literature

The exploration of hidden hydrology takes many forms. While often focusing on the visual through maps and illustrations, and the verbal, through documents and texts, there’s a range of other sensory experiences that connect lost rivers and buried creeks to our modern life.

It is vital to connect the lost experiences with actual places, if only help imagine what was there previously, as well as to, surprisingly, find the traces and fragments of the palimpsest that remains after decades or even centuries of erasure. Beyond the idea of just being mere ground-truthing as a method of connecting the maps and texts to actual places, is the ability to engage other senses of touch, hearing, and  We engage and use our brains differently when we’re outdoors versus indoors, as a recent study showed that “…brain activity associated with sensing and perceiving information was different when outdoors, which may indicate that the brain is compensating for environmental distractions.” 

At the root of this is physically experiencing spaces through exploration and discovery. While we will dive into the more specific literature and potential for walking/flâneury in this context of exploration that encompasses our collective sensory experience, for now we will focus on some relevant overlapping themes in terms of specific focused sensing in a spatial frame – specifically soundscapes and smellscapes.  Some, but not all of these fit exactly in the tighter sphere of hidden hydrology, however all do provide valid paths of inquiry that could be directly applied to increasing our understanding and engagement with these buried, disappeared, worlds.

As with all of these explorations, this quickly expanded beyond one post, so I’m focusing first on the concept of smell – and will follow up subsequently with elaboration on other sensory subjects.

Smellscapes

The sounds and smells of water are powerful sensory experiences, which can evoke a range of emotions, hint of hidden landscapes, confront and astound then sooth and delight.  There’s also a strong historical element, outlined beautifully in this CityLab article ‘Sense and the City‘, which discusses Carolyn Purnell’s book ‘The Sensational Past: How the Enlightenment Changed the Way We Use Our Senses’.  in which she shows through explorations of noise, smell, and more over the span of history, “….while our bodies may not change dramatically, the way we think about the senses and put them to use has been rather different over the ages.” 

It is no accident that the events around what led to the massive reconfiguration of London through the burial of rivers into pipes is known as the ‘Great Stink‘, driven by growing water pollution and hot weather which  causing a mass exodus due to the notion that the smells could transmit disease, which was coupled with recent cholera outbreaks.  As mentioned in the Wikipedia article “The problem had been mounting for some years, with an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames. The miasma from the effluent was thought to transmit contagious diseases, and three outbreaks of cholera prior to the Great Stink were blamed on the ongoing problems with the river.”  The scientist Michael Faraday, who investigated and wrote a letter on the poor conditions of the Thames, is depicted in this Punch Cartoon from 1855 holding his nose and “…giving his card to Father Thames”, commenting on Faraday gauging the river’s “degree of opacity”

And while access to land and reduction of negative impact so the irony of much urban modernization of rivers by burying them was often driven by smells, fear of pollution via miasma, or legitimate issues with outbreaks like cholera, the so called “Monster Soup” via the 1828 image by William Health depicting the water of the Thames.

Expanding that notion, I recall this map, via CityLab, of the ‘Stench Map” from the “Charles F. Chandler Papers,” Columbia University Rare Books and Manuscript Library, which was described as a “Map Showing Location of Odor Producing Industries of New York and Brooklyn, circa 1870”

They quote Virginia Tech historian Melanie Kiechle and author of the recent book “Smell Detectives“, who is quoted in the article about the fascination and challenge of spatially representing sensory data: “Trying to show smells, which are not concrete—they’re invisible, they’re ephemeral, they’re always changing…”.  She also authored this paper in Journal of Urban History called ‘Navigating by Nose: Fresh Air, Stench Nuisance, and the Urban Environment, 1840–1880” [paywalled] where she mentions “City dwellers used their understanding of stench nuisance as detrimental to health to construct smellscapes or olfactory maps of New York City. Such maps identified health threats and guided movements through or out of the city.” 

