The Metropolitan Board of Works & London County Council

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The Victorians were visionary during this period. In response to the poor sanitary conditions, they designed and created a network of sewers to alleviate the foul conditions within the Capital. At times, raw sewage was even pumped straight into the River Thames. It got so bad that during the summer of 1858, a terrible smell of human waste literally hung over London. This phenomenon was named 'The Big Stink'.

As London grew and more people came to settle in the city, it became necessary for some sort of authority to take charge and oversee all the development of infrastructure that was needed to keep pace with the population's needs. At the time, the system of government was largely chaotic, with parishes and vestries mainly taking charge but they did not communicate with each other or co-operate much, so development was very disjointed.

In 1855 the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) was created, this was the first ever metropolitan government body for London. The MBW's first task was to oversee the construction of London's sewer system. It was the engineer Joseph Bazalgette's design that was put in place and it consisted of over 1,304 miles (2100 km) of pipes and tunnels which are still serviceable today.

The effect of the new sewer system was to reduce the incidence and spread of water-borne diseases such as cholera and the death rate in London was dramatically cut as a result of this innovative infrastructure. Bazalgette's design represents the largest civil engineering project of the 19th century.

Over the next few decades, the MBW became highly unpopular because it was run by unelected people whom the public perceived to be making unpopular decisions. As a result, the MBW was dissolved in 1888 and a new, elected body was created. This new type of government for London was called the London County Council (LCC) and it was the first time that London had an organisation that represented the entire metropolitan area. Right at the end of the 19th century, the first designated London boroughs were established, heralding a new era in local government for the city.

Next page: Famous London Landmarks Erected in the 19th Century