london

So much London – and time to wrap up the comprehensive overview and move on to other things.  For the last post, similar to New York, I’ve compiled a fun summary of the maps, depicting hidden hydrology and others, that existing in London.  Some maps and mapping projects have already been discussed in the previous posts, either in the plethora of books, as well as some of the art & explorations.  The article from the Londonist entitled “The Best Old Maps of London” is a good starting point, which highlights the quintessential map, John Roque’s map of 1746

Close ups reveal the detail of this map, which is widely cited as a resource of locating lost rivers.  For locating these historic maps, there’s no better resource that Locating London’s Past, which “This website allows you to search a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London, and to map the results on to a fully GIS compliant version of John Rocque’s 1746 map.”

Going back a bit is a great Agas Map depicting “Civitas Londinum is a bird’s-eye view of London first printed from woodblocks in about 1561. Widely known as the “Agas map,” from a spurious attribution to surveyor Ralph Agas (c.1540-1621), the map offers a richly detailed view both of the buildings and streets of the city and of its environment. No copies survive from 1561, but a modified version was printed in 1633…”   An online version of the map, offers the ability to zoom in and highlight specific features.  An excerpt of the map shows the level of detail (and lots of boats).

And while not a historical map, this creation and update by the Londonist of Anglo-Saxon London take us in a time-machine “…showing the London area in Anglo Saxon times (roughly speaking, 500-1066AD). It’s pieced together from many resources, showing our guess at the roads, rivers, forests and marshland that characterised the region. The main purpose was to highlight the many villages, hamlets and farmsteads whose names are still part of modern London.”  A snipped below shows the idea, and a high-res download is also available.
And similarly illustrative, I really love this sketch (although I’ve yet to find what it is from) from a Twitter post by Poly-Olbion, captioned “Where the Thames and the Isis marry.”  Anyone help me out on a source, would be grateful.
A post on “London Maps You Should Know” from the London Historians’ Blog, has a long list of additional historic maps, including another old one, coming soon after the Agas map, by the Civitates Orbis Terrarum I by  Braun and Hogenberg depicts London circa 1560, published first in 1572.
The London Sound Survey has tons of great resources including their Sound maps, as well as amazing historical maps of London.  The 1849 Cruchley map has a pleasing aesthetic, as seen below:
This one via JF Ptak Science Books, is of “A Great Map of the “Other” London Underground: the Sewer System, 1990“, which shows the snarl of underground and some great history. “The map appears in the Report of the Results of an Examination Made in 1880 of Several Sewerage Works in Europe, by Rudolph Hering, in the Annual Report of the National Board of Health 1881 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1882), pp. 99-223.”

A fun and more clear version is this map Underground London, which does include items like “Underground River” and Sewer, takes a different graphical style.  “This light-hearted map, originally produced for Heritage magazine, charts the secrets under London’s streets in the style of Frank Beck’s famous tube map. It has since been taken up by Metro, the Independent on Sunday and thetube.com.  Illustrative rather than definitive, it includes the (now-closed) Post Office Railway, a selection of the capital’s buried rivers, Joseph Bazalgette’s sewer system and some of the curiosities of the Northern Line. In a similar style is a Beck-style map of London’s canals and navigable rivers, currently not publically available pending discussions between British Waterways and Transport for London.”

The hand-drawn versions are also fun, including this one of the Fleet River, via Londonist, shows a version involved “…a bit of research to trace the path of the lost River Fleet as it meanders under the streets of London. As you can see the map is completely hand drawn in pencil as well as the street indicators. The river is indicated by the rubbed out streets.”

As I’ve mentioned previously, the aerial perspectives are fun, and this on from the British Library of a “Balloon View of London, from the North” from 1851 provides a nice snapshot of the rapidly industrializing city.

Other locations for online maps come in a diversity of sources, including Subterranea Britannica,  Layers of London,  from the National Library of Scotland, (NLS) In the broader context, the Ordnance Survey (OS) is a great resource for modern and historic maps, and also check their GB1900 site that is an effort to “We need help in collecting all the names of places and features in Britain from the Ordnance Survey’s six-inch to a mile maps of around 1900”.  A version of London here from the NLS site, shows a highly detailed OS map from 1888-1913 timeframe, and below a 1:25000 version from the 1937-1961 range, depicting a similar level of detail as USGS maps.

And the realm of climate change would not be complete without one of Jeffrey Linn’s Spatialities view of sea-level rise inundated transformation of the Thames into “London Bay”.

A few outside the realm of hidden hydrology, but worth a reference, you can read about British maps and map-makers    as well as check out some other maps.  An interesting initiative for London National Park City, which is an interesting endeavor that hits on corridors and green spaces.  Some background via Geographical “‘The only difference really between a national park and a national park city,’ explains Daniel Raven-Ellison, Chief Exploration Officer of the National Park City Foundation, ‘is the acknowledgement that the urban environment, the urban habitat, the urban landscape, is just as important as rainforest, or polar regions, or a desert area. It’s not more important, it’s not less important, but we shouldn’t alienate ourselves from nature just because we are the dominate species within this landscape. “

Another that’s pretty interesting is London North/South, which shows a color coded split at the Thames, along with some reference points like stations. Not sure the usefulness, but it’s a beautiful map.

Another resource is the London Tree Map “This map is an initial attempt to visually present London tree data. The majority of the data is for street trees but also includes some park trees. The map shows the locations and species information for over 700,000 trees. The recent London iTree report estimated that there are over eight million trees in London, so the map is only a partial illustration of trees in London.”

An interesting bit of history, in terms of practical mapping, and a precursor to our handheld maps we use today, a post from The National Archives, a  “…leather glove painted with a map of London landmarks and was designed to help fashionable ladies find their way to and from the Great Exhibition held in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.”

 


HEADER:  The Agas Map of Early Modern London 

 

 

As January is quick turning into London month, we’re wrapped up on the summaries of available books on the subject, including works by Barton, Myers, Bolton, Talling, and Fathers, running a gamut of approaches to walking, studying, and mapping Lost Rivers.  I’d also be remiss if I failed to call back a 2016 post on another take on the subject, Iain Sinclair’s 2013 book ‘Swimming to Heaven: London’s Lost Rivers‘ which rounds out my collection on the subject.  The amazing amount of hidden hydrology literature provides a solid foundation, however, it is merely the tip of a massive iceberg visible layer of a vast and sprawling underground complex of content, and a starting point for discussing many of the other resources and discussion around the subject, including art, history, exploration, and maps.

A quick search of London and Lost Rivers or something along those lines yields plenty of material, including additional resource from the sources as diverse as London Geezer, which contains an extensive amount of information, to city specific hidden hydrology projects such as the Lost Rivers Project in Camden. A lot of ink (at least digitally) has been spent on this topic, with articles from BT like “8 of London’s lost rivers you probably didn’t know about” to BBC “The lost rivers that lie beneath London?“, the Telegraph (authored by none other than Tom Bolton, “The fascinating history of London’s lost rivers“, and perhaps the most prolific, the Londonist which covers this topic often, with titles like “The Secrets of London’s Lost Rivers” and info on specific rivers like “Counter’s Creek: In Search of London’s Unknown River” (authored by David Fathers) to a multi-part “Lost Rivers from Above: The Tyburn“.

