A History of London Drainage: Where does London City Drains Fit in?

Drainage problems in London

How important a role does a company like City Drains have in the 21st century…?

As long as there are humans on this planet, drainage services will always be needed…

Throughout history the standard method of sewage disposal has been to bung it in the nearest river, which would ultimately carry it to the sea – the word ‘sewer‘ is Old English for ‘seaward’.

“In the entrance to Roman taverns and workshops have been uncovered large stone vessels which can best be described as urinals. Here is the first physical evidence of London’s toilet facilities.”

“In the period of Saxon and Viking occupation there is evidence of excrement dropped anywhere and everywhere, even within the houses.”

“Regulations [in London] of the 13th century ordained that ‘no one shall place dung or other filth in the streets or lanes, but cause the same to be taken by the rakers to the places ordained.’” Human dung at that time was used on the fields outside the city.

Pigs were allowed to roam the streets, as rubbish-eaters, but they themselves became a nuisance, because they were always blocking narrow lanes, and wandering into people’s houses. There was a cull of pigs, after which they were replaced by kites. You could get the death sentence for killing a kite.

In 1349 Edward III wrote to the mayor of London complaining that the city’s thoroughfares were “foul with human faeces, and the air of the city poisoned to the great danger of men passing.” Resulting legislation damned this “grievous and great abomination” and appointed four “scawageours” (scavengers) in each ward, responsible for cleanliness.

However, emptying your bowels directly into the river was still thought to be fine; on London bridge there were 138 houses and a public latrine.

Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries, London had variously three streets known as Pissing Lane or Pissing Alley, which were used for the purpose suggested. Also noted are Dunghill Lane and Dunghill Stairs. Pudding Lane is named after dung. Sherborne Lane is nothing to do with Dorset; it was once Shiteburn Lane.

The first public bogs (since Roman times) were built in the 13th century. “The new bridge across the river was equipped with one of these modern conveniences, which had two entrances, while the smaller bridges across the Fleet and the Walbrook also made provision for them.

Against the streams and tributaries there were ‘houses of office,’ too, although many consisted simply of wooden planks with holes carved out of them. More elaborate public privies were constructed, some with four or more holes, culminating in Richard Whittington’s fifteenth-century ‘House of Easement’ or ‘Long House’ over the Thames at the end of Friar Lane. It contained two rows of sixty-four seats, one row for men and the other for women.”

In 1275, the White Friars complained to the king that the public privy above the Fleet gave out “putrid exhalations” which “overcame even the frankincense” and “had caused the death of manie Brethren.”

The law in the 14th century took lav-related crime pretty seriously. One man was charged for dung-dumping so bad that “there may neythir hors ne cart pas for his dong.” [sic]

Much later, Samuel Pepys recorded “Going down to my cellar, I put my foot in a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr Turners house of office is full and comes into my cellar.”

Ackroyd seems to suggest that the Great Stink was caused by reform, not neglect. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers in 1847 ordered that all privy refuse was to be discharged directly into sewers. This was to keep the streets clean and healthy; previously cesspools had become a real menace. However, this reform meant that all effluent went “straight into the central reaches of the Thames. As a result the swan and the salmon, together with other fish, vanished in an open sewer.”

The water supply for many Londoners was taken directly from the river, and the water “from this time forward” was often described as being of a “brownish” colour.

Ackroyd points out that the Stink was “the odour of progress,” since the massively rising middle-class consumption was partly to blame for it; affluence leads to effluence.

All the above from the book: ‘London the Biography’ by Peter Ackroyd.

More interesting facts brought to you by London City Drains, unblocking and cleaning drains for London and serving all your London drainage needs.
Free phone: 0800 007 5309

City Drains London drainage service excels where other blocked drain clearing engineers fail!

One of the qualities that stands out when dealing with London City Drains and which our customers agree on, is the go for attitude and determination to solve the drainage problem at hand.

One job recently undertaken in central London was for a solicitor firm whose drains were located in their basement offices.

Over the years a score of London drainage service firms had been called out to try and solve the drain problem of the horrendous bad smells that were emanating from their basement office area and which was affecting all those that worked in that confined zone.

A second problem was that of a blocked basement kitchen sink waste pipe. This again had been dealt with on numerous occasions but the drainage problem never solved.

The problem at hand was not an easy one as the basement was carpet tiled and there was only access to one manhole. This was the manhole that all the other drainage contactors had been heading straight to without ever investigating any further.

Our drainage engineer decided to approach the job with a different attitude altogether. The first thing he had to investigate was whether there were any other manholes available in the basement. His many years of experience told him that there had to be a main interceptor in the basement somewhere. It was crucial that this be found as this would give a clear indication of whether:

A) The smell was due to a blocked drain
B) Whether the drain had an eye cap fitted

This had never been undertaken by other London drainage engineers, as was confirmed when the drain was located and exposed. The drain, although it was running perfectly and there was no blockage, had no eye cap fitted. *One was immediately fitted and one of the problems resolved.