And another, referenced in this Instagram from the NY Public Library Map Division, entitled “Going the whole hog. The odiferous Midtown West in 1865”, which shows this excerpt from a map “Region of Bone Boiling and Swill-Milk Nuisances” found in “Report of the Council of hygiene and public health of the Citizens’ Association of New York upon the sanitary condition of the city” published by The Citizens’ Association of New York. Council of Hygiene and Public Health in 1865″

The short of it was, in the mid 19th Century, cities were often foul and disgusting places, and, if you want a more thorough and frightening description of the above, visit CityLab’s post “The Sanitary Nightmare of Hell’s Kitchen in 1860s New York”  which describes conditions that inevitably existed throughout many cities at the time.  For rivers, this meant modernization, none as famous as the sewerization of London by Joseph Bazalgette, which tackled the issues of urban pollution and flooding in the mid to late 1800s, while also opening up room for development.

This approach served as a model for many areas around the world confronting similar issues, and serves as perhaps the greatest driver of buried creeks and hidden hydrology in modern cities.  Not solely based on smell, but it was definitely a factor.  In entombing these rivers, we cut off the bad but also vacated the positive associations of the smell of water that couple nostalgia via memory. Good and bad, the evocation of smells of water – ocean funk, tidal salt/fresh water mixing, freshness of a bubbling creek, wet grass, and all things in between have strong impacts on our experiences.  One of these concepts mentioned recently in writings I recall, including both a chapter in Cynthia Barnett’s book “Rain: A Natural and Cultural History“, and featured as Robert Macfarlane’s word of the day, is the concept of “petrichor,” which is much more complex but can be simplified as the smell air before, or after rain, which is so evocative as to support an entire industry, outlined in detail in an Atlantic article by Barnett “Making Perfume from the Rain“.

The role smell plays in our experience and enjoyment of places is often not discussed specifically, beyond nuisances, so it is heartening to see artists, designers, and planners taking on this specific area for study.  We will expand more on the water-specific aspects of this in the future, but for now, a great intro is this wonderful meditation on ‘The Conservation of Smellscapes” from the blog Thinking like a Human, which captures the idea better than I, and which also references a couple of the smellscape pioneers which we will discuss in more length below.

Kate McLean

Anyone interesting in the topic of smellscapes has inevitably come across the amazing work of Kate McLean, especially with recent write-ups in Atlas Obscura, The New Yorker, BBC News, and  Co.Design to name a few.  McLean is an artist and designer and current PhD candidate who focuses on sensory research which is found at her site Sensory Maps. and you can follower her as well on her Twitter account @katemclean.  In her websites explanatory text, she mentions the techniques and use of the visual to represent the sensory: “The tools of my trade include: individual group smellwalks, individual smellwalks (the “smellfie”), smell sketching, collaborative smellwalks, graphic design, motion graphics, smell generation and smell diffusion, all united by mapmaking” 

A 2015 story on “Mapping Your City’s Smells” discusses some of her work, specifically for London, where they developed a ‘dictionary’ of urban smells, “…including less pleasant odors (“exhaust,” “manure,” “trash,” “putrid,” and “vomit” among them) and downright lovely-sounding ones (“lavender,” “fruity,” “BBQ,” and “baked,” for example).”  An aroma wheel developed by the team, captures the complexity of these smells.

From this, they used words in geotagged social media posts to capture a spatial picture of these elements, then mapped them based on concentrations in a Pollock-esque composition showing bad smells along red tones and nature smells in greens.  As noted:  “The researchers envision these maps being used in a variety of ways. Urban planners, they suggest, can use them to figure out which areas of the city smell the worst—and then consider using air-flow manipulation, green spaces, and pedestrian-friendly streets to change them. Maybe computer scientists will one day create a wayfinding app that gives users the most pleasant-smelling path to their destination. Or maybe city officials will be inspired to use social media data to more consistently monitor how their residents are being affected by smells—and by the pollution that creates it.”

An online map of this data also exists from McLeans collaborators Daniele Quercia, Rossano Schifanella, and Luca Maria Aiello, under the auspices of goodCitylife.