Without going into extravagant detail and barrage you with too many links (there are over 100 I have at this point), it’s safe to say that London is by far the city with the most coverage, and it continues to emerge (such as this interactive virtual reality tour on the Guardian of London Sewers), showing that it’s a topic that continues to intrigue people.  For now, we’ll focus on some projects that work directly in the realm of these lost rivers, interpreting them directly through exploration and indirectly through art.

ART/EXPLORATIONS

Much of the interpretive work around hidden hydrology comes from art, in it’s various forms, and much of the art includes exploration, so I’m combining these two ideas in one here. We’ve previously featured artist Cristina Iglesias and her new installation Forgotten Streams in London as more of a site specific example, interpreting the Walbrook in water features outside of the new Bloomberg London HQ.

A spatial approach comes from Sandra Crisp, and her video project from 2010-2012 “Mapping London’s Subterranean Rivers”.  This work was “originally made as a site-specific installation for a group exhibition 2010 held in the semi derelict basement under Shoreditch Town Hall, London”  A soundtrack was added later and you can check out the full video at the link above.

A short blurb (with my one small edit) from the site: “The film allows the viewer to fly through a 3D map of London, revealing the sites of ancient and subterranean rivers based on research using old maps and books such as Nigel Nicholas Barton’s ‘The Lost rivers of London’. Evoking existing and long disappeared waterways that bubble unseen beneath our feet. Including; The Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Quaggy, Counters Creek, Neckinger and more…..”

A detail shows the intricacy of the layering, in this case highlighting the River Wandle – but the stills don’t do it justice – check out the video for full effect.

Crisp also breaks down the research on the piece, where she shows a hybrid version of Barton’s map that was the basis for the piece, along with some of the ‘making-of’ info that’s pretty interesting.

Amy Sharrocks, a London based artist, sculptor and film-maker, created “London is A River City” from 2009.  As she mentions in her bioFor the last four years I have been making work about Londoners and our relationship to water, inviting people to swim across the city with me, floating boats to drift on swimming pools, lake and rivers, tying people together to trace lost rivers and re-create a memory of water.” 

The project included walks of lost rivers, which involved using dowsing as a methodology for walks of the Westbourne, Tyburn, Effra, Fleet, Walbrook, and Neckinger rivers.  Each of these are beautifully documented (with PDFs as well for download), and worth exploring in more detail.  Per her statement “Why I’m Doing it?“, she mentions:

“Tracing these rivers has been a process of layering: new stories over old, our footsteps over others, roads and railways over rivers. Uncovering a past of London I knew nothing about. Connecting to things submerged beneath our streets has uncovered a currency of the city, and enabled a kind of palm reading of London. 

The idea of walking is vital to this endeavor, coupled with the dowsing gives it a pyschogeographic slant. From her site:  “These rivers lost their claim to space in this city, long ago paved over, with their inconvenient tides and smells, to make way for faster roads and railways. These river walks have championed a human speed, that stumbles, stops to look at things, slows down when it is tired. There is a connection to the speed of water, a meandering dérive to battle the rising pace of modern life. We took the measure of London by our own strides, pacing out the city at our own speed.”   Flash-enabled website headaches aside, it’s a good project worth some time to dive in.  Read some coverage from the Independent on the Walbrook walk.  You can see more about some other work as well at SWIM .

Another project, this time with a poetic bent, comes from via ADRIFT, a project by poet Tom Chivers envisioned as a “…personal interrogation of climate through poetry.”, where he “sets out to explore climate as culture, mapping out the territory of climate science within urban space.”  The site has the full list of writings, and a nice archive of some related materials are also on the site.  It’s a project of Cape Farewell, which has a great mission of “bringing creativesscientists and informers together to stimulate a cultural narrative that will engage and inspire a sustainable and vibrant future society”, namely climate change.  An image from the ADRIFT site as part of a photoset “Walking the Neckinger: Waterloo to Bermondsey”

A graphic design work Hidden Rivers of London by Geertje Debets takes a different, more visual approach, as “A research on the letterpress technique, while developing the concept and design for the visualisation of the underground rivers of London.  London’s terrifying under half… Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of this underground life, but when you look better, you find the underground world everywhere, especially the underground rivers. The names of the underground rivers are used in street names, places, houses, companies, schools and orchestras. The locations of these places show you how the river floats.”

The work of Stephen Walter got a bunch of press a few years back, with this map of London that “…traces the lesser known streams, sewers, springs and culverts of the capital in intense, hand-drawn detail.”   Some enlargements of these maps, via the Guardian:

Another of Walter’s work that is worth seeing is the 2012  “London Subterranea“, which “…aims to shine a light on this clandestine infrastructure and it presents perhaps the first comprehensive map, open to the public, which places so many of its features alongside each other. It geographically tracks the routes of London’s Lost Rivers, its main sewers, the tube network and it’s ‘ghost’ stations including the Crossrail project. It also pinpoints archeological finds, ruins, known plague pits, secret governmental tunnels, the Mail Rail and the Water Ring Main tunnels. Epithets to the ‘underworld’ of crime, and the scenes of notable killings such as the acid-bath murders get a look in. So too does the site of the infamous Tyburn Tree and its many buried corpses that still lie in its wake undiscovered.”  

On the topic of the subterranean, photography as well plays a part, with many of the London area rivers featured in a National Geographic photo-essay, “11 Rivers Forced Underground“.  A book on the subject I’d like to pick up, Subterranean London: Cracking the Capitol (2014), is described via a blurb from Amazon:  “Bradley L. Garrett has worked with explorers of subterranean London to collect an astonishing array of images documenting forbidden infiltrations into the secret bowels of the city. This book takes readers through progressively deeper levels of historical London architecture below the streets. Beautifully designed to allow for detailed viewing and featuring bespoke map illustrations by artist Stephen Walter, this unique book takes readers to locations few dare to go, and even fewer succeed in accessing.”

The publication had some acclaim, with one of the images winning an architectural photography award, along with some controversy as noted in the CityLab article “The Photography Book London Officials Never Wanted You to See” which outlines some of the sticky issues of urban exploration, access, liability, and such. Content addresses more than just hidden waters, but does include some amazing photographs as seen below.

This resource on London sewers from 2011 that looks to no longer be actively maintained, is ‘Sub-Urban: Main Drainage of the Metropolis‘ which looks at the drainage via sewer exploration and photography: “Alongside more traditional study and research practices, such as access to archival materials and the use of other historic and literary resources, we apportion equal importance to the hands on scrutiny of our subject matter. Taking time to explore, investigate and photograph London’s sewers affords us a greater understanding of the often complex architecture and gives practical insight and knowledge that cannot be gained from any amount of time spent thumbing through books and documents.”  There’s a number of links on the site to other endeavors, as well as some great imagery, both current of their explorations, and some historical work, along with the timeless phrasing of the section “Close Encounters of the Turd Kind“.

