17. New flush toilets were made available to the masses after 1851, and they actually made things worse!
The invention of the flushing toilet was supposed to make things better for Londoners. And it did – but just for a wealthy few. Unveiled to the masses at the Great Exhibition, held in London in 1851, the flushing toilet was a big hit with those Londoners rich enough to afford one. The problem was, the original city sewers were only ever designed to deal with water. With flushing toilets, human waste started flowing into the sewers and then into the Thames itself. Many toilets also flushed into old cesspools which were unable to cope with the sheer volume. They flooded, with the effluent finding its into the river.
While the rich were able to flush their waste away – out of sight and out of mind – the lives of the poor were made even worse. Even in the 1850s, large numbers of Londoners still got their everyday water from the Thames. Not only were people taking filthy water but bathe in, but they were also drinking it too. It’s no surprise, then, that disease was rife, and there were regular major outbreaks of the biggest killer of them all: cholera.