|Stink pipes such as this one at Broadwater Down are found above sewers and are there to vent gases from the sewers below. Most stink pipes date from the Victorian period.|
During the industrial revolution, the River Thames was essentially an open sewer. There were few flush toilets, and waste was simply discharged in cesspits, much of which overflowed into rainwater drains. In addition, there was considerable waste from slaughterhouses and factories.
The summer of 1858 was known as ‘the Great Stink’ in London as there was a strong smell of untreated waste throughout the city, affecting those at work in the House of Commons. Joseph Bazalgette, the chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, proposed channelling waste through street sewers, into main intercepting sewers. These would transport waste towards the tidal part of the Thames so that it would be swept out to the sea.
The network of wide sewer tunnels required venting, which is why stink pipes were incorporated into the system. Based on the concept of a blastpipe - an idea allegedly invented by a Victoria-era surgeon, chemist and engineer named Sir Goldsworthy Gurney - stink pipes were made out of cast iron and placed along main sewer routes.
 Iconic structures
Hundreds stink pipes still survive in many of the older towns and cities throughout the UK. Some have been truncated and appear more like bollards than ventilation systems. Others have retained their original stature, including design elements and decorative motifs association with the Victorian period.
Typically green or grey in colour, stink pipes often include plaques that proudly display the names of their manufacturers. People tend walk past them every day and have no idea what they are - nor do they take any notice of them. However, the better preserved pipes are highly regarded by members of the numerous clubs and societies dedicated to the appreciation of this seemingly mundane, but essential part of the urban streetscape.
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