And when you’re done exploring, you can always grab a pint at Lost Rivers Brewing Company and drink the range of available beers inspired by the rivers themselves, and perhaps peruse Ben Aaronovitch’s 2011 book “Rivers of London“, where he created a story around various water deities and river spirits on the Thames and areas of London.

HISTORY

The concept of hidden hydrology is intertwined with history, so threads weave through all of these art installations and explorations.  The history of the development of London is fascinating and overwhelming, but there are some great resources like British History Online, which has resources on the topic like the six volume “Old and New London” written in the late 19th century, to sites like Connected Histories, which provide timeline based search tools, or links from the London Historians’ Blog.

On the topic of Lost Rivers, the history of the Big Stink is pretty key historical moment, which was a vital impetus behind what became the modern sewage system and led to the demise of many urban rivers.  The idea of this also led to “a piece of Victorian science fiction considered to be the first modern tale of urban apocalypse”, William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novel “The Doom of the Great City”, which is covered in depth via this article in the Public Domain Review.

You can also access primary sources, such as  following along with Sir Richard Phillips as he explored the edges of London in 1817, in “A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew“.

Some visual history comes via ArchPaper “What a difference 400 years makes: Modern and medieval London contrasted in hand-drawn cityscapes” which takes historic drawing viewpoints and redraws them showing the current urban configuration.

A fascinating thread that came from some of the books was the legacy of Spas, Springs, and Wells that have been a long part of the history of London.  There are some good sites to engage with this history, such as London’s Holy Wells, or the resource Holy and Healing Wells, highlighting around around the globe, including London.  There’s some great documentation such as the book mentioned by Barton, Foord’s “Springs, streams and spas of London: history and associations” from 1910, and one mentioned to me by David Fathers, Sunderland’s “Old London’s spas, baths, and wells” from 1915, both great resources for hidden hydrology.  An illustration from Foord, showing a 1733 engraving of one of these places, Tunbridge Wells:

The history of the Thames River Postman is a bit more random but worth a read, outlining H.L. Evans who delivered mail along the Thames. “The Thames Postmen played an important role connecting people who lived on the river with the rest of the world. They also became something of a local celebrity being a constant in the fast changing landscape of the river. Considering that the job was not without its dangers, it was remarkable that the Evans dynasty managed to continue for over a century.”

A visual resource COLLAGE, is an image database of over 250,000 images from The London Metropolitan Archives and the Guildhall Art Gallery, and also includes a picture map so you can locate them spatially in London.  A quick perusal found me in the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which showed this 1795 “View of Cheesecake House, Hyde Park.

The concept of the larger regional picture is the website Vision of Britain over time, which is full of great information, and specific to the landscape is the book ‘Hidden Histories: A Spotter’s Guide to the British Landscape‘ by Mary-Ann Ochota which helps decipher the immensity of history through interpreting landforms and other traces.  From a review in Geographical:

“There is so much history to the British landscape. What with its stone circles, hill forts, mines and umpteenth century cottages, the land is marked with centuries of use. This can make it hard to read, like a blackboard written on hundreds of times and never erased”

As you can see, plenty of great work has happened and is still happening in London.  This is not an attempt to be comprehensive, and there’s tons more out there on specific rivers and locations, so consider this a teaser of sorts and google away for more.  I’m trying to find a simple way to share the mass of my resources and links online for further reading and reference, so stay tuned there, and future posts will likely expand on this rich history around hidden hydrology.  As a last reference to London, the last post in the series for now, following the lead of New York City, will be on maps.

 


HEADER:  Hand drawn map of the Rivers of London by Stephen Walter.

The final installment of books looking at London hidden hydrology is Walking on Water: London’s Hidden Rivers Revealed, by Stephen Myers.  As part of the parade of books on the topic published in 2011, this takes a very different approach than the tour/photo guides of Talling and Bolton, reflecting Myers’ background as an engineer.  If you’ve checked out the previous post on the Barton book, you’ll recognize some of this similar analysis, as the 2016 3rd Edition of ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ includes Myers as a co-author, and seems a hybrid of this book and Barton’s earlier versions.

On that note, Myers approaches the project from that engineering perspective, and its loaded with info.  A blurb from Amazon“London’s hidden – or lost – rivers are a source of fascination. This book concentrates on seven North London rivers – the Fleet, the Walbrook, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, Counter’s Creek, Stamford Brook and the Black Ditch. The author, a professional water engineer, describes their sources and traces their individual histories, setting out their influence on the development of London and their use and abuse by society, eventually leading to their disappearance. The original watercourses of each of the seven rivers are shown on London street maps to a detail never previously attempted. Research to enable this included extensive on-site analysis of their river catchment topographies and desk-top studies of numerous old maps and literary references. Walking on Water ends on an optimistic note. Drawing on his professional experience, the author proposes a practical, affordable and exciting approach to recreating riverside parks and walks in the London boroughs through which the hidden rivers passed, which uses their source waters to refresh the lakes of the Royal Parks.”

Myers breaks down the history of hidden rivers, discusses a good amount on geology and the form of the rivers, and discusses their ‘uses and abuses’, all info covered in other places, but again with a unique focus here.  The second half of the book includes specific rivers, an overall map shows some of the North Bank Rivers (click to enlarge) covered, including all the usual suspects from other books.

Also of interest is a comparative profile, showing the central London Rivers.  The relationship of the rivers in terms of altitude from headwaters to outfall is a complement to plan relationships, and particularly in the context of London where all the rivers flow into the same source, the Thames, it allow for some good comparison.

The development of the City of London is of great interest, named the chapter ‘A City Grows, Its Rivers Beggared’ and how this rapid urbanization impacted the rivers both in demand for fresh water and degradation due to pollution.  The diagram below (which would have aided with some color and texture) shows the expansion of the city, notably the sprawling growth between 1800 and 1900 (marked by the gray inner zone and outer black line).

And while the chapter on ‘Mapping London’s Hidden Rivers’ is helpful in outlining the methodology, the results that come from this work are less than stellar.  All the diagrams and maps here are black and white, using a base map derived from the Geographers A-Z Map Co (similar to Barton & Myers) which again offers legibility and usability issues that leave a lot to be desired.  While the maps in the 2016 book were in color, they seemed overly detailed and took away from the routes of the rivers. In this case, black and white flattens it all out and their small size makes the cramped and difficult to use.  A good hybrid would be a black and white base with the paths drawn in color, perhaps?

