Cleaning up European Cities



The medieval system operated largely unchanged until the 1850s and 1860s when London’s sewers were overhauled on a scale akin to that witnessed earlier in Rome.

Interestingly, two plans were put forward for London. The first was to channel the city’s effluent to a number of key points outside the city, where it might then be transported to the fields. However, critically, this plan was rejected in favour of a scheme that sought its immediate disposal into the Thames.


Above image sourced from Flickr (Author: Jondoe264) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

At approximately the same time, the sewers of Paris were also disgorging large quantities of effluent into the Seine. This genuine waste of a useful resource was commented upon by Victor Hugo (1862: 54) in Les Misérables:

All the human and animal manure which the world wastes, restored to the land instead of being cast into the waster, would suffice to nourish the world

Above image sourced from Flickr (Author: seangraham) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license