[This passage has been excerpted from Dale H. Porter's The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London, which is reviewed eleswhere in the Victorian WebGPL.]

decorative initial Sewers and sewage have become such an integral part of modern urban infrastructures that it is difficult to imagine alternative ways of thinking I about the disposal of excrement, industrial waste, and rainwater runoff. Modern industrial nations are just beginning to separate toxic substances from efluent and landfill wastes and provide recyding facilities on an effective scale. Although the technology for in-house human waste disposal is available, its development is stifled by the immense social, institutional, and financial investment in sewer systems. It is instructive, therefore, to go back to the time when such systems were introduced. One can argue that WCs [i.e., toilets or commodes] and sewers were neither inevitable nor even the best possible solution to the problem of waste disposal. They required, first, a redefinition of sewage from "inconvenient runoff" to "dangerous pollution," and a redefinition of sewers from "open streams" to "underground waste removal pipes." The growing community of professional civil engineers and contractors then overlaid the new environmental and cultural perceptions with a technical one: sewage became a hazardous by-product of metropolitan life that was to be flushed underground and out of the city. The engineers designed a system of pipes that, in effect, reproduced and relocated the polluted streams that had once constituted the natural drainage of the Thames valley. [149-50]

Cartoons about sanitation, drains, and toilets


Porter, Dale H. The Thames Embankment: Environment, Technology, and Society in Victorian London. Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1998.

Last modified 1999

Links added 11 May 2016