Victorian London - Directories - Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens, Jr., 1879 - "Drainage"

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Drainage. Notwithstanding all the boasted advance of sanitary science, the sewage of London, with the exception of a not inconsiderable quantity which leaks through defective pipes and joints into the soil and renders basements damp and unhealthy, is still discharged into the River Thames. The gigantic work of sewerage was undertaken by the Metropolitan Board of Works, and carried into effect at immense cost. As the outfall is now near the mouth of the river, the danger to health of the residents in the metropolis is considerably less than when the sewage was discharged at many points in the upper parts of the stream; but it is still carried by the tide far up the river, and, while that is the case, the sanitary condition of London can never be considered satisfactory. Nor is London water defiled by its own sewage only. The whole valley still drains into the Thames; and as the House of Commons has just (March 7) refused by a majority of 22 in a house of 314 to allow the discussion in committee of the elaborately-prepared scheme of the Lower Thames Valley Main Sewerage Board, there does not seem to be any very immediate prospect of any amendment. In the older London houses cesspools and brick drains are still to be found. These should, in all cases, be removed, and glazed stoneware pipe-drains substituted. Should it be necessary to make a new connection between the house drain and the sewer, application must be made to the parish authorities at the District Board of Works or Vestry, who will cause the connection to be made by their own contractor, and will lay any pipes that may be necessary under the public roadway. The cost of this work varies according to circumstances, and is charged to the applicant. The connection of the house with the sewer, however, is not by any means all that is required. One of the chief dangers to health in cities is sewage gas; and it is not too much to say that, in the majority of London houses, the general drainage arrangements tend rather to its admission than to its exclusion. Dr. Buchanan, one of the medical officers of the Local Government Board, says: “The air of the sewers is, as it were, ‘laid on’ to the houses.” The larger the house the greater is the danger, as, unless the drainage and plumbers’ work have been executed in the most perfect manner, every lavatory, bath, sink, &c., is an additional danger.   Authors of books on drainage generally make a point of telling their readers that in no case should drains run under the house. In the majority of London houses it is impossible that they should run any other way, the sewer generally being under the road in front, and the sink, baths, &c., at the back of the house. The only thing to be done, therefore, is to make the house gastight, and to this end both good material and good workmanship are essential. Assuming the glazed stoneware pipes to be properly jointed in cement and laid to regular falls, the next most important operation is the introduction of a water-trap between the house and the sewer and the construction in the area or other convenient situation, of chamber or chambers in which are open channels, through which the whole of the drainage from the house must pass. This chamber or manhole, should be covered with an iron grating or close lid, according to circumstances. In the latter case, air-flues, or in-lets, must be inserted. The fresh air enters this chamber, traverses the drains, and passes up the soil- pipe, which should be carried well above the roof of the house, and left open at the top. The ventilating pipe should not be less than 4 in. in diameter, and care should be take that it does not terminate near a window. This system of disconnection and ventilation is considered by the leading authorities to be the best means of preventing sewage-gas from entering dwelling-houses, and no expensive patent cowls or traps are necessary. A good example of this simple system has recently been carried out under the skilled supervision of Mr. Ernest Turner, architect, of Regent-street, for the Home Hospitals Association, at their establishment for the reception of paying patients, Berkeley House, Manchester-square, and may there be inspected by permission of the superintendent. No waste or overflow-pipes should be directly connected with the drain or soil-pipe, but all should discharge in the open air over trapped gullies. Before taking a house London, a fee to a competent architect or engineer to inspect the drainage will be money well invested (see HOUSES). 

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879