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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: July 2010

2 - Water


The lack of sewerage and efficient waste removal was not the only scourge of the modern industrial city. Another was the difficulty obtaining access to clean water, both for drinking and for washing. The two were intimately related. Lack of sewerage polluted the land on which people lived, worked, and traveled. It could also, however, pollute the groundwater from which communities took their water. Where towns did have sewerage, the tendency was to discharge it untreated into waterways, jeopardizing this source of water as well. For this reason the laying on of central water supplies was fundamental to the nineteenth-century project of sanitary reform. In his examination of urban mortality in England and Germany during the forty years preceding World War I, Jörg Vögele warns his readers not to exaggerate the pace and impact of progress in this area. Construction of urban water supplies and of drainage and sewerage systems had indeed been rapid, but also highly uneven. In a slightly sobering tone, he notes that, although Berlin had begun to build a central water supply in 1853, by 1873 “only” 50 percent of all dwellings were connected. Half of London's population had centralized supply “only” in the 1890s, while in Sheffield coverage reached 100 percent of the population “only” in 1906. Moreover, in their initial stages the systems were not always very effective. In Germany, for example, the pressure was not always sufficient to reach the upper floors of multistory tenements.

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