Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD kick up a stink as they discuss the history of sewage in Barnet

Few things are taken for granted more than the disposal of our sewage.

We press a button or pull a chain and something distinctly unpleasant becomes someone else's problem. What happens then, in fact, is a remarkable example of planning and technology. It was not always so.

The filth and smell of the streets of medieval London, for example, is well documented. Much of the sewage and other waste matter was simply thrown on to the streets and eventually found its way into the Thames. In our own sparsely populated area, by using local streams and brooks, things would not have been too different.

But with the coming of the railways in the last part of the 19th Century and the hugh growth in population and housing, the disposal of sewage became a serious problem.

Once again, it was the Victorians who faced up to the challenge. They did so following what was called The Great Stink' of 1858 when Parliament itself had to relocate because of the dreadful smell of the Thames. A series of Acts were passed to control and treat raw sewage with the responsibility placed on local authorities to meet their own problems.

Our area had its share of such problems: for example the sheer volume of sewage which came from the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum had simply been run into Pymmes Brook. A new system was eventually constructed in 1856. Friern Barnet, with its small population, fought the changes. They considered that earth closets were enough to meet their problems, but by 1883, with matters out of control, they had to build a sewage farm on a 30-acre site near Cromwell Road.

In Finchley, badly polluted local streams led to outbreaks of cholera which forced authorities into action. East Finchley's sewage actually flowed through St Pancras Cemetery where it was further polluted by shallow paupers' graves. The answer was a sewage farm built in Summers Lane in 1885.

Hendon's first sewage farm was on the south side of what is now the North Circular Road using the Dollis Brook valley as its drainage basin.

Childs Hill presented particular problems. In 1869, its sewage ran into open ditches to the Brent Reservoir but, by 1886, an outfall was built on Renter's Farm which met the problem.

The various Barnets had their own schemes most notably Chipping Barnet's farm in Mays Lane which is today a housing estate.

Like other farms, it produced excellent crops which were sold to the local population.

The various local authorities maintained and purified their own sewage until 1935 when, once again, the growth in population threatened a breakdown in the system. The problem was handed to the county councils whose answer, among others, was a very large sewage and main water system which embraced the whole of west Middlesex an area of 160 square miles. Twenty-eight separate local sewage works, including some in our area, were closed down. Others, such as Summers Lane and Cromwell Road, did not close until 1963.