As Myers makes a point multiple times, “it was a considerable surprise to learn that there were no large-scale maps, readily accessible to the general public, which showed their routes through the metropolis.” (14)  Perhaps Barton’s original 1962 book insert doesn’t totally qualify as ‘accessible’, but it does, and much more successfully, provide a large scale map of the routes that Myers was missing. He does mention obviously using Barton, and also references a book I had not heard about previously, London Under London by a very appropriately named duo for the task, Trench & Hillman.  Another reference was to a future volume, “Walking on Water – the Hidden Water Walks” to follow this one, but I’ve not found any mention that that project came to fruition.  So perhaps that was going to be the vehicle for better, user friendly maps, that never materialized.

For each river chapter, he does include the sections of the routes, again in very small size, which I think are very helpful for visualizing the routes of streams.

The final chapter does offer a strategy for a project entitled the Hamstead Water Conduit, where he speculates on a proposal that could “recreate short, clean stretches of the Central London rivers – more particularly the Fleet, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, and possibly, the Walbrook, the City of London’s own river.” (200).  He goes on to mention that “the source waters for the Fleet, the Tyburn and the Westbourne rivers are the springs and surface water which drain naturally from Hampstead Health.  These are the only source water of the hidden rivers that have been protected from pollution and which remain eminently accessible today.” (201)

A diagram shows a proposed route, which connects existing daylit portions with new or reconfigured surface channels in places, fed by the springs mentioned above.  While not a continuous river, the result is a linear water course that works with the boundaries of the existing city fabric while taking advantage of opportunities to create surface waters.  A “…‘feel-good’ project” but one with environmental benefits, flood mitigation, recreation, tourism, and infrastructure reduction. As noted by Myers, the social benefits as well, allowing us to “lift spirits in depressing times, but also contribute a small stimulus towards better economic times.” (208)

A more technical diagram shows some of the interconnections between the old and new systems, as well as the make-up water using existing groundwater stores (a metaphorical routing) and creating a water balance that kept water uses constant while using excess flows to ‘restore’ river segments.

 

The strength of this book, as indicated in the above analysis, is a solid, technical background in both the formation of rivers, the geological and hydrological framework in which these waterways emerged, the development implications that drove them underground, and some realistic considerations on why it would be difficult to daylight them, as they have been so fully consumed into the existing sewer systems. But also, some defensible and plausible daylighting strategies that take these multitude of factors into play.

The glossary ‘Watery Definitions’ on page 20 is a good touch, and discussion of what is a creek, stream, river, etc. is one that few tend to delve into in any detail.  As he mentions, due to size and typology, “it might seem more approrpriate to make reference to London’s ‘Hidden Streams’ rather than to London’s hidden rivers, as the flows in them could not really be described as ‘copious’ and their water surface widths generally lay in the narrow band of between 2 and 6 metres.  However, these watercourses have been referred to historically and collectively as ‘rivers’, and so this book will perpetuate that possibly inaccurate usage.” (22)

The Disclaimer at the beginning was interesting as well, as it seemed appropriate for anyone with a background in design and engineering to include the cover-your-ass language about accuracy, liability and not using the information for specific purposes.  This shows up also in the later Barton & Myers version of Lost Rivers, but does bring up a point about representation and what it could mean.  The accuracy of old maps .  He also warns about sewer exploration, I guess as well a necessary caveat for disseminating this type of information.

Each book I’ve covered offers something unique to the conversation, and this provides a great resource for those interested in London, but also a wider context of the emergence of urban creeks and rivers which seem applicable to all places.  A level of technical rigor also makes this a valuable companion to other resources that focus on places, history, landmarks and culture.

 

 

Jumping forward a bit,  the most recent of the books on London from June 2017 is another slim, exploratory volume, London’s Hidden Rivers by David Fathers.  Dubbed as “A walkers guide to the subterranean waterways of London’, this small book is extensive in scope and graphics.  From Amazon: “David Fathers traces the course of twelve hidden rivers in a series of detailed guided walks, illustrating the traces they have left and showing the ways they have shaped the city. Each walk starts at the tube or rail station nearest to the source of the river, and then follows it down to the Thames through parkland, suburbia, historic neighbourhoods and the vestiges of our industrial past. Along the way there are encounters with such extraordinary Londoners as William Blake, Judy Garland, Paul Robeson, Terence Donovan, Bradley Wiggins, Nelson, Lenin, Freud, and the great Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette.  Hidden Rivers of London contains over 120 km of walks, both north and south of the Thames. Winding through the hills, valleys and marshes that underlie the city, every page is a revelation.”

Fathers is an illustrator and map-maker, with a strong focus on walkiing guides, so this is in line with the other tour-specific guides, however, he visual and exploratory nature is inventive and really works with large, illustrated spreads (even in a small book), that highlight key points, while remaining focused on the route and the relation to the former waterway.  Text fills these empty spaces, in Fathers’ distinctive style.

There’s also a story beyond the story, not trying to get too much technical knowledge, but looking more at storytelling, for instance the Serpentine in Hyde Park, part of the route of the River Westbourne.  Some snippets of history, along with significant modern features, make for an interest mix.

I had seen snippets of his other books on the The London Thames Path and The Regents Canal, and really enjoyed encountering his work for the first time from this Londonist post, “The Lost London River With A Musical History“, which recounted one of the stories that eventually made it to the book, that of the River Westbourne, which “…like so many London streams over the past few hundred years, has been press-ganged by the demands of hygiene into becoming a sewer, and buried for the needs of ever more living space. And yet despite all this, the stream alone seems to have a mysterious, magnetic quality of attracting musicians to its banks.”  He recounts the experiences of a number of musical talents over history that were related to the hidden river, including below, where Judy Garland lived in 1969 (Site E) and Site G, which was the “site of the former Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens where a young Mozart gave a musical performance in 1764”  

A review from the Londonist mentions: “Each river is mapped in some detail, allowing the walker to follow closely, looking for clues: here a sloping side-road, there a gushing drain. The real joys are the little puddles of trivia that accompany each walk. Who knew that Lenin often frequented a fish and chip shop in the River Fleet valley? Or that Van Gogh fell in love on the banks of the Effra?”  Fathers had written often for the Londonist on the subject, with some great weekend walks along the routes of the Wandle, Lea, and Ravensbourne, with the expected maps and sketches, such as this from Ravensbourne.

You can follow him on Twitter @TheTilbury, and he’s also got some great info on all the books on his website, as well as this poster of the Thames, which “This full colour, illustrated poster, is packed with information about the architecture, bridges and monuments that line the banks of the River Thames as it flows through the capital city from Putney to Tower Bridge.”  

Following the early publication of ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ by Barton, there emerged in 2011 a set of compact, exploratory volumes by Paul Talling “London’s Lost Rivers” and by Tom Bolton “London’s Lost Rivers: A Walkers Guide”   Based on how they are listed on Amazon, it looks like Tallings book came out in June,  and Bolton’s arrived later in September, so i’ll start with the first.

London’s Lost Rivers by Paul Talling is a small pocket guide offers information on 22 lost rivers, and assorted other canals and water infrastructure.  There’s a companion website as well at www.londonslostrivers.com, which has info on the book as well as more details.  Paul Talling is a photographer and tour guide, so the book adopts that vibe, with great imagery and narrative focused on storytelling and exploration. A few images from the sample chapter on the website show the general format.

