London in 1861
London in 1861 was the growing capital of an expanding British Empire. It was the largest and richest city on the planet and each year the city grew by the population of a small town. The population had seen massive growth and the streets thronged with wealth and squalor side by side. With no adequate sanitation many streets ran with the waste from houses and businesses. The Thames could not cope with the sewage from the millions of Londoners and the tides simply pushed the waste upstream forming a massive cess pool. In the summer of 1858 the houses of parliament had to close because the smell had become overpowering. There were 13,000 street traders in London, many of which were children. The police estimated 20,000 children were being trained as pick-pockets and criminals. This was the London that Dickens detested and helped slowly change through his novels ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Pickwick Papers’ and ‘Bleak House’. In 1861 London saw a revolution in sanitation brought about by a major sewer project. This meant that the sewage finally ran below the streets and under the Thames embankment and was completed in 1866.
Transport in the capital was noisy, slow and dirty. In 1855 an Act of Parliament had been passed approving the construction of the Metropolitan Railway between Paddington Station and Farringdon Street via King's Cross. The Great Western Railway gave financial backing to the project when it was agreed that a junction would be built linking the underground railway with its mainline terminus at Paddington. The GWR also agreed to design special broad gauge trains for the new subterranean railway. However, a shortage of funds delayed construction for several years and only commenced due to the lobbying of Charles Pearson, the Solicitor to the City of London Corporation. In 1859 he persuaded the Corporation to help fund the scheme. Work finally began in February 1860 although Pearson unfortunately died before the Metropolitan Railway finally opened on 10 January 1863.