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Drainage Systems and Drains
Although records of drainage systems go back to as early 2000 B.C. in Crete sanitary standards deteriorated in the Middle Ages and the first mention of a drain, which was probably an open ditch, was in Paris in 1412.
Drainage in London
Drainage in London was through the natural watercourses of the rivers, Kilbourne, Westbourn, Fleet and Shoreditch which were the drains in North London .
The rivers which were the drains in South London were the Effra and the Ravensbourn among others.
The trouble was that all the drains ran into the Thames and it was during the reign of Richard II that the first Act of Parliament was passed dealing with the purity of the Thames.
During the reign of Henry VIII a commissioner of sewers was appointed to levy rates and carry out useful works. It was then that the first big brick sewers were built under the streets.
In the early nineteenth century many houses were without drains and most of those that had a drain had overflowing cesspools beneath them.
The Development of the Drain in London in the 19th Century
As the supply of piped water to properties grew permission was being given for more houses to have their drains and water closets connected to the main drainage system until in 1847 it was made compulsory
There was a problem though, the outfalls of London’s drains into the Thames were lower than the level of High Tide and the sewerage flooded back into the basement at High Tide.
With the population of London increasing, the London drains were blamed for alarming outbreaks of Cholera in 1838, 1841 and 1853.
In 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works was created under the chief engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette
Between 1855 and 1874 a drainage sewer was installed that runs parallel with the Thames and pumps the sewerage to the mouth of the Thames Estuary and work was started on purification plant was started. This work was all taken over by the London County Council in 1874.
There are reputed to be about 400 miles of large main drainage sewers under London and 2750 miles of local drain sewers.
The Modern Drains
Although the drains of nearly all new properties are now connected to the main sewers by very durable and quite flexible plastic piping there are many older houses that connect through ceramic and pottery drain pipes to the main drains.
Many miles of the sewers built in the early nineteenth century are still doing their work for us under our cities.
Problems with old drainage
The older ceramic pot drainage pipes were much shorter and heavier than their modern counterpart and subject to damage over the years caused by ground slippage or tree root invasion.
In most cases property owners are now responsible for the drains running under their land or property and it is possible that Cracked Drains may need Replacement or Re-Lining.
This can be an expensive job if it is necessary to dig up the drains to relay them. Damaged drains caused by tree root damage or breakages can never get better unless they are dealt with and constant blockages and foul smells are the same health hazard today that they were in 1838 if they are not dealt with.
With modern techniques of CCTV surveys a most damaged drains can be examined without digging up and many can be relined similarly.
Just like those 2750 miles of drainage sewers underneath London we only become aware of them when things go wrong.