Autobiography of William Joseph Dibdin F.I.C., F.C.S.
Analytical Chemist
1850 - 1925

SECTION 5   CHAPTER 1

PRIVATE PRACTICE

For the reasons already given I resigned my Official position at the London County Council in 1897. I well remember the occasion when I handed my resignation to Mr C J Stewart, the Clerk to the Council. As I was leaving his room the Chairman, Sir Arthur Arnold, came in and on seeing that Mr Stewart was engaged with me was going out again, when I informed him that I had finished and the cause of my being there. He was great perturbed and said, hurriedly, "I wonít hear of it. I canít permit it," referring to my resignation. I told him that I was tired of the worry and must "go out into the open air and sun shine." He evidently did not desire me to persist and would have been glad for me to withdraw my resignation. I was naturally pleased, but as I had acted only after long consideration and on the advice of many private and professional friends, including Mr Mansergh, the eminent Engineer, I let matters take their course. The termination of my duties was due for the month of June, but I was requested by the Council to continue for a further period of three months and then again for another month, so that our parting was on very friendly terms, so much so that when the matter came before the Council a proposal was made to ask me to withdraw the resignation. This was considered by some of the Members as derogatory to the dignity of the Council, and so the matter ended.

One of my Assistants, George Thudicum, asked me if I would accept him as a junior Partner and this was finally fixed up and together we started in private practice in Westminster.

The great sense of freedom from innumerable worries and the pleasant change to appreciative clients worked wonders in my health, which had been sadly upset by the Attack of blood-poisoning I had suffered from a short time before, following Influenza. On one occasion I was chaffed by a friend who wanted to know what had come to me as I was looking ten years younger!

Unfortunately an incident occurred about this time which had a very prejudicial effect. Without my knowledge or sanction an article appears in a now defunct Journal animadverting in very strong terms on the action of certain officials in respect to the sewage question, and it was evidently assumed that I was, if not the actual author, at least that it was at my instigation the article was published, whereas I was not only absolutely innocent of the affair but greatly grieved that it should have been written. This caused much disturbance in certain quarters and I was made the scapegoat of the official anger. It is not necessary to go further into the sequence of events which followed further than to say that when I introduced the Slate Bed system of sewage treatment every obstacle was thrown in the way of its success, but I persevered as I knew that I was right. In order to ensure the system being properly constructed and worked I was forced to see that they were. At first some of the beds were so badly made that we had to take out the slates and rearrange them, and thus a semi-commercial attitude was adopted and this action had the effect of providing ground for animus against my professional position by those who desired to undermine it and to hinder the introduction of the system. The result, however, has been definite in providing the accuracy of the system as is shown by the results of six years work at Faversham where not only has the sewage been successfully dealt with without the slightest nuisance, but the ordinarily offensive sludge has been reduced to only 1.4 cubic yards of inoffensive manorial earth per million gallons of sewage heated. This is solely used for the land on the farm and the cost of working has been at a minimum. This is only an instance of the results obtained at numerous other places and is merely quoted in consequence of the accurate statistical information which has been carefully compiled by the Town Surveyor, M Percy Andrews, in whose opinion the system is the best for the treatment of ordinary sewage. No other process so successfully deals with the sludge problem and this was the main object of the system.

I have been content to let judgement be given after sufficient time has been allowed for full development of the facts and am in hopes that when my action has been more fully understood and prejudice died out my determination to let nothing personal to myself, even to material loss, prevent the full demonstration of the truth of the system, and consequent advantage to the public and the development of this branch of the Slate Industry by utilising the waste slate debris of the Country.

In this I have succeeded and official acknowledgement of the correctness of my work has been accorded by sanction being given to various schemes. There is no necessity to harp on the matter further. That an inventor was misunderstood and the faults and errors of others attributed to him is no new thing. The main point is that my work in this respect has stood the test of time and justified my action throughout. The idea doubtless prevailed that a scientific man should not push his own invention but confine himself to purely professional practice, has doubtless much to recommend it, but when he finds that his work, which is for the public advantage, is being suppressed, not only by legitimate opposition but from personal motives, however good, they may seem to be to the opposing parties, is one of those exceptional occasions when it would be more cowardice on the part of the inventor to refrain from doing his best to establish the proof of his teachings and practice.

I have been accustomed to opposition in many ways as must be all those pioneers who venture out of the beaten track, but the seeker after truth must discard all this and push on with his work.

It has been said that when anything new is introduced, "that it is not true, then it is not new, and that everyone knew it before." I was opposed on the use of Permanganate for the deodorising of the London Sewage. Then my scheme for the permanent treatment of the London Sewage was more than severely criticised. Then my introduction of the 10 Candle-power Pentance-Argand as a Standard of Light was sharply opposed but finally recommended for adoption by the Committee of the Board of trade. My introduction of the Contact Bed for sewage purification pooh-poohed, but after their adoption by the Manchester Corporation after prolonged trials and their use for the after treatment of the tank effluent from the "Septic" tanks, the most sceptical were convinced and they are in use all over the world. Next, my work on the London Water supply was not pleasing to some of my colleagues and some of the "Progressive" party on the London County Council, but events have justified my work. My contention that the proper method for the treatment of sewage should be aerobic throughout was flatly contradicted but now others are claiming it as a new discovery.

So, in time the system of the aerobic treatment of the crude sewage on "Plate" Beds, as I originally called them but now known as "Slate" Beds, because Slates are used as the "plate," will be more and more employed and I am content to leave the matter there knowing that my action has been definite and consistent throughout.

One important piece of work carried out in my laboratory was that on Mortar for the Science Committee of the Royal Institute of British Architects following on a paper I read before that Society on Mortar. The work for the Committee extended over three years and the Report was published in a small volume. The detail work in connection with this was largely carried out by my son F J A Dibdin who steadily plodded through a most tedious job. When it was finished I took all the papers home and with the help of my daughter Christine, who acted as Secretary, drew up a Report which met with the hearty approval of the Institute.

In consequence of the War my Partner Rex and his Brother F J A (otherwise Joe) joined the Army at the outset and I was left alone in the Laboratory at Westminster. In consequence of the Government restricting Civil Expenditure the practice fell off and in February 1916 I move the laboratory to Belmont until matters should settle down again, thus saving time in travelling and expenses in the upkeep on the London Offices.

Later I moved to my present laboratory and residence at West Norwood where I am able to carry on my practice under efficient and comfortable conditions.