The maps are small but clean, with key highlights that reference back to the text, and the size warrants easy access via walks.

A review from May 2011 in the Londonist gives a good synopsis, “The format is spot on. Short bursts of text describe the tell-tale signs (look for ‘stink pipes’, sloping roads, and the sound of gushing water beneath manhole covers). Each watercourse is accompanied by an excellent selection of photos taken by the author.”

The text highlights some stories around the history and use, along with timelines for when the rivers were.  They vary as much as the rivers themselves, with anecdotes on things like the origins of the name, in this case the Effra“There are two possible explanations for the name Effra. The first is that it is derived from the Celtic word for torrent (given by the pre-Roman tribes) and the second is that it comes from an old London re-pronounciation of Heathrow, as the river flowed through the Manor of Heathrow in Brixton.”

There are lots of info on the site, including recent photos as well as a link to the a poem by U. A. Fanthorpe – “Rising Damp”, which was the 2nd place poem in the 1980 Arvon International Poetry Competition, included below:

Rising Damp by UA Fanthorpe.
A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’ (Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They inflitrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.”

The tours are still happening, a recent attendee posted photos of a Croydon Canal Walk, and the Lost Rivers Brewing pays homage to Talling as well in coaster (or shall I say ‘beermat’) form, via.

His other book/passion is Derelict London where he showcases his photography, which you can also see more of via the book of the same name. where he: “blending photographs with accounts of how particular buildings and sights fell into disrepair and what is likely to happen to them.:  He’s on Twitter @derelict_london


Tom Bolton (@teabolton) is a London-based researcher, walker and photographer, and his book London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide, is also a small format, aimed at an audience on the go.  As mentioned on the publisher’s site Strange Attractor, “London’s Lost Rivers takes the reader on a series of walks along the routes of eight lost rivers, combining directions for walkers with richly detailed anecdotes outlining the history of each river’s route, origins and decline. Tom Bolton reveals a secret network that spreads across the city, from picturesque Hampstead in the North to the hidden suburbs of South London, and runs beneath some of London’s most iconic and historic sites.”  A great quote also mentioned, from The Great Wen its, “a terrific mix of history, topography and practicality…”  

A foreword by Christopher Fowler sets the scene, as he explains some of the history and demise, summarizing the change in the mid 19th century from a city with vital, flowing waters to “…the water of the common sewer which stagnates, full of … dead fish, cats and dogs, under their windows” (vi).  He ends with the following:

“”This, in a nutshell, is the paradox of the lost rivers. Despite the fact that mere proximity to them eventually became enough to kill you, their mystical significance was once so strong that the Romans floated gods upon their waters. Now, with walking maps to guide us, the journal of the hidden rivers becomes clearer.”

Bolton’s introduction is more succinct, setting the scene by discussing the 50 tributaries of the Thames, and that “Of these, two thirds are partially or wholly lost, buried beneath houses and streets, channelled away in underground tunnels, their flows diverted away by the sewer system.  London lost most of its rivers in less than 100 years, testament to the wave of change that transformed it from a city of 650,000 in 1750 to an industrial metropolis with a population peaking at 8.6 million in 1939.” (vii.)

The rivers are the “veins and arteries” (vii), and were crucial for the development and growth of the city, but the growth led to the eventual demise and disappearance.  Yet, “Today the rivers have a strong symbolic presence, encompassing every aspect of human existence…” describing the connections with birth, healing, renewals, death, religion, and more, concluding (along with the Fanthorpe quote as well), “Such fundamental elements of culture and landscape are not easily dismissed, and do not disappear just because they have been culverted.” (viii)

A typical spread has a image and a pithy quote, followed by what amounts to turn-by-turn directions for a route.

These are complemented with some simple and effective maps, showing the river course as a meandering gray flowline, adjacent with a dotted path that shows the closest walking route.  Key areas are identified with symbols and context is kept pretty spare to aid in legibility.  Tough to pull off with all black & white, these work well, and the pages aligning with the adjacent text, rather than cramming it all on one map, works well.

The text and maps could, with little augmentation, become a GPS enabled tour app that directs you where to go while overlaying the experience with the voice over text, and perhaps some historic maps and photos.  A review of this book in the Londonist gives a summary as well as a comparison to its predecessor: “Tom Bolton’s handbook to the buried tributaries of the Thames offers a very different take on the subject, however. Where Talling’s book surveyed almost 40 watercourses with a punchy combo of colour photos and scatter-gun trivia, his confrere offers a more detailed geographic account of just eight rivers; broad and shallow versus deep and narrow, to put it in riverine terms.”

The review contines, mentioning that the 8 walks highlighted in the text are “…backed up with endearing home-made maps, which match the text’s precise directions. The text itself is more buoyant than your typical guide book, puddled with allusions to folklore and quoting everyone from Norwood News to Coleridge to the Book of Common Prayer. The cultural magpie approach reflects both the author’s sideline in leading tour groups, and the fondness of the publisher, Strange Attractor, for arcane, unusual and ‘unpopular culture’. This makes for a cracking read even if you have no intention of pounding the pavements. Fleet, Tyburn, Neckinger, Wandle…you’ll lap them up.”

The format is similar in nature to Talling’s book, and while the former included the authors own photos, this book includes photos by SF Said (@whatSFSaid), which were part of an exhibition in 2011.  Again from the Londonist “A collection of distinctive photos by SF Said captures the Westbourne, Walbrook, Effra, and others. The photographer pulls some clever Polaroid tricks to give his subjects a murky, subaquatic hue.”  The best resource a post here is this flickr set from Said, and some more pics are on the Time Out London blog Now.Here.This. There’s also a PDF of the gallery show at Maggs, which show these great images.

It looks like 2011 may have been a banner year for London lost rivers and hidden hydrology resources in general, as it was also the year that our next blog topic, ‘Walking on Water’ by Stephen Myers came out (also in June 2011).  Would love to know the unique set of conditions that was happening in London at the time to spawn three books on Lost Rivers in the span of a few month. Something in the water, perhaps?


HEADER:  “Depth marker at (the now blocked) entrance to Hermitage Basin at the London Docks in Wapping”  From London’s Lost Rivers, Paul Talling

As I embark on the journey to document London’s hidden hydrology, it’s revealing how many books, websites, art installations, maps and more that have been created around lost rivers over the years.  To begin, I thought it prudent to start at the beginning, or at least the modern version of this, with The Lost Rivers of London by Nicholas Barton.  This may be considered the earliest version of a hidden hydrology publication I’ve seen, that is, exclusively focused on the disappearance of urban hydrological systems. This groundbreaking work was first published in 1962, with a subtext epitomized by the tagline: “A study of their effects upon London and Londoners, and the effects of London and Londoners upon them”.  Barton describes the endeavor:  “The purpose of this study is to show that these rivers, still silently flowing along beneath our feet though for the most part degraded into sewers, have played a considerable part in the development and history of London, and furthermore that their influence is still felt today… “ (14)

I purchased a copy of the 1962 book, and was excited about the inclusion of a fold up map which shows the the streams, which was a nice surprise, as I figured it would be missing  (also a snippet of this in the header of the map).  An image of this map I’d seen before online is this version, which can be found via this post from London By Gaslight from 2012, showing folds and all.  I ended up scanning version in the book and stitching it together (it’s about 20″x 17″) because I really like the simplicity and style of the map (Click for larger version).

