It feels slightly odd to be voluntarily spending a Saturday morning going to see the remnants of a 130 tonne, 250 metre long fatberg, but it is the Museum of London’s new star attraction and I fancied a bit of local tourism.
A very modern phenomenon, fatbergs form from the waste we flush down toilets, congealing and coalescing to grow into underground behemoths. The dried specimen on display at the museum was part of monster fatberg that slowly grew under Whitechapel, until it was discovered and dismantled in 2017.
The term ‘fatberg’ entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2015 and describes “[a] very large mass of solid waste in a sewerage system, consisting especially of congealed fat and personal hygiene products that have been flushed down toilets.” I have to admit I wasn’t expecting the “solid” bit, but when you see the pickaxes used by workers to remove the Whitechapel fatberg on display at the Museum of London the, it becomes clear that the allusion to great big blocks of ice is apt.
Sitting alongside buried Roman treasure from Londinium, the fatberg remnants could seem out of place in a gallery, but as the displays explain, many of the museum’s most interested pieces were found in cesspits of bygone ages, so there’s always been treasure in muck.
There weren’t many trinkets in the Whitechapel fatberg, however. Just lots of latent energy, much of which has now been converted into biodiesel and is re-entering the capital’s ecosystem out of the exhausts of London buses. I wonder how many bus trips you get from 130 tonnes of fatberg fuel?