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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.

 

 

 

The long-lost Walbrook makes a “reappearance”….

Having for the past few days been concerned with the course (in the 14th century) of the old Walbrook, one of London’s “lost” rivers, I was pleased to come upon this article which indicates that the lost river is being acknowledged once again. Well, naturally, it hasn’t been mislaid at all, but was covered over centuries ago and now forms part of the capital’s sewer system.

The article referred to above is not new, but was to me. For once, the dreaded modern sculpture seems to be excellent. Something novel that is visually explanatory and really does bring back to life a river that has been hidden away for years.

Now all I need to know is where it actually meandered in the 14th century. It seems it was apt to change its course from time to time….

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.

Mythmaking: BONES IN THE RIVER

Night. The late Middle Ages. An angry mob rips open the sealed tomb of a man and carries his fleshless skeleton through the town streets, jeering. Reaching a field of execution, the bones are hurled on a pyre and burnt, then crushed to small fragments. This indignity not being enough, the desecrated remains are then gathered up and hurled unceremoniously into a Leicestershire river while the throng gazes on, casting  abuse at the meagre remnants of the hated dead man as the waves swallow them…

A version of  River Soar myth about Richard III, now disproved by the finding of his lost grave?

No, but the above story is almost certainly the origin of this once pervasive myth.

It was John Wycliffe, who produced the first Bible in English, whose bones met this fate. A Yorkshire man, who was educated at Merton College in Oxford, he was a noted theologian and philosopher, who became the rector of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. He wrote books that were considered heretical and was accused of  inspiring the Peasant’s Revolt. His followers, the Lollards, were often persecuted…and executed…long after his death. He himself remained a threatening figure to the church even years after he died of a stroke. As he had escaped the normal heretics’ punishment of death by burning, when he lived, it was decided to vent the punishment on his remains. So his skeleton was disinterred, burned and hurled into the River Swift.

Somewhere along the line, this true tale ‘grew in the telling’ and changed, as such stories often do; repeated over and over with added embellishments and errors  they  lose their original meaning and only retain fragments of the truth…in this case, that the remains of a persecuted man had been dug up from the grave by a mob and thrown into a Leicestershire river. To the average person, centuries after the event, who was better known and more interesting to tell such tales about,  a slain King or a heretical theologian?

Once Stuart era cartographer John Speed had written down the legend in regards to Richard, it swiftly took hold and was accepted henceforth accepted as truth by many…including numerous historians, although without one scrap of hard evidence (these historians shall remain nameless!)

The mythologisers had put the wrong man in the wrong river.

You know the rest.

wycliff

 

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