If you zoom in, shows some of the great detail of what is a superbly crafted map from over 50 years back.   A zoom in shows a simple black and white line drawing with blue water (doesn’t get much simpler than that) along with some simple labels. The Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet, and Walbrook wend through central London, and areas where it’s daylit such as the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

A further zoom shows the Rivers Walbrook and the Neckinger, along with Black Ditch, feeding the Thames on the east side.

The content of the book is organized around some of the main rivers on the north side, including the Walbrook, Fleet, and Tyburn, along with more geographically focused groupings to the west, south and east. There’s a fun section on ‘Dubious Rivers’ which questions some legends of these lost rivers.  The final section includes broader information on the uses of the rivers, and discussion of “Disasters, Diseases, and Drains” which includes analysis akin to John Snow’s mapping of cholera – in this case looking at incidence of bronchitis overlain with lost river paths to see if there’s a correlation.

It’s a pretty amazing book, especially when you think of when it was written, as it draws on a range of historical information that obviously was a bit less accessible in the mid 1960s.  I laughed when he mentions the following, in the Introduction, as it echoed what I feel most days: “For such a small theme, these lost rivers have been the subject of a considerable amount of literature, and an even greater amount of interest.  Nothing has surprised me more in studying them than the number of other people doing the same thing.  Yet in spite of this, there is only one book which purports to describe all the lost rivers (he’s referring to Foord’s 1910 ‘Springs, Streams, and Spas of London’) and even in this they are a secondary interest.” (14)

The sheer amount of rivers that ran through London leads to a number of interesting narrative opportunities, and the length of history of London adds to this potential creating an arc of time spanning centuries.  It also provides a partial story that is constantly in flux, as mentioned in 1962: “…there is no hard-and-fast distinction between those which are buried and those which are not… some of these streams are partly buried and partly not, and who can say that in a few years they will not be as much lost as their historically more distinguished predecessors?” (17)

The illustrations run the gamut beyond the map above which highlights rivers buried and open at the time, along with historical images such as woodcuts, here below of the Fleet River in 1825 and River Tyburn in 1750 (between pages 32-33)

More descriptive maps, such as the one below, showcase small scale concepts, such as the development of early sewers concurrent with development, in this case from 1679, highlighting sewers built by Richard Frith to alleviate problems from illicit sewers he had built earlier.  As mentioned by Barton: “This incident is only one of many clashes at this period between the authorities and the speculating builders who were so rapidly extending the fringe of London, and in tracing its consequences one gains a fascinating insight into this period of London’s history.” (52)

Another shows a much larger infrastructure intervention, the configuration of Bazelgette‘s 1858 interceptor sewers, which was driven by the ‘Big Stink’ and the need to ‘replumb’ the city to alleviate the health crisis created by the fouling of the rivers, as described by Barton: “Three large new sewers and the north and two on the south cross London from west to east, intercepting the old sewers on their way to the Thames.” (112)  The waste is then deposited at outfalls well downstream of the city, and the “old rivers are relegated to the function of storm relief sewers…” (113)  Thus a long-standing model for the transformation of many urban areas followed suit.

The book has an ample set of Appendices, including a good list of maps set in chronological order, and articles and books spanning back many decades.  The connection and historical use of the Rivers is a constant theme in the text, with stories of use and the connection of life and rivers for centuries.  This ideal is epitomized in this image from 1728, taken from Alexander Pope’s ‘Dunciad‘ shows the River Fleet, with the line:

“Here strip my Children! here at once leap in,
Here prove who best can dash thro’ thick and thin.”

As concluded in the original, Barton sums it up. “…despite the collective name by which these river are usually known and which forms the title of this book, they are not lost, but merely hidden: ‘a river can sometimes be diverted, but it is a very hard thing to lose it altogether’… The measure of the change is that today we need never stop to think about these streams, although they are still flowing silently along beneath our feet, ‘the ghosts of the rivers which once beautified Londong and the country round about…” (128)

FURTHER EDITIONS

This version was reprinted again in 1982 as the same text, and an official second edition shows up in 1996. The latter doesn’t mention any major changes, but does sport a new, color cover.  I don’t have a copy of either of these, so can’t vouch for any changes, but it is interesting to see the timeline from the original publication date, and at least a glimmer of interest that sustained multiple printings over the decades.

A reprint in the form of a third edition emerged in 2016 which, along with another author (Stephen Myers) and a tagline ‘Revised & extended with colour maps’.  It’s definitely an expansion of the original text, and it does incorporate ideas and parts of Myers’ 2011 book ‘Walking on Water’ which i will cover in a separate post, while including much of Barton’s original 1962 text, along with a new cover.

They do offer some new info, reported on London lost rivers expert Tom Bolton in this 2016 review from the Londonist, “Walbrook Stolen By Monks! New Lost Rivers Of London Has New Ideas” where he also refers to the original book as “London’s lost river bible”.    This update includes some specific route maps, which highlight the individual rivers, something that wasn’t part of the original text.  The route of the Fleet, shown below from headwaters to the Thames is a good example.

A more focused version shows the Tyburn flow around St. James Park, and the text allows for some visuals that were lacking in the original text about side channels and relationship of current conditions.

I also appreciate the sections showing the full route and overall elevations change, such as this for the Walbrook River below, with some modern reference points.

There’s a lot more imagery in this version, including more photographs and sketches, which is great, and they do cover a bit more in terms of history and context, adding chapters on development of London, and the key role of the rivers in defense, navigation, agriculture, fishing, mill-power and industry, as well as recreation.  They mention that, often prior to waterways being lost, they are manipulated for many of the purposes above, for instance, the story of the Fleet.  “After the Great Fire it was resolved to convert what had become a squalid nuisance into a beautiful asset. Under the direction of Wren and Hooke the lower 640 metres (2,100 feet) of the Fleet were deepened and widened, and an elegant canal created, 15.25 meters  (50 feet) wide, lined on either side by wharves… crossed with high bridges.”  (139) This modified Fleet is shown in the 1745 Rocque Map of London as the “Fleet Ditch”.

