In 1856, the Metropolitan Board of Works was established in London and it appointed Joseph Bazalgette as its chief engineer. As a result, Bazalgette embarked on his greatest work: designing and overseeing the construction of the sewer network in London, which effectively removed the threat of cholera and greatly improved the health of London residents and the general environment of the city. With immense foresight, Bazalgette estimated the size of sewers required and then doubled it, meaning that his original system is still coping with the population of the capital today. Nevertheless, his sewers still just diverted waste away and raw sewage was collected in tanks, the contents of which were discharged directly into the Thames a little way downstream at high tide. It wasn’t until 1900 (nine years after Bazalgette’s death) that sewage treatment works were constructed to deal with the outflow.


Map of the London sewerage system developed by Joseph Bazalgette 1858-1870 (Rudolf Hering, 1882 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

I am in awe of this amazing feat of engineering, but I’m also aware that it is the physical embodiment of Victorian values: the earth was created to serve man and human beings had a god-given right to use natural resources no matter the consequences to nature (which was also there for the benefit of mankind). And so, human waste was neatly and efficiently removed from sight (and smell), improving the lot of those in the city, but actually delivering the source of the problem to another location. Even during Bazalgette’s time, there were, apparently, those who objected to the fact that a valuable resource was simply being pumped into the Thames rather than collected and used for growing crops.

I wonder, therefore, what a different world we might inhabit had Joseph Bazalgette taken a different approach. What if he had valued this resource rather than simply seeing the (admittedly huge) problem? I’m not sure what sort of solution he might have come up with, but that change in perception in the nineteenth century might have seen modern homes not flushing fertility ‘away’, but having their own sources of compost production. Or maybe ‘away’ would have been to digesters or power plants or fertiliser factories.

There is no such thing as away. When you throw something away, it must go somewhere. Annie Leonard

Memorials, museums and memories

London – it’s a very strange place to me. There are some amazing things, there are some bizarre things, there are anachronisms and there is just so much that you can choose to do.


The Albert Memorial

On Thursday morning Mr Snail and I decided to have a stroll up to Hyde Park, through Kensington Gardens, past the Royal Albert Hall and the Albert memorial to the Serpentine. The parks were full of people walking dogs, cycling, rollerskiing, visiting the cafes, playing with their kids in the playgrounds, and generally having a good time outdoors. There was much to see, from wildfowl, to The Household Cavalry out and about with their horses (one troop complete with plumes and shiny metal breastplates) and we spent a happy couple of hours wandering around just enjoying being there. There’s no charge for entry into the parks and they add some welcome green amongst all those buildings.



In the courtyard at the V&A

The previous day, Mummy Snail and I spent the day at the V&A and Mr Snail went to The Science Museum. We did visit a special exhibition for which there was a fee, but general entry to both these museums costs nothing (likewise The Natural History Museum and The British Museum) and they are huge. Such a variety of exhibits in each of them, and such amazing architecture. We don’t visit London very often, but we do try to go to at least one museum when we do, and we are never disappointed with what we get to see. In fact, the main purpose of our trip this week as to see the exhibition at the V&A, although we also fitted in afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason plus a West End Show.

And as we packed to come home on Friday morning, we realised that we hadn’t bought a single ‘thing’ to bring home – we had spent money (food, taxis, theatre tickets, hotel), but Mr Snail and I had not bought any ‘stuff’. Instead, we brought home memories. We seem to do this naturally now – we don’t look for gifts or souvenirs, apart from the occasional picture to go on the wall, and not even that this time. Life is about so much more than things, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to spend time like this with my mum… may we have many more such trips… in fact that there’s another exhibition that we have our eyes on starting in December…


Green in “the smoke”


Knitting on the train – note the reusable cup with crochet cover

I spent the weekend in London. I don’t go very often, but had arranged to meet a couple of friends there and go to the London Permaculture Festival, and what a good time I had – from knitting on the train on the way down, to strolling through Regent’s Park, to being presented with complimentary flaming Sambuca at a little Italian restaurant on Sunday night, to bumping into lots of old friends at the festival, to sitting knitting in Little Venice whilst waiting for my train home.

It’s hard to remember what a diverse place London is when you live in a little rural community right on the west coast. There is diversity in terms of people and diversity in terms of places… plus I always forget how many trees and green spaces there are in London. I am awed by the huge plane trees, and delighted to see the green squares and parks full of people. Of course there’s also the pollution, traffic and the poverty, and I’m always distressed by the level of homelessness.

This visit we stayed in an independent hotel in Bloomsbury – it didn’t have all the swish features of a chain hotel, but it is owned by the family of someone we know. Plus it was quiet , the beds were comfy, the staff were lovely, and it has two beautiful mosaics outside along with some very subtle but delightful stained glass:

On Sunday, there was the London Permaculture Festival. We walked to the venue through Bloomsbury Square, along Euston Road and up through Regent’s Park past the zoo. And then seven hours later we walked back having attended talks, chatted, sat in the garden. admired some chicks and eaten lots of cake. Sadly one friend wasn’t well enough to join us, but since it’s an annual event we intend to try again next year (and possibly every year thereafter).

Finally on Monday before I caught my train I had a relaxing time in Little Venice enjoying sitting under a plane tree, knitting one of Kathryn’s socks and watching the barges on the canal.

So all-in-all a lovely trip to our capital… no shopping, no theatre and no museums… but I had a great time.

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