The Garchey System in the Barbican Estate

The garchey is the mechanism in the original kitchen sink into which you are meant to put your wet rubbish – vegetable peelings etc. – and items like cans and bottles. If you look under your sink, you’ll see this bulb-like container (if you still have your garchey). This is where the rubbish gathers until you flush the system. Then it goes through the pipe.

If your garchey has been removed, it should have been capped off properly. This does not mean sealed off – that would lead to blow-backs further down the building. The capping-off leaves a one inch diameter pipe opening to the garchey system beyond your sink’s U-bend.

It’s worth bearing in mind that some gases build up in the building’s garchey system. (If you think of the result of eating a tin of baked beans and then apply that to a 6 to 43 storey building, you’ll get the idea.) So if pressure builds up in the system, gases can bubble back through the water in the U-bend and leave an unpleasant smell. There’s nothing wrong with your system – you just need to run the tap at least once a day to put fresh water in the U-bend occasionally.

600 cast iron 6-inch pipes run from the roof to the basement of each building throughout the estate. Each pipe has a number of garcheys connected into it.

When the garchey in a flat is flushed, the contents end up in one of the 150 ‘pits’ under all the buildings in the Barbican. They look a bit like traditional coal bunkers. (Just one is visible without going into an underground tunnel. It’s in the car park, level 5, below Defoe House). Apart from rubbish from residents’ garcheys, they also receive all the rainwater from the roofs of the buildings. This saved having to install a separate rainwater system and also provided a bit of extra liquid to flush everything through. If there’s a lot of rain, the pits can flood a bit through the metal doors, which you can see in the top section of the pit. These aren’t allowed to be air and water tight or else our unfortunate neighbours in first floor flats would suffer ‘blow back’ of waste through their kitchen sinks.

The pits are connected by 2 miles of tunnels running under the buildings. The main tunnel runs from the main garchey centre under Defoe House to the smaller one under Andrewes House. Between them they handle all the estate’s waste. There are five pipelines: two to Andrewes House, and 3 to Defoe House. The Andrewes House garchey system handles Lauderdale Tower, Seddon, Thomas Moore Mountjoy and Andrewes Houses, Brandon and Lambert Jones Mews. The Defoe House system serves Cromwell and Shakespeare Towers, Speed Gilbert and Defoe Houses, and the North Barbican houses (John Trundle and Bryer Court, and Breton and Ben Jonson Houses.

Every three weeks enough rubbish and water has accumulated in the pits and special lorries come to take it all away. The first step is that a vacuum is created in huge tanks in the control centres. The pressure – or lack of it – shows on a dial like this one connected to each pit. Then it is all sucked out. Lovely thought.