, things are improving, however I am wearing myself down, and feel sick, and tired of everything going on. How people did not listen, and how I have been waiting for so long just to improve the sewers of London, for ungrateful customers




4th May 1874

I feel like things have finally fallen in to place. We have been able to make river side roads, and even gardens! We have reclaimed a shocking 52 acres from the Thames, the overflow was taking over London. I feel completed, like my mission is done, finished, and well and truly beaten.

15th March, 1891

I am coming to a stopping point now. Every time I breathe in, I feel the rattling of my lungs. Every time I stop, I hear the beating of my heart drumming slowly away. Every time I think, the slow cogs in my brain click and clatter as they fall in to place. My body is giving up, this endless battle with sewers has finally ended I feel accomplished with myself, I have passed on my knowledge to the knowledge less, and given my ideas to the idealess. For the last time, I sign off with dignity and pride, my slow mind is withering away, yet when it does, it shall rest with peace, and contentment. I am staring death in the eyes, and I have never felt so scared. I am facing the final stretch. I am

Mr Bazalgette was unable to finish this journal, due to his sudden, untimely death. I am sure that this will be treasured by his children and wife.

One comment

  1. Katie this is so fantastically complete. You’ve got the language, the characterisation, the historical details. Who knew that the Metropolitan Board of Works could be made to sound interesting? The words are so well chosen – effluent, abominable, drumming, draconian; they are so evocative. Best of all you’ve really captured Bazalgette’s passion and commitment. Did you know there is a statue of him on the Embankment? Your piece even feels like a man aging. It’s wonderful.

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