Long And Malodorous History Of The Town's Sewage Works (14 September 1973)
One trouble with a rapidly growing town is that it suffers greatly from growing pains. Bletchley has had plenty of them in the past during its expansion under the 1952 Town Development Act and now it is having them again under the Milton Keynes new city plan.
The problem is that of providing essential services for a population whose expansion constantly threatens to over-run them. We have often heard or (sic) arrangements or plans which “should be adequate for the foreseeable future”. But the trouble with the future is that it’s so rarely foreseeable.
Who at the beginning of Bletchley’s development under the 1952 Act could have foreseen that in only a comparatively few years the authorities would have to be thinking in terms of a city instead of a comfortably sized town?
That is a local case. But the local position is also affected by national changes. Who 25 years ago could have foreseen the enormous increase in car ownership, a rush for home ownership at any price, or the phenomenal rise in the consumption of water per head of the population?
Such phenomena knock planning sideways. And even where future contingencies are fairly predictable the services needed to meet them may be impossible to lay down today if only because of the expense burden on the existing population. For instance, I have heard youngsters of voting age airily declaring that Bletchley should have had the Leisure Centre years ago. They little realise that even the Manor Fields sports arena which they have known all their lives almost failed 20 years ago because financially it was before its time. Nor do they know that not for a considerable time was it certain that the council would succeed in taking over the shell of a wartime structure which has gradually been made into the present Wilton Hall.
We can forgive youngsters these errors. But youngsters are not the only culprits. Having had to watch the process over the past 25 years I now entertain a good deal of sympathy with the local and county authorities. In my time I have prodded them about what I have thought to be their mistakes, but I have no time at all for the sort of chap who, with the benefit of hindsight, claims that a council of, say, 20 years ago should have foreseen this or that situation which has arisen today. Why, even now we could be planning for motor car cities only to find at the end of the construction that cars are either out of date or unusable for shortage of fuel.
But to get back to Bletchley’s particular growing pains, one of the most persistent has been the problem of treating and disposing of the sewage of the constantly increasing population.
The works off Simpson Road have had a long and malodorous history.
I am told that even before the last war The Gazette once led with the heading, “Simpson Stinks.” If by Simpson was meant not only the village but the whole parish, which until a few years ago included all that side of Fenny High Street, then Simpson very often stank after the war as well.
Among my memories of about 250 consecutive council meetings which I reported for the Gazette this one of the Simpson stinks takes a prominent place. Many were the complaints, especially in the early years. Staple Hall resident in particular were loud in their protests about not being able to have their windows open on summer night because of the stench.
Successive councils were very concerned and many and costly were the moves made to cope with the smell and with sewage and sewerage in general. I think the biggest sigh of relief that ever filled the Bletchley council chamber greeted the news that the new development corporation would place the city’s main sewage works somewhere else and that the Simpson Road works would then be closed or reduced to a pumping station (I forget which).
But there is one memory of the old sewage works and of their amiable overseer, Mr. Stubbles, which I treasure.
During one bad period the council were so desperate that they adopted a scheme of spraying the surrounding air with scent!
I am not partial to sewage works, but this idea seemed so novel that a visit really had to be paid – and with both nostrils fully distended at that. So, having ascertained that the sprays had been installed and were working, I walked steadily down the track from Simpson Road to the sewage works with my nose in the air. The aroma was well, most peculiar. Sometimes it was scent and sometimes it was THAT and sometimes it was both at once and the nearer I got to the works the stronger both of them grew – phew, wow, phew!
At the works, beneath the slowly rotating arms of the scent sprays, I was given a hearty welcome by M. Stubbles, who seemed to lead a fairly lonely but happy life down there.
I baulked when, after admiring Bletchley’s answer to the Simpson stinks, he proposed to conduct me on a tour of the works. But I went and I was quite interested by the time we reached the end.
The end was a concrete gutter. Down it flowed a crystal-clear stream.
“There you are,” said friend Stubbles proudly. “that’s all the effluent that goes out into the river.”
From his jacket pocket he produced a glass tumbler, filled it from the gutter and held it up to the sunlight.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” he asked.
Then without waiting for a reply, he held out the glass to me, and said “Now drink it and you’ll find it tastes good too!”
But I said I would take his word for it. Somehow I never felt less thirsty in my life.