Sheffield's Great Flood of 1864: Engineering Failure and the Municipalisation of Water
Recent scholarly research at the intersection of the histories of technology and the built environment has revealed many tensions surrounding the design, building and management of major socio-technologies like urban waterworks. There remains much scope for research into the interdependence of socio-technological systems, engineering knowledge and the political and commercial agendas of municipal governments and private water suppliers respectively. In particular, the short- and long-term impact of reservoir disasters - examined in detail here through the case of Sheffield's 'great flood' of March 1864, in which over 250 people lost their lives - on the ownership and control of urban waterworks reveals many conflicts within the engineering profession, as well as the urban community itself, about the causes and consequences of socio-technological failure in the mid-nineteenth century. Using a rich variety of municipal, legal and commercial archival records, as well as contemporary newspapers, this article examines the competing interests involved in negotiating the long-term municipalisation of water supplies and concludes that greater attention should be paid to the influence of man-made disasters and engineering actors in this political game.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: May 1, 2014
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