My writing continues to cover a hotchpotch of disparate subjects. The threads are there, but how to connect them?

Into the Belly of the Beast: Exploring London’s Victorian Sewers (Reading: Spire Books, 2009)

Here’s the blurb…

In this innovative look at the underbelly of Victorian London, Paul Dobraszczyk offers a new account of how the city’s sanitation was revolutionised in the 1850s and 1860s by means of gigantic new sewers and magnificent pumping stations. He focuses on the question of how these new spaces were understood and represented – by both those who planned and promoted them (reformers and engineers) and also by those whom they impacted, namely London’s populace. Richly illustrated with maps, engineering drawings, newspaper engravings, and architectural photographs, this book suggests new ways of understanding London’s sewers and makes visible these vital, yet hidden spaces of the city.

Buy this book here or buy and read reviews here


‘Victorian market halls, ornamental iron and civic intent’, Architectural History 55 (2012), pp. 173-97

This article explores the relationship between iron, ornament and the civic in Victorian market halls. It charts the ways in which retailers, civic planners, architects and iron founders used ornament in iron to articulate new civic identities in industrial towns and cities. Like many other Victorian buildings, market halls made statements of what was regarded as cultural truth, its decoration offering lessons in civic and moral virtue. Yet, the way in which this virtue was perceived was far from homogenous and was affected by a host of considerations: the provenance of the buildings, the vision of local governments, financial constraints, the architects’ intentions, the manufacturing process, and competing civic identities. As this article demonstrates, ornament in iron played a vital role in articulating those virtues; it bridged the gap between the functional and the aesthetic, the present and the past, and the modern and the mythic.


‘City reading: the design and use of nineteenth-century London guidebooks’, Journal of Design History 25: 2 (2012), pp. 123-44

This article focuses on the design and use of information in London guidebooks in the nineteenth century, a time when the city guidebook developed into what is recognisable as its modern format. Focusing for the first time on the information content of guidebooks in this period, this paper examines, in turn, the typographic characteristics of guidebooks and their visual counterparts, maps. The paper assesses how the producers of guidebooks – publishers, mapmakers and printers – addressed the perceived needs and abilities of their intended readers and explores how actual readers responded, whether through textual annotations or accounts of navigation in the city. This paper demonstrates that guidebooks were subject to varied acts of reading – browsing, studying, searching – applied to equally varied information carriers – descriptive text, indexes, schedules, and maps. If this ‘useful’ reading has received some attention by analysts of human perception and information, it has seldom been directed at information or readers of the past.

Get the full article here


‘Petrified ruin: Chernobyl, Pripyat and the death of the city’, CITY 14: 4 (2010): pp. 370-89

This paper offers a reading of urban ruin through a personal experience: a visit I made to the Chernobyl site in October 2007—first to the destroyed reactor and then to the ruined buildings of Pripyat, using my own photographs as documents. The paper situates this experience in the context of wider representations of technological ruin and the city. Pripyat may not be a city, let alone a metropolis, but its scale as a ruin is unique in the post-war period. In the West, the ruined city usually only presents itself in fictive representations: that is, in literature and film and not in the flesh, so to speak. Experiencing the ruins of Pripyat may invite thoughts about the value, or otherwise, of industrial ruin; its unprecedented scale invites an altogether different meditation on the ruin of the city as a whole and perhaps, too, of civilisation itself.

Get the full article here

”Give in your account': Using and Abusing Victorian Census Forms’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 14: 1 (2009), pp. 1 — 25

This article examines, for the first time, the central importance of forms in an historical context by focusing on the development of the British census in the nineteenth century. Census historians have explored its impact in detail, including the production and dissemination of household schedules, by which the state gathered the information it desired. Yet, only cursory references have been made to the process that made the inquiry successful or not: the willingness or otherwise of the public to divulge the data requested and their ability to do this through the medium of the printed form. The article outlines changes in the production of household schedules from 1801 to 1901, their typographic characteristics, and the ways in which they were promoted by the census organisers. It considers responses to these documents through local schedules and nationwide newspaper and journal articles, shedding light on the means by which a vast and multifarious populace dealt with reading and filling out forms. The result will be to gain a picture of just how census schedules were received and negotiated by a public witnessing, and participating in, the establishment of the information state in Britain.

