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The River That Flowed Through History

For centuries, the River Thames has operated as London’s main artery, from the development of 'Londinium' by the Romans 2000 years ago, to its growth as a major route for trade and a busy thoroughfare for visitors and locals alike.

Despite hundreds of years of urbanisation, the river has supported a huge diversity of wildlife, including seals, numerous species of fish and birds, and even the odd water vole. 

Over the years, however, the river has had its challenges. 

The original sewer system was Victorian, built in the 19th century, when London was the capital of the world and, perhaps, its most polluted city. Sewage flowed freely through the streets or was dumped along the banks of the Thames, leaving the river stripped of animal life and disease rife. “The Great Stink” of 1858, left a miasma over the Thames which the government feared would bring about a public health crisis. Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, changed that. He proposed 82 miles of underground sewers and over 1000 miles of new street sewers to deal with this mounting crisis. When the Victorian sewer was introduced, disease outbreaks faded, nature started to heal and the Thames began to clear. 

Bazalgette's work is now over 150 years old and still in use, while London is home to almost nine million people. The city’s needs have changed, and so must its infrastructure. The Tideway project aims to preserve Bazalgette’s legacy and build upon his accomplishments.

The completion of London's new 'Super Sewer' is a huge moment in the city’s modern history, and once operational, promises to prevent millions of tonnes of sewage from entering the River Thames each year, leading to a cleaner and revitalised river that will become a source of pride for millions of Londoners, once again.

What do Londoners Think?

The River Thames is part of a community of Londoners young and old, river conservationists and recreational users.

We took to the streets to ask locals how they'd describe the capital's iconic waterway and what they thought about the prospect of its rejuvenation for them and their families in the future.


Discover all the key moments in the Super Sewer's construction and future operation.