And while it was used for a time, in perhaps a refrain heard many times since, there “was not enough demand for a canal and too much demand for a street.”  After covering portions of it , “the wharves became roads and the central strip a long arcaded covered markets. The remainder of the canal was covered over in 1766, and the canal became a sewer.” (141)

Barton & Myers do get a bit speculative as well,with the last chapter Regaining an Asset, where they discuss the new visibility and popularity of lost rivers, and the desire to restore the physical and spiritual connections to these urban waterways.  They discuss a series of proposals for a number of of the rivers, including daylighting short stretches of the Walbrook, Fleet, Tyburn and Westbourne Rivers.  Beyond restoration, they do acknowledge “It is simply not possible to just open up long lengths of the Lost Rivers to the surface, particularly within the inner city, downstream. These stretches have been completely integrated into the sewer system.” (206)

The solution could be attained by tapping source waters high up in the watershed, stating that “The springs there may be the only source waters of the Lost Rivers which have escaped pollution and remain accessible.” (206)  An more expansive Fleet River Revival Project, seen below, would use gravity in “renewing a connection which existed before the rivers became polluted” (207) creating an abstracted system through the urban zones not following the exact route but taking advantage of current conditions to restore the general idea of the Fleet and other river corridors.

The update is a good exploration and adds a lot to the overall narrative, and the additional images, and the inclusion of the glossary is a nice touch.  They have, unfortunately jettisoned the fold-out map, and the internal maps, in my opinion, are not as effective, varying in scale, cropped and rotated weirdly, and overly detailed as to overwhelm the key hydrological information.  It’s funny to think of a book from 50 years ago actually having better maps than one published just a couple of years ago – but I guess it’s a case where color and detail isn’t always a positive, and this info in the hands of skilled mapmakers and graphic designers would make them more effective.

CONCLUSION

The book and its different editions provides a compelling history that is worth a deep dive.  Someone can prove me wrong, but I think the 1962 version, beyond some early tomes on springs and spas, is the oldest version of the hidden hydrology literature. And it still holds up today.  The updates add some technical rigor, and maps, but with the addition of the engineering co-author, it loses a lot of the original by trying to be too detailed and include too much explanation of routes, which is pretty boring reading.  If you are in London and at all interested, I’d look at a local bookstore or get online a track down a copy.  It’s worth a look.


HEADER:  Image from Barton’s original 1962 Map of London’s Lost Rivers.

Quick post to show the installation by artist Cristina Iglesias, ‘Forgotten Streams’ which is located at Bloomberg’s new European Headquarters in London.  The revelatory landscape is woven through three different plaza spaces, evoking the Lost Rivers of London, namely the Walbrook.

 

Via ArtNet News:

London’s “lost” river Walbrook, which the Victorians built over, appears to have been uncovered this week. The Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias’s Forgotten Streams (2017) now flows gently through the heart of the capital’s financial district, appearing in three places in the pavement outside financial media giant Bloomberg’s new £1 billion ($1.3 billion) headquarters. It is her first public work in London.

While obviously a metaphorical interpretation, the proximity to the actual route (not exact but close) to the Walbrook activates the historical ecology of place.  And I was surprised, actually shocked as I was looking at the original images trying figure out the material used, that it is cast in bronze, developing layers of matted shoreline along with differing water flows and pools.  As abstracted ecology, the integration of this type of artwork into a high-visibility project is great, and while providing minimal ecological value, the historical value is a positive.

Photograph: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock

I think they are pretty beautiful, but it was funny to read the review from the Guardian on the Norman Foster designed building, and a specific reference to this work:  “In a civic-minded gesture, there are three new public spaces at the corners of the site, adorned with water features by Spanish artist Cristina Iglesias, although her green-patinated bronze layers of matted foliage resemble fetid swamps – perhaps a sly comment on the financial services industry.” 

The theme is not a new one for Iglesias, who has tackled similar water-centric themes in previous work (amidst one of the most confounding web interfaces I’ve encountered in some time) and uses the cast bronze as a medium for waterways in other projects in her native Spain, as well as Belgium. More to come on her work as I dive in a bit, but a cool project to encounter.  An image of Iglesias, working with a similar material in the swamp, if you will via CNN:

Credit: Courtesy Lopez de Zuribia

Thanks much to David Fathers for the tip on this one via Twitter.

A diversion from the explorations of precedents of cities, we turn to Swimming To Heaven: London’s Lost Rivers by Iain Sinclair the “british writer, documentarist, film maker, poet, flaneur, metropolitan prophet and urban shaman, keeper of lost cultures and futurologist” I wasn’t sure what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised, as was one of those singular experiences that transcends disciplinary boundaries of urbanist, historical, literary, and hydrological worlds.  While the topics is Lost Rivers and exploration of the urban, the meditations on water and experience inform a larger connection with place, history, and language akin to what I reference in the title as ‘Poetics’.

Sinclair starts to explain the motivation early:

“Walking over or alongside the buried rivers of London stitches a form of collective memory in our sides.”  (3)

Mentioning a continuing fascination and obsession with the water, Sinclair points out early on where the book derived from. “My neurosis persists: the only ways worth negotiating with this world, while still hoping to connect with the rhythms of the cosmos, are by walking and swimming.  Which brings me to the haunting complexity of London’s buried rivers.  They’re not lost, not at all.  Just because you can’t see a thing, as Ed Dorn points out, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.  The rivers continue, hidden and culverted as they might be, to flow through our dreams, fixing the compass of our moods and movements.  The Walbrook, the Fleet, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, the Effra, the Neckinger: visible or invisible, they haunt us.” (5)

A Map of London Before the Houses – via @culturaltales

A previous book by Sinclair (which I have not read) is a meditation on his home place, captured in detail in Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire, which  referenced again in Lost Rivers, when he mentions,“Hackney, before the coming of the canals and railways, was quite a desirable suburb” (14) and “…all these blessings derived from the existence of a founding river, the Hackney Brook.  Now bricked over, made into a sewer, lost to us.”  (15)

Hackney Brook

Sinclair connects this to the lost rivers, “It is not possible to understand the growth and development of Hackney, for example, without registering the presence of that subterranean river, the Hackney Brook(5-6)

Hackney Brook as lost river thus becomes the inspiration, per Sinclair. “I think we should first of all take on the conceit of the ‘lost’ river as being applicable to the whole of London.  How do we define a lost river?  Are these simply rivers that have become degraded by exploitation, the excesses of mechanical industry?  They are present, certainly, their names coded into the streets, but you’d hardly know that they’re there.  Or are we talking about rivers that have disappeared — been culverted — and I think that’s more like it.  I the mid-nineteenth century, there was a moment when many inconvenient tributaries were culverted, because we needed to introduce, by way of the civil engineer, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, a very effective sewerage system.  A circuit of London’s waste to be washed away, purified, dumped into the Thames.” (15-16)

Hackney Brook
Workmen culverting Hackney Brook in Mare street (c.1900)

Sinclair laments the path that led to the burial of streams like Hackney Brook, or others throughout London. “The old rivers, with their intensely local benefits and pastoral memory traces, were also deemed anachronistic.  Either rivers were of use, for transport or water power, or they were hidden, as carriers of disease and conduits of filth and waste.”  Seen as progress, “…a sewage system was a proud Victorian boast of progress, contrived to lift the citizens of this powerful imperial metropolis away from the fetid stinks and oozes of the earlier, louder and stickier city of collisions.” (16)  His rivers lost to this modernization, are the “…rivers of memory, of inspiration” (7) and thus derive from the idea that “certain areas of the city have their individual sense of time”(13) While Hackney Brook is the local place for Sinclair, he posits that “…the most mythologized of London’s lost rivers is the Fleet.” (16)

