In the early 1800s Bristol stank.
The tidal rivers and medieval drains that had previously removed Bristol's waste could no longer cope with the growing population. The Floating Harbour, completed in 1809, added to the problem by eliminated tides in a stretch of the River Frome effectively making it an open sewer.
Several attempts were made to improve the situation. The Dock Company, charged with running the port and an effective sewage system, was taken to court in the 1820s. Forced into action, they commissioned William Shadwell Mylne to come up with a plan, but this did little to solve the problem. Following cholera and typhoid outbreaks, Engineer James Green was commissioned to improve sanitation in 1848 but it wasn't until the 1850s that real improvements began to be made.
The City created a Local Board of Health in the form of a Sanitary Committee, in 1851. Working in conjunction with the Bristol Waterworks Company, under the supervision of civil engineer Frederick Ashmead, the Sanitary Committee began to install an impressive system of main drainage that would significantly improve public health.
By 1874, 43 miles of sewers carried sewage to the tidal Avon below the Cumberland Basin. This creation of a sewage system was a major achievement - the hidden public health infrastructure radically transforming the living conditions of Bristolians throughout the city.
During the 1880s, Dr Joseph Yabbicomb proposed a new tunnel network to improve Bristol's sewerage. It took over 100 years for this sewer network to be completed.
Work began in the 1950s with further developments made between 1960 and 1964, when a huge sewage treatment works was built at Avonmouth. When the water industry was privatised in 1989, Wessex Water has continued the sewer network constructing four tunnels more than 16 miles in length, under the streets of Bristol.
Wessex Water finally completed the underground network when they opened the Bristol Tunnel in 2009. Created between 2006-2008, the tunnel is half a mile long and at a depth of 75m. It took 500 controlled explosions, cost £9million and links the Victorian Kingsdown sewer with the Northern Foul Water Interceptor. The new tunnel reduces the risk of flooding in the city centre and directs waste to the Bristol Sewage Treatment Works at Avonmouth.