William Lindley (1808–1900)

William Lindley was an engineer and urban planner who spread main sewer design on modern principles across Europe. He was born and died in London but spent the middle years of his life in Hamburg, where his work transformed the city through projects for water supply, sewerage and transport. He undertook projects in more than thirty European cities.

As a young man he studied with the Anglo-French engineer Marc Brunel (the father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel) and with the surveyor and engineer Francis Giles. At the age 16, he spent a short time learning German at Wandsbek near Hamburg. When Francis Giles began to design the railway from Lübeck to Hamburg in 1834, Lindley went as his assistant. In 1838, he was commissioned to build the Hamburg-Bergedorf railway and in 1840 he began a scheme to drain the marshes around the rivers Elbe and Hammerbrook and make land for a new industrial suburb. When the great fire of Hamburg destroyed a third of the city in 1842, Lindley joined the technical commission for its reconstruction. He married Julia Heerlein of Hamburg and their daughter and three sons were born in the city.

Central to the new plans for Hamburg was the construction of sewers. Lindley was influenced by the work of the English social reformer Henry Chadwick who had studied the transmission of diseases in London and proved the importance of sewage disposal and clean water supply in his 1842 Report on The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain. At the time, Hamburg extracted water from the same river that took its sewage. Lindley designed an 11-kilometre system of sewer tunnels and a waterworks – all built within three years. He also designed the redevelopment of Hamburg harbour and in 1845 a gas plant for lighting streets and houses.

In Germany he designed sewer systems for Altona, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt-am-Mein, Kiel, Krefeld, Leipzig, Stralsund and Wuppertal. He returned to London in 1860 and designed systems for Budapest, Prague, Moscow, St Petersburg, Szczecin and Warsaw. Lindley retired in 1879 and the business was continued by his sons. A statue of him stands in Hamburg and streets in Hamburg, Frankfurt and Warsaw are named after him.