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LONDON’S LOST AND FORGOTTEN RIVERS

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Jacob’s Island formed by a loop in the River Neckinger c1860.  Formerly known as Folly Ditch. Watercolour  J L Stewart 1829-1911

Here is a link to a very interesting article on London’s lost and forgotten rivers with details of  some interesting finds including, my favourites , a 12th century triple toilet seat,  a Roman bracket cast in the shape of a thumb, Bronze Age and medieval swords and  a dogs collar  finally engraved with ‘Gray Hound’

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12th century triple toilet seat..

As The London Museum curator Kate Sumnall succinctly puts it “They are still there, and they’re flowing.  Some off them you can still see, others are beneath our feet, but the little clues around London survive.  Once you start paying attention to them the rivers jump out at you and you realise that you know far more about them than you think’.

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The River Fleet shown on the ‘Copperplate’ map of London c 1553.  

The Fleet  rose on Hampstead Heath,  flowed  beneath Fleet Bridge , now the site of Ludgate Circus,  and Holborn Bridge past Bridewell Palace, built by Henry VIII and into the Thames.

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Bridewell Palace and Blackfriars Monastery at the entrance to the River Fleet.  From a model by John B Thorp 

Archaeologists still argue about the exact route of the River Tyburn but it is agreed that it flowed from the Hampstead Hills,  across Regents Park to form an eyot which was called Thorney Island whereupon stood Westminster Abbey and the old Palace of Westminster.Westeminster_Abbey.jpg

Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster once stood on the eyot  formed from the  River Tyburn known as Thorney Island..

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The eyot known as Thorney Island 

The River Walbrook, short,  but as it was the only watercourse to flow through the City it was both an important source of water as well as a conduit to remove sewerage.  It may have come by its names because it flowed through London Wall.  The source of the Walbrook is still argued over but one plausible suggestion is that it begun its life near St Leonards Church, Shoreditch,  meandering down and under what is now The Bank of England and entering the Thames close to where  Cannon Street Station now stands.   As time passed it was vaulted over, paved and made level to the streets and lanes and thus built over …alas.IMG_5735.jpg

Map of London c.1300 with the River Walbrook shown 

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The River Walbrook, as it now flows beneath the Bank of England.  Photograph taken by Steve Duncan 2007

The River Wandle, one of the longest of London’s rivers,  passed through the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton,  Wandsworth and Lambeth to join the Thames on the tideway. It flowed through the grounds of Croydon Old Palace, sometime  residence of Margaret Beaufort and where the  young widowed Katherine of Aragon lived for a time, when that place was but a quiet village and at one time renowned for its fish, particularly trout.  However eventually becoming an open sewer leading to outbreaks of cholera and typhoid ,  it too was culverted over in the 19th century.

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Croydon Church with the River Wandle flowing past …

The Neckinger is believed to have risen close to where the Imperial War Museum now stands, crossed the New Kent Road and flowed either  past or through Bermondsey Abbey, where disgraced Queens were sent to languish and die.   A loop in the Neckinger became known as Jacob’s Island.  The Neckinger met the Thames via St Saviours Dock which was created by the Cluniac monks of the Abbey in the 13th century who named it after their patron saint and built a watermill there.

Are there any South Londoners out there?  You have your very own river..the Effra.  Now culverted it once flowed, roughly,  from the hills of Norwood, once part of the Great North Wood, Upper Norwood,  Dulwich,  Brixton and Kennington until it met the River Thames at Vauxhall.

I have only touched upon the copious amount of information that is readily  available on London’s lost rivers.  Its amazing to think that these historic rivers survive beneath the feet of thousands of Londoners as, totally unaware,  they go about their business…

For anyone interested to find out more about London’s rivers, there is an exhibition ‘Secret Rivers’  at The London Museum from 24 May to 27 October 2019 covering the histories of the Rivers Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn and Walbrook.

 

 

 

Not just the Thames; London has many hidden rivers….

 

London's Rivers

This article begins:

“London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture….”

Well, we’ve all heard of the Fleet and a few others, but I didn’t know all of them. Read the article for some very interesting information about the rivers and streams that our medieval forebears knew well, but which are lost to or hidden from us today.

