Peter Lawrence introduced himself as a former Metropolitan Police officer working in Special Operations at Scotland Yard, looking after the Royal Family and the Embassies. Unusually, he was tasked with investigating underneath the streets of London!
Peter explained that subterranean London comprised a network of rivers (for example, the Westbourne, Tyburn and Fleet), tunnels (including the Tube and the old Post Office railway system, now a tourist attraction) and sewers. Archaeological finds from Roman, Saxon and medieval times reveal the layers of London’s history, Peter specifically mentioning the Temple of Mithras (which one can see free of charge) and the crypt beneath St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street.
The ‘Great Stink’ of 1858 led to Joseph Bazalgette building a new government-funded sewer system. The massive project involved using 315 million bricks and 25,000 labourers. Bazalgette also built architecturally amazing pumping stations in strategic places; they were cathedrals to sewage! To support and hide the sewers along the Thames, Bazalgette created the vast embankments that still exist today. The construction work made the river narrower, thus turning the Central London part of the Thames into a canal.
At the end of the talk, Peter proposed wryly that we should close the M25 (not his favourite motorway!) and put the traffic underground, acknowledging that using tunnels in this way was not a new idea!
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