The mouth of the Fleet River once looked like this….?

Entrance to the Fleet Ditch, London. Now a fully subterranean river – its headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath. The impressive building is Bridewell Palace, the river frontage housing the granaries. Bridewell was established in a former palace of Henry VIII on a bank of the River Fleet. From 1555 it provided punishment and hard labour for vagrants, idlers and prostitutes. Date: circa 1600

Well, it’s hard to imagine now, because the Fleet is underground for most of its lower length, but Henry VIII once had a palace here, where the Fleet flows into the Thames. Bridewell Palace was favoured by him early in his reign, but later became the notorious Bridewell Prison, on account of which many institutions are similarly named around the world. I found the above illustration at countrylife.

According to this article the palace was first turned into a prison in 1553, which would mean around the time of the renowned Copperplate Map of medieval London, as shown below:

Detail from the “Copperplate” map of London, surveyed 1553-9, showing the former Bridewell Palace, with its frontage on the River Thames, and extending along the bank of the River Fleet towards St Bride’s Church (visible in the background). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another view , circa 1660:

And a Victorian reconstruction:


Considering it was such a prime site, one wonders why Henry VIII didn’t simply have it pulled down and replaced with something more to his liking?

And should you be wondering, go to this piece to see what the lower reaches of the Fleet look like today.



  1. Viscountessw, love these posts, the “lost rivers” of London is a rich topic and there are numerous articles and at least one book that I know of about them. Trying to recreate them, in illustrations or reconstructions, though, well that I have found harder to find!

    I’ve come across descriptions of Dowgate once being wide enough to allow for barges to travel almost as far up as the fine manor house (L’Erber) that the earls of Warwick had on Carter Lane (said to be able to overlook the “Pond” – ie. the Thames), it must have been fairly late into 1300’s, maybe even into the early 1400’s as the Walbrook still ran to the west of St John which sat on the corner of Dowgate and Horshewbrigge strete. All along Dowgate the Walbrook required little bridges being placed over it, for ease of travel, and even as late as E4 there were restrictions about maintenance of these bridges – and uh the latrines being placed IN the Walbrook – and since that didn’t happen, the answer was just cover it over! Up by St Mildred Poultry the church underwent rebuilding in the 1450’s as sections of the Walbrook were already getting covered over as it crossed under the Cheppe, and ran past the east side of St Mildred (they built a new nave over the course of the stream!)

    At Queenhithe merchant ships were still allowed to travel up the Pond in Richard’s day, but not much further, but my guess it was the rare merchant ship that did that, likely if any did come upstream through the Bridge it was to the Hanse’s Steelyard, just south of the Dowgate – for those Ricardians looking to get their bearings here, Steelyard is sandwiched between Dowgate and Coldharbour which R3 granted to the Heralds’ for their use.

    The Fleet, by comparison, was no stream, it must have been the autobahn of its day!

    One river I have never found any proof that it existed, other than in myth, is the “Langbourne.”

    Thanks for the article, and the illustrations, why on earth H8 would want to be IN London, in any season, is beyond me, anyone who researches living in London knows it was (literally) an open cesspool! Today’s posh sounding Sherborne Lane, just a couple streets north of Warwick’s L’Erber, was renamed Sithebourne in 1530’s to erase it’s more commonly used name: Shittebourne lane.

    Liked by 1 person

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