The problem of the blocked kitchen sink waste pipe was now addressed;

The previous London drainage engineers had all tried the same method and had failed in their endeavour. They would go direct to the only exposed manhole and use the high pressure jet up a side connection, which they thought was the waste for the kitchen sink. This method failed and no time was taken to investigate further the possible reasons for this failure.

London City Drains Engineer tried a different approach. Again, all his years of experience told him that obviously something was not right. After removing every item under the sink area, he traced the waste pipe and found that this was going directly into the floor and it would be normal to assume that this would be connected into the side connection that other engineers had tried drain jetting up and had failed. The problem was that it made no sense, as there was a pool of water on the floor and this was not normal unless there had been some form of flooding.

After obtaining permission from the office manager, the engineer removed the floor lino and found that there was an old rain water gully which had been sealed with a metal cover; the kitchen sink waste pipe was running into this gully. The gully as it turned out was an expired soak away and this particular area was originally an outdoor area that had been rebuilt over to accommodate for the new offices. The builders who had connected the kitchen sink waste pipe into the gully had made a serious blunder! This was not connected to any foul drain and there was no way the waste from the sink could flow away. The problem in the end was remedied by cementing over the old gully and realigning the kitchen waste pipe so it would flow directly into the manhole drain.

Because the waste in the old gully had just been sitting there for so long, this had also gone stagnant and was another contributing factor for the bad smells.

All the problems were effectively dealt with and the office workers were very relieved to be working under healthier conditions.

• The eye cap which is normally fitted on the rodding eye in the main interceptor serves to stop bad smells and rats from coming up from the main sewer on the road into your property. Most properties in London do not have one fitted.

If your property is suffering from bad smells then this could be the reason why.

For help and advice call London City Drains on freephone 0800 007 5309

London Drainage Service | Drain Repairs London | Blocked Drain London | Drain Clearing London

Free CCTV camera survey for each drain jet clean

At London City Drains we’re offering a free cctv camera survey of your drain or sewer, with every jet clean.

cctv drain and sewer surveys in London

The CCTV drain survey will give you a detailed look at the inside of your drains – our drainage engineer can run through an assessment of the condition, the best way to avoid any future problems. Free of charge!!

The following terms and conditions apply:

* Terms and conditions for free CCTV Camera Survey.

1) Not valid for business, commercial or industrial.

2) Jet cleaning minimum 2 hours.

3) Adequate access required to insert camera.

4) Written report and DVD not included. This is available if required, at a charge.

5) Pipe diameter minimum 4 inch, maximum 6 inch.

6) The offer is only valid while the engineer is on site undertaking the jet clean and not after.

Drains cleared fast – customer review

Here’s a recent review from a London City Drains customer:

“I recently called out City Drains and was pleasantly surprised at the speed in which they responded, 21 minutes!

Furthermore, they demonstrated a professional attitude at all times and were very thorough in their work. At the end of the jet clean they went so far as to carry out a cctv survey of the drain, free of charge! just to make sure the job was completely done.

Their rates are fair and I have received a more than adequate service. Well done boys!”

The Simpsons Syndrome – advice from London City Drains

It’s funny how people seem to make the same mistake over and over and usually never learn first time round. Animals do, and we are supposed to be the logical ones?

Sometimes you come across a job which by right could be put right first time round. But its funny how, because of peoples perception of tradesmen, and I must admit, also from an economical point of view, people aren’t willing to spend that bit extra to correct a problem with a permanent solution.

Instead, they choose to call you out again and again and again for the same problem. In the end they think that you’re not doing the job correctly and choose to call somebody else who may rip them off or if they are lucky have the problem corrected once and for all by following the recommendations that you gave them to begin with.

What is the problem with this scenario?
Well let’s begin with an economical point of view.

For example: An engineer gets called to an emergency blockage. The blockage is cleared as fast as possible. The recommendation given is to have the line jet cleaned otherwise your drain will re-block in no time at all. It involves 1 extra hour of work. The customer decides not to go along with the recommendation and two months later calls you out again. Again you clear the blockage as quickly as possible and you charge the customer again as the recommendation wasn’t followed. This happens several times throughout the year. By the end of the year, the customer has paid for the same job 4 or maybe 5 times!

If they had followed your recommendation to begin with, he/she would not have had to call you out several times and they would have saved a lot of money on emergency call outs. You don’t have to be smart to work that one out.

Let us not forget also the calling out of the other contractor; I wonder how much he charged to get the job done? The same or more than if they had gone through the contractor’s original recommendation when it was first made, that’s for sure.

This brings me to the second problem scenario. And that is the false and unfair perception by the customer of the first contractor, who only tried to help by giving you the best advice to begin with and ended up being the bad guy. All because again the recommendation wasn’t followed through.

The moral of the story: London City Drains is here to help you help yourselves.
Listen to our advice and act on it, you wont regret it!