It’s 1868, and London’s River Thames is a sewage-filled snake winding through the overcrowded city. To make it easier for commercial ships to pass, the authorities order the dredging of its murky waters. But beneath the surface they discover something that hasn’t seen the light of day for 2,000 years.
The story begins in Victorian England, when the country’s capital city was home to some 3.5 million people. Ten years before the discovery – in 1858 – the Great Stink had turned the banks of the Thames into a horror show with warm weather exacerbating the stench of human and industrial waste to almost unbearable levels.
Wary of the spread of disease, the authorities began to focus on directing sewage away from the river. Meanwhile, the newly formed Thames Conservancy, charged with the river’s upkeep, worked to keep the waters in line with the demands of commercial shipping. And in order to accommodate the newer, wider vessels, it was necessary to dredge the river.