Smelly Maps provides an interactive version of the data for London, with some additional Info about this: “Think about your nose. Now think about big data. You probably didn’t realize it, but your nose is a big data machine. Humans are able to potentially discriminate more than thousands different odors. On one hand, we have our big data nose; on the other hand, we have city officials and urban planners who deal only with the management of less than ten bad odors out of a trillion. Why this negative and oversimplified perspective?  Smell is simply hard to measure.  SmellyMaps have recently proposed a new way of capturing the entire urban smellscape from social media data (i.e., tags on Flickr pictures or tweets). Cities are victims of a discipline’s negative perspective, only bad odors have been considered. The SmellyMaps project aims at disrupting this negative view and, as a consequence, being able to celebrate the complex smells of our cities.”  

Zooming in, you get a breakdown on the relative smell density and dominant smell in a dashboard style.

On the interactive side, a smellwalk project from 2014 for Amsterdam gives a good overview of the process, where multiple people walk and record information, with “Over 650 smells were detected by 44 people undertaking 10 smellwalks over a period of 4 days in April 2013. Based on written descriptions from the smellwalkers, 50 broad categories were identified. Both frequently-mentioned and curious smells feature on the map.”

She provides a short description of the results, discussing her expectation of cannabis instead replace with the reality of waffles, spices, herring, laundry, flowers and leaves detected by participants.

“Dots mark the origins of the smells, concentric circles indicate their range and the warped contours allude to potential smell drift in the north- and south-westerley winds encountered on the days of the smellwalks. It is estimated that humans have the capacity to discriminate up to 1 trillion smells and our experience is highly individual; to walk and sniff is to know.”

The color legend breaks down specific dominant smells (both frequently-mentioned and ‘curious) derived from the 650 smells, and a subset of the 50 categories.

The graphical quality of these maps amplifies the the experiential quality, which also I believe makes them more engaging to wider audiences of designers and planners.  The magnitude lines offer an opportunity to zoom in on some specific comments displayed in an engaging way.

A video of this Smellmap Amsterdam is worth a look also:

Smellmap Amsterdam©KateMcLean2014 from RCA IED on Vimeo.

The 2017 New Yorker article “The Graphic Designer Who Maps the World’s Cities By Smell” shows a more localized example, as the author, guided by a kit she downloaded from McLean’s site, later mapped by McLean herself in Greenwich Village.  One of McLean’s own earlier endeavors looked at some specific blocks in New York, with a hyperlocal exercise,inspired by another article from New York Magazine ‘The Smelliest Block in New York‘.

The work blending art and science is a great model, and the representation offers some good lessons for mapping less concrete elements in the urban landscape.  The further parallel with hidden hydrology is in being able to interpret the unseen, as McLean mentions in the Atlas Obscura post, ““Participants are often surprised about how many odors can be detected if you really pay attention to smell,” McLean says. “Humans can differentiate a trillion different smells but we breathe about 24,000 times a day. Much of it can easily go unnoticed.” “

Victoria Henshaw

Another pioneer in the field is Victoria Henshaw, who sadly passed away in 2014. She provided another strong voice in the field of smell, authoring a 2013 book on the subject, Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and designing city smell environments, which was “…contributing towards the wider research agenda regarding how people sensually experience urban environments. It is the first of its kind in examining the role of smell specifically in contemporary experiences and perceptions of English towns and cities, highlighting the perception of urban smellscapes as inter-related with place perception, and describing odour’s contribution towards overall sense of place.”

An urban planner by training and an academic, Henshaw wrote on the topic at her blog Smell and the City, which, along with her book left a wonderful trove of info on the topic. An interview in Wired UK “Odour map seeks to save endangered smells‘ hints at an oft-mentioned theme in any writing around the subject: that while we scrub the cities of the bad smells, we also lose the essence of what makes places unique and special.

