Year:1834 - 1860

Duration:26 years


Country: Germany

What did this project achieve?

Improve the infrastructure of 19th century Hamburg

In the 19th century, what is now the German city of Hamburg developed from a modest town on the river Elbe into a world-class harbour.

One of the most influential people in this development, was – perhaps surprisingly – the British civil engineer William Lindley.

Lindley – who was an ICE member - made a huge contribution to the construction of modern Hamburg. He worked on everything from the town’s traffic systems to its water supply.

The engineer was already working in Hamburg - as chief engineer of the Hamburg-Bergedorf Railway – when a massive fire broke out in the town on 5 May 1842.

The Great Fire burnt for three days and left about a third of Hamburg’s streets in ruins.

Lindley helped oversee the rebuilding of the town after the fire. The reconstruction work saw him working on sewers, gasworks, public baths and washhouses. He also planned extensions to the port.

The engineer is still remembered in Hamburg today; as well as statues and other monuments, there’s also Lindleystraße – a street named after him in the Rothenburgsort area of the city.

Difference the project has made

William Lindley’s work on sewers and urban reconstruction made a massive contribution to the quality of life for the people of Hamburg.

His designs and projects – mostly for water supply and waste water disposal – also made a difference in other mainland European cities including Amsterdam, Basle, Berlin, Bucharest and Vienna.

How the work was done

William Lindley first moved to Hamburg in 1834 as chief engineer of the Hamburg-Bergedorf railway. He developed an interest in urban planning while building the line.

Hamburg authorities asked Lindley to drain the Hammerbrook marshes to the east of the town centre in 1840.

The project saw him organising the construction of a network of canals which were connected to the river Elbe by a series of locks. The drained land was used primarily as an industrial area.

After the Great Fire of 1842, Lindley was one of the leading members of the technical commission set up to rebuild the third of Hamburg’s streets that had been destroyed by flames.

Lindley saw the reconstruction work as an opportunity to modernise Hamburg. His plans – influenced by the English social reformer Edwin Chadwick – saw him design and oversee the construction of the first underground sewers in mainland Europe. More than 11km were built in the following three years.

The engineer also designed a system to supply Hamburg with drinking water. Later work saw him building similar systems for other German towns including Stralsund and Leipzig.

Lindley worked in other parts of Europe – including designing waterworks for the Polish capital of Warsaw. The eight-year project was overseen by his son William Heerlein Lindley and opened in 1889.


Designer of the modern city.

Title of an exhibition

marking Lindley’s 200th birthday at Hamburg Museum in 2008.

Fascinating facts

There’s a memorial bench to Lindley and his sons in Multimedia Fountain Park, Warsaw. The bench is made of water pipes with a statue of Lindley standing next to it.

Warsaw’s Filter Street (ulica Filtrowa) is also named for the work of Lindley and his sons.

Lindley isn’t forgotten in the UK – there’s a blue plaque to him outside his home at 74 Shooters Hill Road in south London.

People who made it happen

  • Designer and consulting engineer: William Lindley, ICE member

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