THE CROSSRAIL RAILWAY PROJECT – A PORTAL INTO OLD LONDON

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No doubt archaeologists thought all their Christmases had arrived at once when first they heard the breaking news of the building of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure  –  which will be called the Elizabeth line and will open in phases from late 2018 – and the exceptional opportunities the excavations would bring.  However, did they ever imagine in their wildest dreams the wealth of artifacts that would be unearthed ranging from bison bones, 68000 years old, found at Royal Oak near Paddington, through the medieval period to Roman finds including a burial site beneath the area that once covered Liverpool Street Station.  Since the work begun in 2009 archaeologists have unearthed ‘tens of thousands of items’ from 40 sites spanning 55 millions years of London’s history and prehistory (1).The new railway will run from east to west through some of London’s most historical areas.  It has been described as a ‘layer cake of history hidden below the city’s streets’.IMG_4295.jpg

CROSSRAIL ‘LAYER CAKE’ OF OLD LONDON

 

LIVERPOOL STREET STATION

Some of the most interesting finds were discovered beneath Liverpool Street Station which stands right in the heart of what was once medieval London.  Of particular interest was the south-east corner where the ticket office once stood for this had been built over the Bedlam burial grounds (later known as Bethlehem Hospital) which had been in use since 1247 to 1815.  Eighty archaeologists worked on the site retrieving thousands of objects.  A total of 4,000 burials was uncovered including a plague pit containing 30 victims from the Great Plague of 1665. IMG_4300.JPG

One of the most poignant finds, a necklace that was found on the skeleton of a baby (modern re-stringing).  The beads are amber, white amber, cornelian, glass and bone.  

 

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Plague victim from the mass pit aged 17-25 probably male.

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Grave Marker for Mary Godfree, a victim of the Great Plague who died 2 September 1665.  

  • Excavation beneath that layer revealed a Roman burial ground.  Intriguingly several of the Roman skeletons were laid out neatly with their skulls between their legs.  The archaeologists have no explanation for this and perhaps its best left at that, a mystery.

 

CHARTERHOUSE SQUARE AND FARRINGDON

A large ditch was excavated to the south of Charterhouse Square.  It may be the remains of Faggeswell Brook which flowed into the Fleet River, the ditch formed the southern boundary of the cemetery and Charterhouse Monastery, founded in 1371 and suppressed in 1538.  Included in the items found, which had been dumped in the ditch to fill it in between 1580 and 1640 were leather shoes, parts of a horse harness dating back to the late 1500s , pottery and floor tiles dated to 1300 probably from the monastery.  The remains of a cemetery were discovered containing the remains of victims of the Black Death dating from 1348/9.  Twenty-five skeletons were discovered buried in three layers.

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TWO MEN IN THEIR 40S BURIED HOLDING HANDS FROM ONE OF THE LAYERS OF THE CHARTERHOUSE BURIAL PLOT

WORCESTER HOUSE, STEPNEY GREEN

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Reconstruction of  moated Worcester House, built around 1450 

Worcester House, a 15th century moated manor house built about 1450 probably on the site of an earlier house was previously known as King John’s Palace. Rubbish thrown into the moat gives an insight into the lives of those who lived there.  Among the many artifacts found were leather shoes, the remains of a horse harness dating from the late 1500s, dress pins, and a wooden ball which was probably used as a ‘jack’ in a game of bowls or skittles.  Henry Vlll is known to have loved bowls but banned poor people from playing it.

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16th century leather shoe

 

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Tudor Dress pin

 

Image result for crossrail charterhouse cemeteryWOODEN BALL USED FOR PLAYING BOWLS

However, this is not the end of the story for this old Manor House, for when the archeologists had finished over 4 tonnes of bricks were donated to English Heritage for restoring England’s Tudor buildings.

I have merely touched here upon a few of the wealth of wonderful finds from the Crossrail Archaeology.  Anyone wishing to delve deeper can find some excellent links to informative websites such as this.

  1. Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail (Jackie Kelly, p8).

 

 

 

 

Olde London Towne (2)

Following our previous post, This tells us about some specific mediaeval buildings ands structures.

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