As mentioned by Henshaw: “”The approach to town-centre management has always been about sterilisation,” she says. “We’ve become so unused to strong smells that we now have adverse reactions to them.”  This disassociation is both the target as well as the opportunity to tap into unrealized sensory design opportunities, as we gain more understanding of the impacts.  One such method as the ability to reroute ventilation systems “to the front of restaurants and entertainment venues — with the intention of attracting more customers,” which ostensibly captures the essence and vitality of a food stall in Barcelona, from her site.

There’s a mention as well of a Global Smell Map that seems to be no longer viable as it doesn’t have any info.   A later article by Henshaw as well from 2014 ‘Don’t Turn Up Your Nose at the City in Summer” focuses the nose on New York, which for her was ‘The season of smell”, where smell becomes a factor in the original city grid layout to “maximize the benefits of westerly winds to dissipate the supposedly deadly miasmas thought to spread disease…” as well as industrial pasts, even long after the smoke stacks go cold, mentioning that “In London’s Olympic Village, for example, the main stadium was built on a former industrial zone — and when it rains, locals report detecting the smell of soap seeping from the site of an old factory.”

She mentions the sociology of smell as well, mentioning external issues like waste-treatment facilities and their smelly impacts often being located in poorer areas. “Smell also provides a sociological map of the city. Poorer people tend to have less control over their smell environments.”  The experience of smell-walks and close observations of senses, provides a new way of seeing and understanding places, and although sometimes foul, Henshaw’s advice is sound:

“But don’t hold your nose. Teach yourself to parse the city’s odors and you will find a new dimension of urban experience opening up before you. Accept the olfactory.”

McLean and Henshaw, along with a cast of others also helped co-edit the recent literature on the subject in the 2018 book  “Designing with Smell – Practices, Techniques and Challenges”, which offers “case studies from around the world, highlighting the current use of smell in different cutting-edge design and artistic practices…” [with] “…an emphasis on spatial design in numerous forms and interpretations – in the street, the studio, the theatre or exhibition space, as well as the representation of spatial relationships with smell.”

As mentioned, this detour into the realm of senses and smells may seem counter to the investigation of hidden hydrology, but these examples connect the hidden to the physical world through exploration, and also provide compelling ways of using these investigations of place while presenting graphic information that is compelling, interactive, and data-rich.  Next we will dive into another sensory exploration, that of soundscapes.


HEADER: Smell Map by Kate McLean – via Medium

 

 

 

 

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.

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

A follow-up to the previous post allows for a bit more expansion on the fundamental sources for New York City.  This includes the Welikia Project and it’s beginnings as Mannahatta, as well as the comprehensive book by Sergey Kadinsky on the Hidden Waters of New York City.  We delved deep with Steve Duncan’s sewer explorations and blog Watercourses and Undercity,  Together these make up a solid fundamental base of hidden hydrology work in New York City.  This also complements some of the projects I’ve covered, including the project Calling Thunder, which evoked the power of historical ecology via animation, the explorations around hidden infrastructure of photographer Stanley Greenberg, and some of the walks and installations focused on hidden streams with artist Stacey Levy.

That said, there’s still much more, so a postscript is in order to provide a bit of additional context to even claim to be a passable (although not even close to comprehensive) review of some of the city, with a focus on including some tours, art, history, and more.

SOME TOURS

One aspect of any place is explorations, and there is no shortage of tours around hydrology in New York City.  The group NYC H2O is a great resource for this, with a mission “…to inspire and educate New Yorkers of all ages to learn about, enjoy and protect their city’s local water ecology.”  They’ve hosted some great events in the past year alone, including tours with Steve Duncan, Sergey Kadinsky, and artist Stacey Levy as well as many others. City as a Living Laboratory (evolved out of the work of artist Mary Miss) also provides some great events, include walks, such as this one exploring the past and future of Tibbetts Brook with Eric Sanderson and others.

