Bad Drainage And The Prince

In November, 1871, Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), attended a house party at Londesborough Lodge, near Scarborough, the home of Lord Londesborough.

Shortly after returning to Sandringham House, in Norfolk, the Prince went down with typhoid, and came so close to death that daily bulletins were issued in the newspapers and at police stations around the country concerning his health.

When Charles Blegg, the Prince’s groom, who had gone with his master to Londesborough Lodge, and the Earl of Chesterfield, who had also attended the party, both died of typhoid, it was more than apparent that the house  – or, to be more precise, the drains of the house – were the source of the Prince’s illness.

The Times was incandescent about the terrible state the drains, and went on the attack:-


Londesborough Lodge, to all practical purpose, is nothing more or less than a vessel inverted over the mouth of a pipe, through which rises continually, sometimes with violence, deadly vapour.

The effluvia of Avernus, which the poet says killed the very birds that tried to fly over it, could not be more deadly than those which must be almost always rising up the funnel terminating in Londesborough Lodge, and carefully stopped there.

Besides cesspools, absolutely within the foundations of the house, and where most likely to be mischievous, the Lodge has thirteen communications with the subterranean regions, all trapped, of course, with what effect is now seen.


The waste pipes are carefully trapped, either above or below.

The chief drain runs under the chief corridor, where, of course, is not likely to leak out its pernicious gasses.

The sole idea of safety appears to have been to stop the entrances of the evil, and it does not seem to have occurred to the architect that any stoppage, necessary as it might be under the circumstances, aggravated the upward pressure at all the other openings.

If, then, there should be a failure anywhere, either by want of accurate fitting, or by absence of water, or the honeycombing of the lead, as appears to have been actually the case at the southern end of the corridor, the mischief concentrates there.

The description reminds one of the case of men who have boarded ship and closed the hatches, with the knowledge that they have a hundred or two determined ruffians under deck, whom they must keep there if they would save their own lives.


As the “Commission” observes, all trapping is illusory without due precautions, and is liable to be circumvented by very slight causes.

There ought, therefore, always to be ample provision for securing the escape of the poisonous gas, not into the house, but out of it, by some ventilation for this very purpose.

The Lodge stands very prettily, quite in the town, with houses above and below; and the funnel which we have described as capping is a main drain which serves all that part of the town.


But now comes the crowning mischief. Of course, the drain runs out at low water, and, of course, fast as the tide comes in, it forces the effluvia backwards – that is, upwards – into the receptacles – that is, the houses – at the upper end of the funnel. Nothing can stand the tide.

The gas it drives back issues, when it can find an opening, strong enough to blow out a candle, “aye, a dozen candles.”

Of course it does.

Did it ever occur to these engineers to ask what the gas would do in airtight channels, when driven up from below?


No doubt it would, and no doubt it has forced itself out wherever it could find a vent, and if for the future, instead of searching the vaults under the House of Lords at the opening of the session, there were always somebody to see what explosive gasses are ready to find a vent, that would be something more than an idle or useless ceremony.”


Albert Edward was treated by Dr. William Gull, and, by Christmas, 1871, he had turned the corner and was on the mend.

However, the fact that the heir to the throne had come close to paying the ultimate price as a result of Lord Londesborough’s drains, aroused national indignation, and the call went out to sanitation experts and inventors alike, to come up with solutions that would improve the safety of the country’s drains, whilst, at the same time prevent people from wasting water by keeping the valves of their cisterns open.


One of those who answered the call, so to speak, was Chelsea Plumber Thomas Crapper, who devised manhole covers and drainage features that would greatly improve the drainage, not just of aristocratic houses, but of streets and houses across the whole country.