On this day - June 30th

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The Great Stink at its worst — June 30th 1858

The rapid growth of London's population over the preceding centuries, the poverty of many of its citizens, unable to afford the emptying of their cesspits, and wholly inadequate sanitation generally reached its height of foulness in June 1858 in what is called The Great Stink.

A bad situation had been worsened recently, paradoxically perhaps, by the introduction of flushing toilets, increasing the volume of waste-water and causing overflowing of cesspools, and Cholera had become an ever-present disease. The final straw was the heat-wave in the early summer of 1858, the open sewer that was the slow-flowing Thames giving off a stench so foul that it was even noticed by politicians in Parliament, who bravely planned along with the law courts to evacuate the capital.

It's an ill-wind (a particularly vile one in this case) that brings no good. To cure the problem the great civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette designed and built an entire sewer system for the capital, his scheme involving the creation of the Embankment to provide a route for major Sewage pipes (with great foresight he made them far larger than expected use dictated, thus they still function satisfactorily today), and huge pumping stations at Abbey Mills, Deptford , Erith and Chelsea . The Embankment allowed room for expansion of London's underground, and by reducing the width of the river Thames hastened its flow, in effect increasing its flushing power.

What was the name for the foul air that was believed to be the cause of cholera at the time?

click here for the answer

It was called "miasma" — actually cholera was spread by contaminated water

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