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The 'Great Stink' led to one of the engineering marvels of the 1800s. For decades, evidence had accumulated linking sewage-contaminated drinking water to outbreaks of disease. London's sanitation at the time consisted mostly of privies and cesspools. The Thames River received raw sewage via former storm drains that had been pressed into service as sanitary sewers. In 1858, an exceptionally hot and dry summer made the Thames begin to stink horribly. The smell invaded Parliament, whose members were so alarmed by the stench that within a month they had voted £3 million for a new city sewerage system. The huge project was completed with the opening of the Victoria Embankment in July 1870.
Source: 'Dreams of Iron and Steel,' by Deborah Cadbury (HarperCollins, 2005)