Get the article here

‘Useful reading: designing information for London’s Victorian cab passengers’, Journal of Design History 21: 2 (2008): pp. 121-41

Considered in an historical context, the design of information for everyday use can tell us much about the experience of reading for action. This article focuses on the extraordinary range of information designed for London’s cab passengers in the nineteenth century, focusing on fare books, lists, posters and maps. The article assesses how the largely anonymous designers of these documents—publishers, mapmakers and printers—sought to address the perceived needs and abilities of their intended readers, and explores how actual readers responded, focusing, in turn, on two groups: regular cab users (invariably assumed to be upper- or upper-middle-class men) and strangers to London, whether foreigners or otherwise. The paper demonstrates how accounts of reading experience link design and use and bring into focus the effectiveness, or otherwise, of the former. Even in the context of this very specific case study, the article’s analysis of readers’ responses to information design suggests varieties of historical everyday experience that have yet to be considered by historians, but, like other forms of reading, warrant our close attention.

Get the article here

‘Image and audience: contractual representation and London’s main drainage system’, Technology & Culture 49: 3 (2008): pp. 568-98

This article considers the role of technical representations in the building of one of the most significant civil engineering projects of the mid-nineteenth century, London’s main drainage system, designed and overseen by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette. It explores the ways in which the contract—composed of engineering drawings and an accompanying specification—mediated the relationship between Bazalgette and his most important ally, the contractor. The article also pays close attention to the variety of audiences beyond the contractor to which these documents were directed: including those who authorized and funded the project, those parties directly affected by construction, and the wider public. The result is a fuller picture of the social context in which the main drainage project was constructed and of the crucial role played by the contract in mediating social relations of many kinds, a perspective that is absent in the existing literature on the subject.

Read the full article here

‘Architecture, ornament and excrement: the Crossness and Abbey Mills pumping stations’, The Journal of Architecture 12: 4 (2007), pp. 353-65

In ‘Ornament and Crime’ (1908), one of the most powerful early ‘manifestos’ of architectural modernism, Adolf Loos directly equates ornament with all manner of filth. With insistent repetition, his denunciation of ornament is dramatised through its equation with dirt, the negative meanings of the term, in all its semantic contexts, being used to force home his argument: ornament equals sickness, disease, degeneracy, decay, waste, sterility and ruin. Such images were to become common tropes for future spokesmen of modernism. When in 1928 Siegfried Giedion looked back at nineteenth-century historicised industrial buildings, he condemned the ‘contaminating air’ of their ornamentation, which he regarded as infecting them with a ‘decorative sludge’. In this paper I look back to the nineteenth-century, at two buildings that serve to contextualise very precisely the relationship between historicised ornament and dirt: London’s Crossness (1862–65) and Abbey Mills (1865–68) pumping stations.

Get the article here

‘“Monster Sewers”: Experiencing London’s Main Drainage System’, in Niall Scott, ed., Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2007)

Writing in London in July 1861 – at the peak of activity in the construction of the city’s main drainage system – the journalist John Hollingshead (1827-1904), in All The Year Round, stated that “there are more ways than one of looking at sewers.” This small but significant observation forms the key to this paper, which considers press responses to the main drainage system, focusing on accounts describing the public ceremonies held at the Crossness (1862-1865) and Abbey Mills (1865-1868) pumping stations, which marked the opening of the system south and north of the river Thames respectively. Historians of the main drainage system have conventionally regarded these responses as uniformly homogenous and celebratory. By focusing on a wide variety of press accounts – illustrated and otherwise – documenting the same events, this paper questions such a sense of apparent uniformity. Rather, it demonstrates that these accounts embody a complex variety of responses, characterised by the interplay of the rational, the magical and the monstrous.

Read the chapter and the whole book here

‘Historicizing Iron: Charles Driver and the Abbey Mills Pumping Station (1865-68)’, Architectural History 49 (2006), pp. 223-256

Victorian architects and architectural theorists made a clear distinction between ‘building’ and ‘architecture’; for them, a building became architecture when historical references were invoked. The development of new constructive materials, in particular cast iron, directly challenged this perceived distinction. A new material possessed no history; how, therefore, could it be architectural? This paper addresses this question by focusing on the treatment of cast iron in a particular building – the Abbey Mills pumping station, of 1865-68 – assessing, for the first time, the contribution of its architect Charles Driver (1832-1900). By also referring to Driver’s published writings, this paper demonstrates how he sought, in this building, to invest cast iron with architectural, and therefore historical, meaning.

