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The man who staunched the Great Stink
on 13 March 2004
If ever the powers-that-be decide to put to democratic vote whose statue should stand on that plinth in Trafalgar Square, my tick would definitely go next to the name of Joseph Bazalgette. It's impossible to think of any civil engineer who's been responsible for saving so many lives. The Great Stink of London is a good factual account of the man and his many, many deeds - what relentless energy the Victorians had - but it's one fault is that it doesn't really come close to him. This was a chap who, while he was building London's sewerage system, clearing the West End of slums, building main thoroughfares and bridges etc etc, also found the time and the energy to father about 10 kids, sponsor the building of Wimbledon Public Library (not a great feat, you might think, except that public libraries were at the time viewed with a lot of suspicion by Tories, who feared reading would breed insurrection by the lower classes) and much else. And he sported what must be some of the finest whiskers of the Victorian age.
I recently wrote a Heritage piece for our local paper on Bazalgette, with information largely sussed from this book, and have been really surprised by the reponse. A great, great man, and if he doesn't get to stand on that Trafalgar Square plinth, this book will stand as a testament to what bloody-mindedness can achieve when set to good purpose.