Fresh from the success of designing The Crystal Palace for the Great Exhibition of 1851 (see our earlier post here), in 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton came up with the idea of building a covered elevated railway “girdle” which would circle parts of central and west London and alleviate traffic congestion.

Great-Victorian-WayThe proposed 10 mile long, eight track railway – which would feature trains propelled by air pressure (an “atmospheric” system) rather than conventional steam engines and included  “express” trains which would only stop at select stations – was to be constructed inside a vast, 108 foot high glass covered arcade which would also contain a road, shopping and even housing.

The trains would travel at such a speed that to get from any one point on the “girdle” to its opposite point would only take 15 minutes.

Paxton presented his proposal to a Parliamentary Select Committee in June 1855 – he had already shown it to Prince Albert whom, he said, “gives it his approval”.

He estimated the cost of his proposal – which he thought would carry some 105,000 passengers every day – at some £34 million – a figure which parliament, which had initially been supportive of the idea, found a little hard to stomach.

This was especially thanks to the fact they were already dealing with the costs of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s vast sewer system (see our earlier post here), created as a result of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858 when the smell of untreated human excrement and other waste in the Thames became so strong, parliament had to act.

As a result, the project – which would have crossed the Thames three times, once with a spur line that ended near Piccadilly Circus – never eventuated but the Underground’s Circle Line today follows roughly the same route Paxton’s railway would have.

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Fulham-PalaceThis Thameside area in London’s west has a long and storied history and its name is a reflection of it.

Long home to the ‘country’ manor of the bishops of London (Fulham Palace, pictured above), the name Fulanham is recorded as early as the late 7th century.

While there’s been speculation in the past that the name Fulham (also recorded among other variations as Fullam) was a corruption of ‘fowl-ham’ – relating to the wild fowl that were to be found here – or of ‘foul-ham’, relating to the muddied waters, that’s now apparently generally deemed not to be the case.

Instead, its name most likely owes its origins to an Anglo-Saxon named Fulla and the Old English word ‘hamm’ – a term for a water meadow or piece of land enclosed in a bend in a river (in contrast to the more common ‘ham’ which refers to an estate or homestead) – and referred to the manor he owned here, its boundaries set by a bend in the Thames. (It should be noted there is evidence of earlier occupation of the site by the Romans and as far back as the Neolithic era).

In about 700, the manor of Fulham – which includes the area we now think of as Fulham as well as land stretching as far afield as Acton, Ealing and Finchley – was acquired by Bishop Waldhere of London from Bishop Tyrhtilus of Hereford. Since Tudor times, Fulham Palace was used as the country home of the bishops of London and in the 20th century became their principal residence. It was used as such until 1975 and now houses a museum and reception rooms.

As well as now being used for the area which once contained what became the village of Fulham itself, since 1979 the name has also been used in that of the Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. Interestingly, Fulham Broadway tube station was known as Walham Green when it first opened in 1880 and was only given its current name in 1952.

The bishop’s palace (and the nearby riverside Bishop’s Park) aside, other landmarks in the area include the Grade I-listed All Saints Church, which is largely late Victorian and which hosts the grave of abolitionist Granville Sharp, and the nearby Powell Almhouses which date from 1869.

It’s also linked by Putney Bridge with Putney on the other side of the Thames; the current bridge is the work of Sir Joseph Bazalgette and was built in 1882 – it replaced an earlier wooden bridge built in 1729 and overlooks where the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begins (other bridges spanning the river from Fulham include the rather ugly Wandsworth Bridge).

Known during the 18th century as something of a mecca for gambling, prostitution and other debauched leisure activities, these days Fulham is known for its football club, Fulham FC headquartered at Craven Cottage stadium (named for a cottage owned by Baron Craven which once stood here), shopping and is a sought-after residential location.

We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.

Albert-EmbankmentAs mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.

Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.

Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.

The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit  by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).

The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).

Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).

Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.

Precipitated at last by the so-called ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s subterranean sewer system was a remarkable feat of engineering and made radical new inroads in improving the health on Londoners during the Victorian age.

Joseph-BazalgetteThe state of the River Thames – basically an open sewer – and the city’s water supplies had become a growing cause for concern as the population of the city – and the amount of waste they produced – increased.

Not surprisingly in the mid-1800s this led to outbreaks of cholera which killed tens of thousands (the outbreaks were generally attributed to a miasma in the air until the work of Dr John Snow eventually proved otherwise – see our earlier entry on the Dr John Snow pub here for more). But it wasn’t until the hot summer of 1858 that – unable to escape the stink of the river under their noses at Westminster – politicians decided something had to be done.

Bazalgette (depicted right in a monument at Victoria Embankment) was chief engineer at the newly formed Metropolitan Board of Works (he was appointed in 1856) when legislation was passed which paved the way for the board to create a sewer system underneath London’s streets to serve the growing metropolis. He designed an ingenious system in which the flow from existing sewers and underground rivers was intercepted before it could reach the river and diverted along new low level sewers to treatment works.

All up, the £4.2 million project involved the construction of 1,100 miles of street sewers and five major brick-walled sewer tunnels which ran for some 82 miles along the banks of the Thames and were large enough to cope with the rising demand as the city grew. It also meant the creation of several massive embankments along the river, narrowing the Thames as land was reclaimed from the river.

The work proceeded apace and much of the system was completed by 1866 (it was officially declared open by Edward, the Prince of Wales in 1865). The Victoria and Albert Embankments – located on the northern and southern banks of the Thames respectively – were both open by 1870 and the Chelsea Embankment further upriver was completed in the mid-1870s. Bazalgette was knighted for his efforts in 1875.

The system, which also featured a series of ornately decorated pumping houses, has since been considerably extended and upgraded but at its heart is still that which was created by Sir Joseph and his team.

For more on the creation of Bazalgette’s sewer system, try Stephen Halliday’s The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis. For a mystery set against the backdrop of London in the mid-1800s, check out Clare Clark’s novel The Great Stink.

This Thames-side stretch of land, part of the massive Thames Embankment, was completed in 1870 after several years work and named for the then-reigning monarch, Queen Victoria.

The Victoria Embankment, which runs from Westminster Bridge to Blackfriars Bridge, pushed back the waters of the Thames and reclaimed land which was used for a roadway (built over over the District Tube line) and several public gardens, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens. To see the level of the original river bank, go to the lower entrance of Somerset House on Victoria Embankment and look through the glass floor just outside the doors.

The project was carried out under the direction of engineer of the age, Sir Joseph Bazelgette, as part of his monumental effort to build a modern sewage system for London and to help relieve traffic congestion.

The stretch of roadway and the series of gardens which now occupy part of Victoria Embankment feature numerous statues (including one of Bazelgette himself – pictured) and other landmarks such as the York Watergate (see our previous post), Cleopatra’s Needle (see our previous post) and the RAF Memorial.

There are also several piers positioned along the Victoria Embankment including Embankment, Westminster and Blackfriars Millennium Piers which vessels moored along this section of the riverbank include the HQS Wellington (home of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners) and the HMS President (now a function centre, it is formerly a naval ship named HMS Saxifrage.)