Topic: River Thames

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The Great Stink

Environment Disaster management London Ecology River Thames

The Great Stink was an event in central London in July and August 1858 during which the hot weather exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent that was present on the banks of the River Thames. The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera before the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.

The smell, and fears of its possible effects, prompted action from the local and national administrators who had been considering possible solutions for the problem. The authorities accepted a proposal from the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette to move the effluent eastwards along a series of interconnecting sewers that sloped towards outfalls beyond the metropolitan area. Work on high-, mid- and low-level systems for the new Northern and Southern Outfall Sewers started at the beginning of 1859 and lasted until 1875. To aid the drainage, pumping stations were placed to lift the sewage from lower levels into higher pipes. Two of the more ornate stations, Abbey Mills in Stratford and Crossness on the Erith Marshes, are listed for protection by English Heritage. Bazalgette's plan introduced the three embankments to London in which the sewers ran—the Victoria, Chelsea and Albert Embankments.

Bazalgette's work ensured that sewage was no longer dumped onto the shores of the Thames and brought an end to the cholera outbreaks; his actions are thought to have saved more lives than the efforts of any other Victorian official. His sewer system operates into the 21st century, servicing a city that has grown to a population of over eight million. The historian Peter Ackroyd argues that Bazalgette should be considered a hero of London.

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Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Biography London Trains Civil engineering Ships River Thames Wiltshire Hampshire Bristol Trains/UK Railways

Isambard Kingdom Brunel (; 9 April 1806 – 15 September 1859) was a British civil engineer who is considered "one of the most ingenious and prolific figures in engineering history", "one of the 19th-century engineering giants", and "one of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution, [who] changed the face of the English landscape with his groundbreaking designs and ingenious constructions". Brunel built dockyards, the Great Western Railway (GWR), a series of steamships including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship, and numerous important bridges and tunnels. His designs revolutionised public transport and modern engineering.

Though Brunel's projects were not always successful, they often contained innovative solutions to long-standing engineering problems. During his career, Brunel achieved many engineering firsts, including assisting in the building of the first tunnel under a navigable river and the development of SS Great Britain, the first propeller-driven, ocean-going, iron ship, which, when launched in 1843, was the largest ship ever built.

On the GWR, Brunel set standards for a well-built railway, using careful surveys to minimise gradients and curves. This necessitated expensive construction techniques, new bridges, new viaducts, and the two-mile (3.2 km) long Box Tunnel. One controversial feature was the wide gauge, a "broad gauge" of 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm), instead of what was later to be known as "standard gauge" of 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm). He astonished Britain by proposing to extend the GWR westward to North America by building steam-powered, iron-hulled ships. He designed and built three ships that revolutionised naval engineering: the SS Great Western (1838), the SS Great Britain (1843), and the SS Great Eastern (1859).

In 2002, Brunel was placed second in a BBC public poll to determine the "100 Greatest Britons". In 2006, the bicentenary of his birth, a major programme of events celebrated his life and work under the name Brunel 200.

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River Thames Frost Fairs

London Holidays Christianity River Thames Christianity/Christmas

The River Thames frost fairs were held on the tideway of the River Thames in London, England in some winters, starting at least as early as the late 7th century all the way until the early 19th century. Most were held between the early 17th and early 19th centuries during the period known as the Little Ice Age, when the river froze over most frequently. During that time the British winter was more severe than it is now, and the river was wider and slower, further impeded by the medieval Old London Bridge.

Even at its peak, in the mid-17th century, the Thames in London froze less often than modern legend sometimes suggests, never exceeding about one year in ten except for four winters between 1649 and 1666. From 1400 until the removal of the medieval London Bridge in 1835, there were 24 winters in which the Thames was recorded to have frozen over at London; if "more or less frozen over" years (in parentheses) are included, the number is 26: 1408, 1435, 1506, 1514, 1537, 1565, 1595, 1608, 1621, 1635, 1649, 1655, 1663, 1666, 1677, 1684, 1695, 1709, 1716, 1740, (1768), 1776, (1785), 1788, 1795, and 1814. Of the 24, the numbers in each century were: 15th two, 16th five, 17th ten, 18th six, 19th one. The Thames freezes over more often upstream, beyond the reach of the tide, especially above the weirs, of which Teddington Lock is the lowest. The last great freeze of the higher Thames was in 1962–63.

Frost fairs were a rare event even in the coldest parts of the Little Ice Age. Some of the recorded frost fairs were in 695, 1608, 1683-4, 1716, 1739–40, 1789, and 1814. Recreational cold weather winter events were far more common elsewhere in Europe, for example in the Netherlands. These events in other countries as well as the winter festivals and carnivals around the world in present times can also be considered frost fairs. However, very few of them have actually used that title.

During the Great Frost of 1683–84, the severest frost recorded in England, the Thames was completely frozen for two months, with the ice reaching a thickness of 11 inches (28 cm) in London. Solid ice was reported extending for miles off the coasts of the southern North Sea (England, France and the Low Countries), causing severe problems for shipping and preventing the use of many harbours.

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