One of many amazing feats of engineering lying below the streets of London is Sir Joseph Bazalgette‘s sewer system which saved Victorian London from Cholera and dispelled the big stink. Even today the amended system operates smoothly, and regularly diverts flood water when needed. There are obvious precautions to take when exploring London’s vast sewer network but if caution is exercised it’s an amazing experience. There is a certain atmosphere of tranquility, contrasting the bustling city only metres above your head. The noise of rushing water only punctuated by the rolling of trains below and the occasional muffled siren from above. The beautiful curves of the well preserved brickwork and their moist surfaces make them ideal locations to practice some lighting. That is, of course, if you can put up with the rats, the smell and the fact that you will never look at sweetcorn in the same way again.
This particular junction of several London sewer branches is known as ‘Lucky Charms’. It sits on the South Western storm relief network near Clapham. Designed to capture excess storm water and divert it to a channel with a higher capacity- when the level of flow reaches the height of the overflow, it pours down into the high level storm relief and down towards the Thames. This process relieves the older, already strained system above. It was reached after a kilometre long walk along a slippery, ‘upturned egg’ shaped tunnel. Two large tunnels join into one, with one giant iron penstock to block the flow, now disused. It would appear that some parts of this junction were built by Bazalgette’s Metropolitan Board of Works, and some were added in the 1920’s by London County Council. It’s a fascinating place to be but anything you do takes time when having to mind every step in the thin layer of slime that coats the sewers, specially when running back and forth to set up lighting.