OVER the years I have enjoyed researching the background to various items of local “street furniture”.

For some reason that level of historical minutia appeals to me.

The term itself encompasses a wide range of items in the urban streetscape – namely signs, benches, horse troughs, phone and post boxes, street lamps, kerb stones, drain covers and much more besides.

We usually pass by these everyday features without giving them a second look.

I wonder how many of you, for instance, have ever noticed Maldon’s surviving “stink pipes”?

Also known as “stench pipes”, or “stack vents”, they are largely a Victorian invention and were designed to ventilate networks of underground pipes carrying sewage from toilets and so-called grey water from baths and sinks.

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Nowadays we take indoor, fully plumbed-in toilets for granted, but until relatively recent times waste was discharged into cesspits, awaiting collection by the “night soil man”.

The installation of underground sewer systems was a real revelation, but the build-up of toxic fumes in them could literally be explosive – hence the inclusion of stink pipes along their length.

Made out of cast iron, usually painted in a municipal grey or green and sometimes displaying the name of the manufacturer, they needed to be tall (some of them up to nine metres) to direct the methane fumes above the nostrils of those at street level.

Despite being made redundant by modern house ground-works, vented manholes and the efficient operation of large sewage treatment plants, hundreds of these simple but effective pipes still survive across the country and examples can be seen in the older, more well-established towns – including here in Maldon.

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By the 1880s concerns were being expressed that the contents of Maldon’s “privies” and “water closets” were being discharged into putrid cesspools, or directly into the polluted river.

Not only that, but there was a particularly-unpleasant, rancid open sewer in Fambridge Road, which regularly led to complaints from the residents.

Something had to be done to avoid a public health crisis – in particular the risk of a typhoid outbreak.

Work, therefore, commenced on a new, state-of-the-art sewerage system for the town in the spring of 1889.

Maldon was still a place of “haves and have-nots” and priority was given to the more wealthy residential areas in the combined parish of All Saints’ with St Peter – St Mary’s would have to wait.

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But by 1913 the town boasted an overall “up-to-date system of drainage”. Above ground, evidence of that Victorian and Edwardian installation can still be seen by searching out the remaining stink pipes.

People often mistake them for redundant gas lamps and they do bear a close similarity in design.

However, stink pipes are literally that – tall open pipes with no top fitting.

So where can they still be seen? The first that I want to take you to is in previously mentioned Fambridge Road where that open sewer was once located. Still complete, it stands behind the bus stop, just inside the sports grounds of Maldon’s Upper Plume campus and not far from the school’s driveway exit.

Rusted and largely forgotten, it has an ornamented top of studs and leaves, typical of the decoration that only the Victorians would think to add to a piece of utilitarian street furniture.

It almost looks like it is crowned with a chimney pot and there is a curious slot-cum-bracket about half way down, which I suspect once held a lightning rod.

Maldon and Burnham Standard:

The stack vent at Plume Academy

Walking up the road and turning left on to the cut-through footpath to Spital Road and another pipe can be seen at the top of Mount Pleasant (in itself a Victorian housing development).

This looks very similar to the Plume example, both in height and decoration.

The next pipe that we will explore is now just a stump and is often mistaken as being the base of one of Maldon’s old gas lamps.

On the left hand side of Market Hill (as you go down), it is on the kerbside just past The Limes guesthouse. It has been truncated and only the bottom section now survives, but what is left has a quite different, attractive fluted design.

In 1895, the drain from the register office opposite (now Hair Media) was connected to that leading from the British School (now the Congregational church hall) to the main sewer and could have necessitated the installation of that particular pipe.

Early postcards reveal others – one in the area of the old police station, another in St Peter’s churchyard and one half way down Beeleigh Road.

Those are now long gone, while others have been removed within living memory (like the example near the salt works).

You might remember some, or even know of survivors that I have missed.

Stink pipes might not be the most glamorous aspect of our local history, but they were necessary and effective, and in some way they illustrate not just our rich industrial past, but a town that was evolving from its medieval roots into a more health conscious, sophisticated age that was complete with all mod-cons.