Sir Joseph Bazalgette: Why we admire this 19th-century engineer


Sir Joseph Bazalgette - the future of future-proofing utilities
Sir Joseph Bazalgette - the future of future-proofing utilities (Picture: Shutterstock)

Time for a quick history lesson. For most of the 1800s London was the largest city in the world, as well as one of most densely populated. As a result of this massive population in an urban environment and an undeveloped sanitation system that consisted mostly of cesspits which overflowed into the Thames, dirt and disease were rife. In fact, a cholera outbreak in 1848 killed nearly 15,000 Londoners. A decision was made in Parliament to reinvent the city’s waste-disposal systems, which is where Sir Joseph Bazalgette came in.


The brilliant engineer had proved his abilities by building railway lines and got the top job of creating a working sewage system in London after his predecessor died due to the stress of the role. Sir Joseph devised a massive underground matrix of sewage tunnels beneath the capital along with pumping stations that would channel waste away from the Thames and London’s drinking waters.


It was a huge task, one that Bazalgette was heavily involved in. He personally visited and checked each of the new sewage pumping stations, leaving his notes on what he believed the engineers had to fix or improve. It wasn’t cheap work either, with the whole project estimated to have cost roughly quarter of a billion pounds in today’s money.


Thankfully, the effort was worth it, with Sir Joseph’s innovative system sparing London from ‘The Big Stink’ and saving thousands of lives.


Future-proofing the city


So, why does the work of a man who built sewers more than 100 years ago still inspire us at Swish today? It’s because Sir Joseph had a unique vision of the future and, crucially, took steps to future-proof his creation as a result.


When his extensive plans were first revealed many observers reportedly laughed at them, questioning why Sir Joseph wanted to make the sewage tunnels far wider than was deemed necessary. He’s said to have famously replied, “Well, we’re only going to do this once.”


Sir Joseph was a man who understood that the future will bring changes the contemporary person can’t comprehend. At the time of his work, the tallest building in London was St Paul’s cathedral, with residential buildings rarely being built larger than four floors. But he realised that London as a city would continue to grow, and the way people live would continue to change. While he couldn't have foreseen skyscrapers and high-rise residential buildings, he did appreciate that cities like London would become even more densely populated, so the sanitation system had to be ready for it.


Knowing that the cost and disruption of trying to widen the sewage tunnels later would be unacceptable, Sir Robert planned them out so they would be usable right up into the 21st century. And he was right – his sewage system is still being used in London today.


The Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London was just one of the impressive stations designed by Sir Joseph (Picture: Shutterstock)
The Abbey Mills Pumping Station in East London was just one of the impressive buildings designed by Sir Joseph (Picture: Shutterstock)

Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s influence


At Swish, we’ve always thinking about the future. That’s why we offer a 10,000 Mbps-capable broadband to homes across the UK. This bandwidth far exceeds any internet speeds currently available, but we want to make sure once customers join Swish, they never have to upgrade again.


This future-proofing mindset will ensure that our customers don’t have to live through new hardware installations or having their street dug up every few years to lay new cables. No matter how fast the internet speeds of the future get, our network will be able to handle them.


That’s why we admire Sir Joseph Bazalgette. Someone who thought beyond quick fixes and notions of short-term solutions, but rather created something that will last for years and never fail in its job... just like our Full Fibre broadband.