Read the article here

‘Sewers, wood engraving and the sublime: picturing London’s main drainage system in the Illustrated London News, 1859-62′, Victorian Periodicals Review 38: 4 (2005), pp. 349-78

During the 1860s London’s infrastructure was physically transformed. The building of a vast new main drainage system, designed by the engineer Joseph Bazalgette (1819–1891), was but one gigantic work among many begun in this decade, including the Metropolitan Underground Railway (from 1860), the Thames Embankment, containing part of the main drainage (from 1862), the London, Chatham and Dover railway (also from 1862), and new street improvements such as the Holborn Viaduct (1866– 69). Such building works brought chaos to the streets of the city as well as pervasive spectacles of both excavation and ruination, translated into a wide variety of imagery that filled the pages of London’s illustrated press.

This paper considers press responses in the early 1860s to the construction of the main drainage system. It focuses on wood engravings in The Illustrated London News, which gave by far the most extensive visual coverage of the project. The paper investigates how the concept of the sublime relates to these images of the construction of the main drainage system and assesses how the nature of this relationship shifts according to the differing content and context of the engravings. If the sublime was an effective aesthetic tool for celebrating the project, it also provided a vehicle for the more disturbing experience of the destructive nature of the construction process itself, both of which were brought together in the pages of the Illustrated London News.

Read the full article here


Read my review of Michelle Allen’s book Cleansing the City: Sanitary Geographies of Victorian London here

Read my review of Jamie Benidickson’s The Culture of Flushing here

Other published writing includes…

Edited publications:

Paul Dobraszczyk and Ben Campkin, ‘Architecture and Dirt’, special issue of the Journal of Architecture 12: 4 (2007)

Get this journal here

Articles and chapters in edited books:

Paul Dobraszczyk; Mike Esbester and Paul Stiff, ‘Designing and gathering information: perspectives on nineteenth-century forms’, in Information History in the Modern World, edited by Toni Weller (Palgrave Macmillan: London, 2010)

Buy this book here

Paul Dobraszczyk and Bruno Rinvolucri; 2010; ‘Talking shit: a conversation between Bruno Rinvolucri and Paul Dobraszczyk;’ in Critical Cities: Ideas, Knowledge and Agitation from Emerging Urbanists, Volume 2; Myrdle Court Press; London

Browse and buy this book here

‘Mapping sewer space in mid-Victorian London’, in Dirt: New Geographies of Dirt and Purity, edited by Ben Campkin and Rosie Cox (IB Tauris: London, 2008), pp. 123-37

Read the blurb and buy this book here

Refereed articles in academic journals:

‘Dream reading? Designing and using Victorian gardening catalogues’, Journal of the Printing Historical Society 15 (2010), pp. 49-75

‘Una rappresentazione di un ’ideologia dell’ improvement? Le mappe e il futuro delle fognature Londinesi, 1848-51′, Storia Urbana 112 (2006), pp. 113-39

Other articles:

Contributing author to The Enclycopedia of Consumption and Waste (Sage Publications, 2010), 2 entries (2500 words)

Paul Dobraszczyk, Mike Esbester, and Paul Stiff; ‘Designing information before designers,’ Baseline 58: 5 (2010), pp. 6-11

Browse and buy this article here

Paul Dobraszczyk, Mike Esbester, and Paul Stiff, ‘The Victorian origins of information design’, Grafik 184 (2010), pp. 47-51

‘Designing information for Victorian London’s cab passengers’, Ultrabold: the Journal of St Bride Library 7 (2009), pp. 4-9

Contributing author to The Phaidon Compendium of Graphic Design (London: Phaidon, 2009); 2 image captions (800 words)

Paul Dobraszczyk, Mike Esbester and Paul Stiff, ‘Designing information for everyday life, 1815-1914′, Ephemerist 141 (2008), pp. 7-13

Published conference proceedings:

‘Rational, magical or monstrous spaces? Press responses to London’s main drainage system, 1865-68′, in Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths of Enduring Evil, edited by Niall Scott (Inter-Disciplinary Press: Oxford, 2007)

‘Representation and power? Constructing London’s main drainage system’, in Studies in Urban History 31, edited by Lars Nilsson (Institute of Urban History: Stockholm, 2007)

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