There are some less formal characters as well, like local activist Mitch Waxman, featured here in a NY Times article from June 2012, “Your Guide to a Tour of Decay”.  The article shows how he discovers, teaches and advocates about the hidden history of Newtown Creek in Queens, where, as quoted in the article: ““You have these buried secrets,” he said, explaining the thinking behind the occult conceit. He’s spotted early-19th-century terra-cotta pipes protruding from bulkheads, antique masonry sewers connected to who knows what. He added: “There really is no telling what’s in the ground there.”

And, for a somewhat related example, there’s always the amazing precedent of Safari 7, a self-guided subway based audio tour and map that highlighted “…urban wildlife along New York City’s 7 subway line”.  A map of the guide is found below.

SOME ART

In terms of some hidden hydrology based art installations, there are many that span permanent to ephemeral.  In the site specific realm, is Collect Pond Park, which was located in Manhattan historically as “…a large, sixty-foot deep pool fed by an underground spring” that was filled in the early 1800s.  A post here by Kadinsky & Kevin Walsh on Forgotten New York discusses the project and includes this rendering that highlights the interpretation of previous pond in the design of the new park. This includes a “…footbridge spanning the pond’s waist hearkens to the original pond’s shape, providing a historical link to a pond that has had such a huge role in the city’s history, before and after its burial.”

Another site is a fountain at Albert Capsouto Park, which references some hidden hydrology. From the Parks website:  “The centerpiece of Capsouto Park is a 114-foot long sculptural fountain by SoHo artist Elyn Zimmerman. This fountain bisects the interior space. Water spills from an 8-foot tower into a series of stepped “locks” evoking the canal that once flowed along the Canal Street. A sunning lawn rises up to meet the fountain from the south and granite seat walls adorn the fountain to the north.”

Capsouto Park Water Feature, 2009 – Elyn Zimmerman & Gail Wittwer-Laird

We discussed previously some of the hidden hydrology art of Stacey Levy, which was the tip of the iceberg of vibrant art scene in NYC interpreting hydrology as the medium.  One larger effort worth noting is Works on Water, which is “…an organization and triennial exhibition dedicated to artworks, theatrical performances, conversations, workshops and site-specific experiences that explore diverse artistic investigation of water in the urban environment.”  Their mission statement by the team sums up the potential:

“New York City has 520 miles of coastline. Its waterways are often referred to as “The Sixth Borough”. We are artists and curators dedicated to working with water to bring new awareness to the public of the issues and conditions that impact their environment through art.”

The sum of work there is worthy of it’s own future post.  In the interim, a few of the key contributors to Works on Water have their own complementary endeavors, such as Liquid City, a water based project by artist Eve Mosher, a self proclaimed “…water geek, urban enthusiast and playworker in training”, whom is “…fascinated by our waterways, the space they inhabit the roles they play in our daily life and finding ways to create a greater engagement across disciplines and a greater awareness in the public narrative.”

Liquid City: Currents (Eve Mosher)

Her project aims to be the following  “1. A research database of collected resources and video stories of people working on the urban waterways. An open source compendium for creative inspiration,  2. An interdisciplinary floating think tank/lab working on creative interventions about the urban waterways, and 3. A traveling think tank/lab sharing resources, traveling the Great Loop’s urban waterways.”   A fascinating work on her site is the Waterways System Map below (click the link for the fully interactive version) which involves “mapping the existing system of the waterways” in extraordinary detail.

Below is another of Mosher’s project, from  exhibit: “As part of Works on Water, I collaborated with Clarinda Mac Low to create a large scale floor painting of the NY waterways. Intended to ground people in the specific site of water as material within the exhibition, the waterways acted as a guide into the exhibition space.  Overlaid on the waterways was a video in which I represented the historic waterways and Clarinda imagined the future…”

A different project led by Kira Appelhans, adjunct assistant professor, Integrated Design Curriculum, Parsons The New School and Richard Karty, postdoctoral fellow in Environmental Studies, from 2011 is entitled Waterlogged. The endeavor “…explores the process of mark-making in the landscape from glacial to hydrologic to human.  We will examine the existence of remnant waterways and their relationship to the city’s organizational patterns and forms.   Using printmaking, restoration ecology, public space design we will explore the ecological impact of the intersection of historic waterways and urban infrastructure.”  The diverse artworks are captured in a video as well as a booklet ‘Remnant Waterways‘ (pdf) which showcases the work of students, including prints inspired by buried streams.

