ICE 200: Captain Sanitation gets rid of the stink and improves people's health

In the mid-1800s Joseph Bazalgette sorted out London's sewerage problems by building a labyrinthine underground world that would push it all out to sea.

Sir Joseph Bazalgette: used civil engineering to cope with basic human function
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Sir Joseph Bazalgette: used civil engineering to cope with basic human function

In Victorian times Sir Joseph Bazalgette provided the answer to London’s increasing levels of human sewerage. Instead of it just all ending up in the river Thames he built a network of tunnels and chambers that forced all the human waste away from the city to the sea.

Today, as part of ICE’s 200 year anniversary celebrations, Bazalgette is recognised in ICE’s Invisible Superheroes exhibition as Captain Sanitation because of his project’s environmental impact.

Bazalgette’s work and that of his fellow invisible superhero civil engineers demonstrates their commitment to breaking frontiers and continuing to transform the way we all live.

According to his descendant Peter Bazalgette – in ICE’s collection of 200 civil engineering projects – of ‘the terrible stink’ he promised the government of the day, “I can cure this, I have a plan”.

Bazalgette’s sewer system stretched for 1,100 miles. He also designed the Albert, Victoria and Chelsea embankments which housed the sewers, reclaiming a significant proportion of land for pedestrian traffic. His sewer network is still in use to this day.

Bazalgette’s work improved the health of Londoners by reducing waterborne disease outbreaks such as cholera. In 1875 Joseph Bazalgette was knighted by Queen Victoria. In 1883 he became President of ICE.

ICE’s Invisible Superheroes exhibition showcases the greatest examples of civil engineering around the world. Its 3D virtual walk-through means anyone can see, learn and enjoy 200 years of the best of civil engineering.