During the long course of ages, London in its constant growth had been systematically polluting the beautiful river by pouring into it its sewage and rendering it one huge sewer. This horrible custom had begun in very early days and had gone on steadily increasing. Pope, Swift, and Gay alluded to it, and particularly to the state of the Fleet ditch-
"where Fleet ditch with disemboguing streams, Rolls its large tribute of dead dogs to Thames."
The stench arising from the mudbanks at low water and their disgusting appearance were long a standing reproach to London. It was no wonder that the river, which had been once famous for its fish, was almost deserted by them, and the fishermen petitioned Parliament on the utter extinction of their industry and prayed for relief; but it was many years before the authorities woke up to facts which were patent to all.
At last the Metropolitan Main Drainage Act was passed, and the first stone of the Victoria Embankment laid in July, 1864. The new scheme, however, only removed the nuisance from one part of the river to a point further down at Crossness.
The swans which in the old days were common enough on the river almost ceased to come down between the bridges : they objected to the risk of sullying their snow-white plumage in the inky waters. In more recent years another kind of waterfowl has become familiar to Londoners, the sea-gulls.
In the winter months flocks of these can now be seen constantly on the wing skimming over the face of the river, and so tame and fearless have they become that, like the sparrows, they will take food almost from the hand, and people may constantly be seen feeding them.Next page: The fish of the Thames