Iteration 3 – Eve Neves
Print by Mikaela Kvan

In the realm of photography, the work of Stanley Greenberg and Steve Duncan show two sides of underground New York City, and photographer Nathan Kensinger, who investigates “The Abandoned & Industrial Edges of New York City” shows a third.  He has an ongoing series entitled “New York’s Forgotten Rivers” where he has been documenting “New York City’s last remaining aboveground rivers and streams, in all five boroughs.”  An image below shows one of these photos.

Another recent exhibition “To Quench the Thirst of New Yorkers: The Croton Aqueduct at 175” that just completed it’s run at the Museum of the City of New York, offers a similar theme, with the tag line: “Uncover the hidden history of New York’s original water source, buried beneath the city”, it features “…newly commissioned photographs by Nathan Kensinger, tracing the aqueduct’s route and revisiting sights that Tower had sketched nearly two centuries before.”

Shifting from the visual to the literary, I previous mentioned the great Robert Frost poem covered in Hidden Waters blog, focused on Minetta Creek.  Another literary reference worth a look is this 1998 poem by Jim Lampos “Gowanus Canal” about the partially hidden and very polluted waterway in Brooklyn.  The whole thing is worth a perusal in detail, but I was struck by this passage, which evokes some of the history of place so acutely:

“I’ve come with a notion 
Old Gowanus, to recollect 
the splinters of dreams 
and severed fingers 
you’ve tucked away, 
the stolen pistols 
and sunken treasures 
you’ve saved 
the piss, tears 
dreams and sweat 
you’ve claimed. 
Recollect–shitty Canal 
stinking to the heavens– 
that you were once a river 
and hills rose from both 
your banks.  Brooklyn Heights 
nourished you as it returned 
your borrowed waters sweetened 
with the blood of revolution. 
A city was built 
all around you– 
a city of pizza parlors, churches and 
Whitman.  A city of pigeons, 
ice factories and hit men.”

SOME HISTORY

Tons of possibilities to cover in the history genre, as New York City has a million stories, In picking a few, I decided to focus on the ones that rose to the top due to their sheer uniqueness.  The one that was amazing to read about comes via Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, referencing a complicated series of posts about Fishing in the Basements of Manhattan that goes back to the NY Times blog ‘The Empire Zone’ and eventually a post link to a comment from 1971 Letter to the Editor, which mentions this potentially tall tale:

“”…We had a lantern to pierce the cellar darkness and fifteen feet below I clearly saw the stream bubbling and pushing about, five feet wide and up-on its either side, dark green mossed rocks. This lively riverlet was revealed to us exactly as it must have appeared to a Manhattan Indian many years ago.  With plum-bob and line, I cast in and found the stream to be over six feet deep. The spray splashed up-wards from time to time and standing on the basement floor, I felt its tingling coolness.  One day I was curious enough to try my hand at fishing. I had an old-fashioned dropline and baited a hook with a piece of sperm-candle. I jiggled the hook for about five minutes and then felt a teasing nibble. Deep in the basement of an ancient tenement on Second Avenue in the heart of midtown New York City, I was fishing.  Feeling a tug, I hauled up in excitement and there was a carp skipping before me, an almost three pounder. I was brave enough to have it pan-broiled and buttered in our upstairs kitchen and shared it with my brother…”

Going way back, a few folks referenced what seems an interesting resource, “Springs and Wells of Manhattan and the Bronx, New York City: At the End of the Nineteenth Century” by James Reuel Smith, in 1938, in which “…he reflects on the rapidly changing city and on the practical and aesthetic pleasures offered by the remaining springs: “In the days, not so very long ago, when nearly all the railroad mileage of the metropolis was to be found on the lower half of the Island, nothing was more cheering to the thirsty city tourist afoot or awheel than to discover a natural spring of clear cold water, and nothing quite so refreshing as a draught of it.” 

