Sir Joseph William Bazalgette (1819-1891), the man who created London’s sewerage system as well as the Thames Embankment and three major London Bridges, died at his Wimbledon home 121 years ago last week.

Only today, some 150 years after his sewers came into use, is Thames Water having to plan a major upgrade to meet modern demands. It is a mark of just how much Londoners owe this 19th century engineering giant.

Bazalgette came to Wimbledon in 1873 with his wife and ten children, moving into St Mary’s House, Arthur Road. They had previously lived for a time in what was then the Surrey countryside at Morden. Before that their home was in St John’s Wood.

A former railway specialist, Bazalgette served as Chief Engineer on London’s Metropolitan Board of Works from 1856 until 1889. In the preceding years thousands of Londoners had died of cholera epidemics caused by contaminated water.

As all drains emptied their contents into the Thames and the streets sometimes flowed with raw sewage, it is easy to understand why. However at the time, bad air rather than contaminated water was blamed for the disease.

By 1858 the river had become so badly polluted that air conditions were unbearable and a Parliamentary select committee was appointed to seek a solution. Bazalgette proposed the construction of hundreds of miles of underground brick sewers to intercept sewage outflows and keep it from the streets.

By improving the air, it was assumed that cholera would decline. It did - but only later was it understood why.

He secured the funds to go ahead and as well as building the tunnels, the scheme involved major pumping stations at certain points on both sides of the Thames.

The system was opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865 but work continued for another decade as further pumping stations were added.

Between 1865 and 1870, Bazalgette also directed the construction of Victoria Embankment.

This was prompted both by the new sewerage system and the need to relieve traffic congestion in Fleet Street and The Strand. It involved building out on to the river foreshore with a cut and cover tunnel for what is now the District Line, and roofing this over for the new roadway.

Once the work was done, two public gardens were laid out, giving a welcome green space between the government buildings of Whitehall and the river.

From his Wimbledon home, Bazalgette was knighted for his efforts in 1875 and elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1883.

His historic contributions to London continued with designs for new bridges across the Thames which opened at Putney in 1886 and Hammersmith in 1887.

He also went on to design Battersea Bridge which formally opened in 1890.

Bazalgette’s son Norman played a major role in Wimbledon’s own history, campaigning for the first free public library from 1880 onwards until it finally opened at the bottom of Wimbledon Hill Road in 1886.

When Sir Joseph himself died five years later he was buried in a family mausoleum at the parish church directly opposite their house. More than a century later this was decaying badly and the Wimbledon Society raised funds towards its partial restoration.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

For more information, visit and

Click here for more fascinating articles about Wimbledon's heritage