I’m writing in order to explain the drainage works and related excavations which many of you will have seen being undertaken by our contractors on the rear of the building.

These works are in part a response to the pressures arising out of the advancing trend for works of alteration affecting a significant number of flats in which the position of kitchens are being moved to what was originally the front/main bedroom, which is then opened up to provide an open plan kitchen, dining living rooms.  Further changes include the development of a number of the roof voids so as to create ‘Duplex’ apartments (12 so far out of a possible 26).  In a couple of cases, bathrooms have been introduced to the rearmost room in the flat, originally also a bedroom.

What does this have to do with drainage works, I hear you ask?

The answer is that all of these changes result in a requirement for effluent disposal which in turn requires a connection to a conveniently located soil pipe. The trouble with this is that there are no conveniently located soil pipes – we only have inconveniently located soil pipes.

In recent years, this has resulted in a proliferation of unsightly horizontally mounted waste pipes stretching across the rear elevations and imposing an unattractive visual burden on the building.  It so happens that the underground drainage is plagued with problems associated with their age and outdated design – the drainage network is now 120 years old and it is feeling the strain. We are plagued by blockages caused by the inconsiderate disposal of wet-wipes which are flushed down the loos and by food waste being poured down the kitchen sink.

Addressing both problems, unsightly pipework and blockages, requires works designed to increase capacity by the addition of new vertical soil pipes fixed in the corners of the light wells and preventing or reducing blockages by removing the surviving gulley traps (each of which have ‘U’-bends) which used to be the standard means of discharging waste water from kitchens and bathrooms and rainwater.

In the old days, gulleys were the most economic means of connecting cast iron waste pipes to the underground drainage which was made of clay. Each vertical waste pipe would discharge over an open gulley, surrounded by concrete barrier and ‘protected’ by a metal grill intended to catch solid waste (like food) in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent blockages.

This design was fundamentally flawed – it didn’t work. The metal grills would get blocked within hours by food, if it was a kitchen waste, or by hair and soap (and other ghastly muck) in the bathroom wastes. In a building the size of Morshead Mansions, each block having at least 6 gulleys, you needed porters/caretakers whose job it was to clear these blockages.

If neglected, which eventually became routine, the blocked gulleys would overflow and the waste water and the detritus floating in it would spread out over the ground around the buildings.

Here’s what these blocked gulleys looked like in 1978:

By December 1992, when we bought the freehold, the situation had not improved. If anything, it was worse – we had no porters, so nobody was even trying to keep on top of the mess that was spewing out from every block. The rear of the building was not a nice place to be.

We did improve the situation in the course of the major works programme which the company undertook in 1993 and 1994 but it was never really finished properly.

We finished up with a half-way house in which we sealed the gulleys to their respective drain pipes but did not eliminate the ‘U’-bends. While this did dispense with the mess depicted in the historic pictures, it did not entirely eradicate the blockages which would still plague the building from time to time. Moreover, with bathrooms being introduced into novel locations within the flats, we have to accommodate a requirement to dispose safely of ‘blackwater’.

Block 2 (flats 9 to 16) helpfully illustrates what we had to begin with in our present programme. The pictures above afford a good view of the mess which has accreted down the years as uncoordinated efforts produced a chaotic and unsightly jumble of waste pipes which are anything but attractive to the eye.

The last picture shows you the difference in appearance that can be achieved if you have the chance to construct a coordinated

system of externally mounted waste pipework which is integrated with the new drainage scheme. There are practically no horizontal pipes crossing the elevation, there are no gulleys or ‘U’-bends to block, all fittings are black in colour and fixed correctly (and in accordance with building regulations), and the building looks good.  A building that looks good enhances amenity and increases value.

If you have the opportunity, between downpours, why not take a walk along the rear of the building and see for yourself.  Let us know what you think.

David Wismayer