Apollo Magazine

Why the Museum of London is going down the drain

A vast 'fatberg' is obstructing the sewers of East London – and the Museum of London wants to get hold of a piece

Block party: the Museum of London wants a piece of the fatberg. Thames Water

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

To the sewers of Whitechapel, where engineers have been battling to break up a 130-ton ‘fatberg’ consisting of, among other things, cooking fats, food waste and dirty nappies. The ‘berg – the largest such mass ever discovered in the bowels of London – is reportedly longer than Tower Bridge and the weight of 11 double decker buses.

The fatberg has certainly captured the public imagination, with figures including cult author William Gibson voicing their fascination. ‘People see it as a monster, this evil thing lurking under the streets’, Alex Saunders, sewer network manager at Thames Water, told the Evening Standard. 

It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the Museum of London has been making excited noises about acquiring a piece of the fatberg for its collection. ‘This item hits home that we do have quite an old infrastructure. Our sewer system dates back to the mid 19th Century’, curator Alex Werner told the BBC. ‘It is interesting in terms of the problems we face with a growing population in London, and the way that we are using the sewerage system in really the wrong way.’

Quite so. But there is one problem: how will the museum deal with the pungent smell? ‘I’m back in my office now and I can still smell it around my nose’, Werner admitted. Should the Museum of London succeed in securing a piece, employees and visitors would be well advised not to forget their smelling salts…

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.

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