It could be said that the London Shoes topic this week caused a bit of a ‘stink’.
Undertaking this particular task had me thrashing the life out of me faithful old free-travel ‘60+Oyster Card’ and also caused me to wear away a bit more of the soles of my actual (London) ‘shoes’ – as I found myself in ‘Sarf’ London (aka the ‘Dark Side’) traipsing all the way from South West London across to South East London, in search of examples of this particular subject matter.
So – the subject matter for this week’s publication onto the London Shoes website, Facebook and Twitter sites – is the rather ‘geeky’ topic of “Victorian-Stink Pipes”.
These Victorian ‘Stink Pipes’ are ‘street fixtures’ that we have all walked past thousands of times, and most probably never noticed or never even given a second thought to – however, the story behind their origin, and their place in London’s history, is pivotal to the creation of the London sewer system as we know it today.
So – what is a ‘Stink (or Stench) Pipe’ ??
Well – they date right back to 1858, a period of time in London that is now historically referred to as the “Great Stink”.
In the lead-up to that period in time, there was no proper centralised management of sewage and water waste throughout London, and as a result the River Thames was literally full of human poo & pee, animal carcasses and industrial waste – all of which was extremely unhealthy for Londoners, many of whom contracted serious illnesses, some of which were fatal.
The ‘stink’ across London was so bad, that Parliament felt that it could no longer carry out its business in Westminster, and so had to relocate to Oxfordshire, until such time something was done about the ‘Stink’.
So – in 1858 the Government passed an Act to centralise the control of ‘human waste’ – and commissioned the renowned British designer and engineer ‘Joseph Bazalgette’* to design and build a brand new sewage system network throughout London (a sewage network that has lasted well over 150yrs and is still very much in use today).
*A blog I did entitled “Joseph Bazalgette & the construction of the London sewers” can be found in the ‘Archives’ tab of the London Shoes website.
Anyway – one of the noticeable street-fixtures that accompanied these new sewer systems were ‘Stink Pipes’.
These ‘Stink Pipes’ were simply massive hollow iron pipes that disposed of the lethal and highly inflammable concoctions of methane, hydrogen sulphide and ammonia gasses that built up in the sewage pipes under the roads and pavements.
These ‘Stink Pipes’ were quite simply a sort of safety valve which allowed these build ups of gasses in the sewage pipes – to travel up to the top of the ‘Stink Pipe’ high above the rooftops, and then drift off into the skies above London – and then be simply be blown away by the wind – leaving the streets and pavements ‘stink’ free.
Their locations tended to follow the path of main sewer pipes below the pavements, and also the spots where sewage pipes from different streets would converge or change direction.
As with all things Victorian, these Stink Pipes were quite often ornate works of art in their design and bodywork decoration.
The London ‘Stink Pipes’ were mainly designed, built and supplied by renowned London based manufactures such as ‘Ham Baker’ and ‘Fred Bird & Co’.
They were made of iron and were mainly ‘green’ in colour – and displayed a small plaque at their base, bearing the name of its manufacturer.
Hundreds of these ‘Stink Pipes’ were installed throughout Britain, and there are still loads of them in situ today – some in excellent condition, bearing in mind they’ve been there for over 160yrs – but most are not in such good nick.
Of the ‘Stink Pipes’ that still remain in London’s streets, most are located ‘sarf’ of the River and tend to follow the path of the Thames.
So my quest for this blog was to track-down some of the more prominent of these 160 year old Victorian street fixtures.
My challenge started in the Wandsworth and Clapham districts of South West London – an area that is important to me, as I was born in nearby Battersea in 1957, where I spent the first 5 years of my life – before my mum & dad decided to move across to the eastern side of London.
Although very young at the time, I do have some recollection of those times, particularly when my dear old mum used to take me to Clapham Common – and so it was slightly ‘thought-provoking’ for me, returning to Clapham for the sole purpose of searching for ‘Stink Pipes’ 🙁 I’m not too sure what my dear old mum would make of that :-))
It was certainly a long old day out, but by the end of it I had managed to track-down and photograph the Victorian ‘Stink Pipes still in situ at the following locations:-
Ram Street – (Wandsworth)
Wakenhurst Road – (Clapham)
Chivalry Road – (Clapham)
Garratt Lane – (Earlsfield)
Kennington Road – (Kennington)
Watson’s Street – (Deptford)
Lissell Street – (Greenwich)
Union Street – (Souhwark)
Bishopswood Road – (Hampstead) – (the only one I found north of the River)
Now – you may find this hard to believe, but there is a really big interest in ‘Stink Pipes’, with many clubs, societies, websites, blogs, Twitter groups all dedicated to this dear old ‘street fixture’ – and, the actual activity of Stink Pipe ‘spotting logging & mapping’ is an extremely popular pastime for enthusiasts.
Anyway – after an exhausting day on me ‘plates’, and before heading off home – I decided to pop in to the “Rose & Crown” pub in Union Street Southwark, for a well-deserved ‘cheeky’ beer and a packet of cheese & onion. The Rose & Crown pub has been a prominent fixture in Southwark since way back in the early 1800’s and it still retains some of the decorative wooden fixtures and fittings from that time.
So – wherever you are in the UK, next time you find yourself ambling down a street, just spare a thought for the dear old Stink Pipe – and if you should spot one then you never know, you may feel inclined to give it a closer examination, and perhaps look to see if it displays a manufacturers plaque – but then again, you may not!!
Hope you enjoyed this little story and the accompanying photos.
The funnel of the Wakenhurst Road ‘Stink Pipe’