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Hidden city sewers: we meet a London waste engineer

Posted at 5:30 pm, June 20, 2015 in Fun London, Secret London
Underground - sewer interview

Not many people get to see them but there are miles of beautifully constructed shit tunnels beneath our fair city. One man who gets to appreciate them is Thames Water waste engineer Dave Dennis.

What’s a ‘waste engineer’? 

‘That’s my official title. We call each other “sewermen” or “flushers”. Our job is to keep London’s 1,200 miles of sewers flowing all year round.’

And what does that involve?

‘It’s not a job for the fainthearted. Aside from wading in sewage there’s a lot of heavy gear to lug around. A head for heights is also essential – imagine climbing down a 30-metre ladder. In the dark. We always work in pairs for safety, with one person standing by in case something goes wrong.’

I’ve heard that London’s sewer system is pretty cool, as shit-canals go.

‘It’s amazing. When Joseph Bazalgette built it 150 years ago the population of London was about a quarter of what it is now. And it still works great; some of the brickwork literally looks as if it was finished yesterday.’

What’s the hardest part of the job?

‘Restaurants pouring fat down the drain. We check the sewers under the West End most days for serious fat blockages. Also, baby wipes. Toilet paper dissolves, baby wipes don’t. Remember: bin it, don’t block it.’

Yes, Mr Sewerman. Any perks of the job?

‘A surprising amount of good-quality jewellery gets flushed away in London. Some of the lads make a tidy second income fishing gold out of the sediment.’

Ever fallen in?

‘They say you’re not a true flusher until you’ve fallen in. Just keep your mouth shut and you’ll be all right.’

Interview by Andy Hill

London’s underground isn’t all grime ya know – find out about Waterloo Vault’s Alice In Underground event here.

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