 This is seen throughout history, beginning with Wren’s concept for London post-fire in 1666 could have transformed the city differently, utilizing the River Fleet (now buried) as a Venetian canal.
Wren’s plan for post-fire London
Close-up of canal in Wren’s plan

From another post from Chris Haile expands with an explanation of the plan in more detail: “From the remaining part of Fleet Street which escaped the fire about St. Dunstan’s Church a straight and wide street crosses the valley passing by the south side of Ludgate, and thence in a direct line through the whole City terminating at Tower Hill, but before it descends into the Valley where the Great Sewer [the Fleet, a tributary of the Thames] runs… Passing forward we cross the valley, once sullied with an offensive sewer now beautified with a useful canal, with wharves on each side, passable by as many bridges as streets that cross it.” (from Haile 2/1/14)

The southern reaches of the Fleet, flowing from Holborn Bridge, beneath Fleet Bridge, and into the Thames next to Bridewell Palace (between 1553 and 1559)

Sinclair meditates on this plan – and the brief moment before the opportunity was lost.  “There was that moment when Christopher Wren felt that he could initiate, with a revamp of the Fleet, a new Venice, right at the river’s mouth, close to St Paul’s Cathedral: a shining rational city of domes and bridges and splendid public works…. Wren didn’t have CGI futurism as a tool, ersatz utopianism, but he did have drawings that suggested Fleet-as-Venice would be a wonder of the age.  Except that every soon, and inevitably, the river was a ditch, a sewage creek crusted with dead dogs.”  (22-23) The dichotomy of river as urban canal versus the reality of river as sewer is perhaps the dominant theme of lost rivers, culminating in the Great Stink and the Victorian modernization of municipal sewers, which has Sinclair adds, had the result that finally, “the river was enclosed, sealed over, lost.” (23)

Sinclair also evokes a number of literary figures in the book, asking “What is this affinity of London visionaries, writers and mystics, with living water?”(7) This includes William Blake, who “…lived close to the Thames, tracking the River Fleet to Hampstead, to visit the Linnells, Blake is making a return to the source.  He is swimming uphill, absorbing the potency of a partly submerged stream; one of the arteries of his city.  There is a very particular sense of London and its geography.  And underlying all of this are torrential lines of verse in the great epic poems and wild waters of inspiration surging, stalling, tumbling over weirs and falls.” (6-7)

Another poet inspired by the Fleet is Aiden Andrew Dun author of the long poem Vale Royal “…registers the accretions of fable associated with what he calls the ‘River of Wells’.  Dun tracks the fleet from the seven springs of Kenwood, through Camden Town to Kings Cross.  He speaks of a river famous ‘for healing and medicinal waters’.”  tapping the deep vein of  “…meaning and mythology of the Fleet.  In practical terms, he leads walks that he calls ‘river pilgrimages’ through the historic traces of the submerged stream.” (17)

Construction work in 1845 to deepen the sewer carrying the Fleet down Fleet Street

Dun “remind us that the Fleet ‘still runs under Kings Cross today’… ‘As late as the mid-nineteenth century’, he says, ‘it ran on the surface through a green and pleasant land. But south of the Euston Road at this period it was already bricked-over and buried’.” (33)

From Vale Royal:

Kings Cross, dense with angels and
histories / there are cities beneath your
pavements / cities behind your skies.  Let
me see!  (34)
1854 — The Corporation of London workmen repairing the Fleet sewer, south of Fleet street under the direction of Mr. W. Haywood. The sewers carried 87,000,000 gallon of water daily in 1854. — Image by © CORBIS

Building on the work of Dun and Blake, Sinclair continues to delve into literary ruminations on the lost rivers.  He mentions that “Text, under the influence of buried rivers, becomes porous.” (30) which is true of London poets Bill Griffiths and Allen Fisher both of whom “…treat our lost rivers.  Both of them track South London streams, in the thick of local particulars, towards and erased history, to emerge in the contemporary world of political opportunism, civic discord.”  (37)

From Fisher’s poem Place:

     if I take a river to its source / and in the 
     case of the Falcon Brook / this is 2 springs
     / & follow its course / from head to tail /
     to the Thames / I may arrived from at least
     three projections / the source in the springs
     / is not the actual source / but the first
     visible source / so that if Pound said it / 
     it is original  / this originality has come
     because of previous accumulation  (39)

Anecdotes abound as well, with diversions on the subterranean sewers in The Third Man, which was set in Vienna where we picture Orson Welles – “flapping overcoat running through picturesque sewers.  Welles was not ever keen on going down into the tunnels, so they ended up recording sound effects under London: in the Fleet.” (23)

And a special one I’d love to look at closer, the Black Swine in the Sewers of Hampstead (Beneath the Surface of Victorian Sensationalism) by Thomas Boyle, which “The stream rushes on, now under the pavements, slaughterhouses, prisons, book stalls, down the valley of the Fleet, towards myths of albino hogs in the sludge of dripping subterranean spaces…  Legends of animals, escaped from Smithfield, feeding on refuse, living in darkness… It has been said that… Hampstead sewers shelter a monstrous breed of black swine.” (35-36)

The literary and the sensational intersect in the sewers and buried rivers of cities, something that is unlike other books on Lost Rivers that take the approach of tour guide, ecological investigator, or historian.  Sinclair: “However contradictory your approach to writing about the city, whether you’re a modernist using conceptual methods of research, combined with walking, bus trips, photography, painting, or whether you’re a traditional poet obedient to strict form, rivers infiltrate your projections as memory strips or teasing songlines.” (39-40)

The dialogue is critical without being overly environmental or sentimental.  In his discussions, there are moments when the impact of buried rivers sometimes comes to the surface of the writing.

“When rivers lose their status, spiritually and materially, the land is drained of value.” (52-53)

The loss of value becomes transactional, “Hidden rivers are part of an attempt to found a celestial city above the degraded particulars of the nexus of business and banking.(25) The cost below for another type of city seen above, the “subterranean streams brooding beneath speculative developments in the new suburbs of the west.”  (62-63)

This is where we enter the poetics of Lost Rivers, the book a lovely and dichotomous metaphor of the above and below ground city – the old and the new, that looks at loss yielding “…this vision of hybrid London, rus in urbe, snaking away to source, beyond the reservoirs, parks, spring pools…” (49)  while also connecting to “London’s plural nature: city within city, upside-down topography, rivers flowing under the ground, heaven inside the ball of earth.” (37)

Unless noted, all quotes from:
Sinclair, Iain.  Swimming to Heaven: The Lost Rivers of London. London: The Swedenborg Society, 2013.