Kings of the Underground Kings of the Underground

This month we look back at the 19th century British family whose lasting local legacy reverberates to this day… By Stuart Dowell

When I came to Warsaw for the first time in the mid-90s and asked people to name famous Brits, many would rightly mention Benny Hill (probably really thinking about Hill’s Angels), Shakin’ Stevens (33 UK top 40 hits and his conviction for drink driving still years away) and Margaret Thatcher, who famously bought some cheese for her husband Dennis from Hala Mirowska in 1988 with the transformation-defining words, “Dennis likes cheese”. Other worthy mentions were received by Prince Charles, who picked up a piece of litter in the Tatras to the whole nation’s embarrassment, and John Lennon, who has a street named after him near Łazienki.

What surprised me greatly was that nobody mentioned the British 19th century engineering family / team comprised of William Lindley and his sons William Heerlein and Joseph who designed and built Warsaw’s sewage and water supply system: still in operation today, they were designated as being a Monument of History by President Komorowski in 2012!

William Lindley was a prolific civil engineer in the second half of the nineteenth century, building railways, gas street-lighting stations, sewage systems and water supply systems in Hamburg, Prague, Warsaw, St. Petersburg and many other cities in between. In 1876-78 he designed Warsaw’s sewage and water supply system, which has ever since been called the Lindley Filters.

The actual building work was supervised by his two sons William Heerlein and Joseph Lindley and included a network of sewer tunnels many kilometres in length that were famously used by Home Army insurgents in the Warsaw Uprising as they were the only way the fighters could move around the city and communicate with each other. The conditions in the tunnels at that time were depicted brilliantly by Andrzej Wajda in his film Kanał.

The whole system represented a civilisational leap for the people of Warsaw as it provided them with a sufficient supply of clean, treated water. During the building, great emphasis was placed on details and the use of high-quality materials. The filters are occasionally open to visitors and anyone lucky enough to get a ticket will be struck by their uniform beauty and the quality of the work.

Another part of the Lindley Filters is the River Pump Station on the Wisła’s left bank, which using a system of suction pumps drew water out of the Wisła and sent it to the filters to be treated. The suction pumps are known as Lindley’s dragons and due to the river’s historical low level at present, some of them can actually be seen above water level. In recognition of their work, the Lindleys have a street named after them running north from the filters, while William Heerlein Lindley has a splendid statue and bench in his honour in the New Town made up of pumps, tubes and even running water.

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