The idea of embanking the Thames appears to have been conceived as early as the seventeenth century. Antiquaries even assure us that the old river walls with which we were all so long familiar were built by the ancient Britons.
However that may be, it is certain that mounds for preventing inundations of the Thames must have been raised at a very remote date, much of old London being lower than the high water level of its great river.
Sir Christopher Wren's plan for the rebuilding of London after the fire of 1666 included a quay to extend along the beach from the Tower to Blackfriars, but no attempt was made to put it into execution, and it was reserved to Lord Palmerston to inaugurate this great relief to the overcrowded city of London almost against its will. Nor is it likely that the improvement would ever have been effected, had it not been proved to be, if not positively essential, at least in the highest degree a desirable auxiliary for the purposes of the main drainage of London.
An Act of Parliament was passed under Lord Palmerston's auspices to supplement the capital raised by the Metropolitan Board of Works. Sir Joseph W. Bazalgette was appointed chief engineer, and his success in tackling the numerous complex problems in his path raised him to the zenith of his profession. Much, however, was also due to the able co-operation of the contractors Funness, Ritson, and Webster, and to the resident engineers Lovick and Cooper.