Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891) is not a man usually associated with IT despite being a contemporary of Charles Babbage. He was, in fact, responsible for designing and building London’s sewer network in the 1890’s. Not the most fragrant of subjects perhaps but as vital to the functioning of society as the IT networks of today have become.
London in the 1850’s was beset by Cholera, killing thousands at each outbreak. These epidemics were caused in part by an advance in technology – the water closet – which vastly increased the volume of contaminated water pumped into the Thames. Over the years 1858 to the 1860 Bazalgette designed and built 82 miles of main sewers and 1,100 miles of street sewers. Over the years the network has been upgraded many times but in essence still performs the same task as intended 140 years ago.
Surprisingly there are parallels between this most physical of networks and our modern squeaky clean, antiseptic IT infrastructure of today, Sir Joseph faced and met many challenges that will be very familiar.
Sir Joseph had an immediate problem to solve but adopted a conscious decision to build for the future. He calculated the capacity required and then doubled it as, “we’re only going to do this once and there’s always the unforeseen”. Without his foresight the system would have reached capacity in the 1960’s, instead the structures he built have lasted until the present day.
Topics: History of IT
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