A photographer as well (see more in this collection “Photographs of New York City and Beyond” , his images are great documents of these sites which I’d imagine are mostly gone, although recently noted is a new discovery of a well in Brooklyn that dates back to the Revolutionary War era.

James Reuel Smith. Unidentified woman drinking at Carman Spring, on W. 175th Street east of Amsterdam Avenue, New York City. undated [c. 1897-1902]. Glass plate negative. New-York Historical Society.

Some more recent books note I’d love to delve into include the recent “Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City” by Catherine McNeuer (2014), Gotham Unbound: An Ecological History of Greater New York,  (Steinberg 2015) and Water for Gotham: A History. (Koeppel, 2000) all of which paint a portrait of historical ecology that complements the inquiry of hidden hydrology.

Other short reads include Thomas J. Campanella’s essay in Terrain.org, “The Lost Creek”, and a great article connecting west to east worth from Nathan Kensinger, “What Can NYC Learn from San Francisco’s Last Wild Creeks?” where he looks at Islais Creek (and of course includes some amazing photos) as a model for how aboveground creeks can be a model.  He summarizes: “Flowing through an increasingly gentrified city,…this historic stream offers up a refreshingly untamed landscape. Though it travels just five miles from its headwaters in Glen Canyon to its mouth in the San Francisco Bay, and is bisected by a three mile underground segment, Islais Creek provides critical support to two radically different natural environments, both of which are currently undergoing extensive renovations. It also illustrates several approaches to urban planning that are unfamiliar to most New York City waterways.”

Islais Creek – photo by Nathan Kensiger, via Curbed NY

SOME MISCELLANY

With any discussion of hidden hydrology, the concept of daylighting always emerges as certain projects seem to lend themselves to this approach.  A presentation by Steve Duncan is worth a read as it covers this topic in depth, and the project with the most traction is Tibbets Brook, in the Bronx.  Located in Van Cortland Park, the daylighting push garnered a fair amount of press (here, here) and also a petition, with a detailed coverage in Untapped Cities from 2016 which shows an image from a report “Daylight Tibbetts Brook” (PDF file – from Siteation).  A figure from the report shown below identifies a potential route of the daylighted creek.

Before and After views of daylighted creek

Another final item worth discussing, albeit removed from hidden hydrology explcitly, is the image of climate change on the city.  We cover this in the context of modern New York via Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York: 2140, which imagines a flooded, post-catastrophe New York with, a narrative of New York as a “SuperVenice”, rife with political upheaval, class warfare, and and salvage operations referencing historic maps — setting the stage for a new geography that is equally fantastical and plausible.  As mentioned in the New Yorker:

“Another narrator—a nameless urban historian—tells the story of New York from a bohemian point of view. America’s boring losers all moved to Denver, he says, and so the cool kids took over the coasts. “Squatters. The dispossessed. The water rats. Denizens of the deep, citizens of the shallows.” The abandoned city becomes an experimental zone—a place where social innovation (“submarine technoculture,” “art-not-work,” “amphibiguity”) flourishes alongside “free open universities, free trade schools, and free art schools. Not uncommonly all of these experiences were being pursued in the very same building. Lower Manhattan became a veritable hotbed of theory and practice, like it always used to say it was, but this time for real. . . . Possibly New York had never yet been this interesting.”

The connections between this fictionalization and the changing climate that could lead to more frequent flood events, seems a timely connection between history (past) and what it means now and into our our future.  The story told by Robinson may be a bit lacking in places, but the details and context is compelling.

The vision of a flooded city in “New York 2140,” a science-fiction novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, is surprisingly utopian. via New Yorker

As you can see, there are literally hundreds of links for particular creeks, art, history, explorations, tours, and other discussions around New York City.  My original goal was to also include maps in this post, but as you can see it’s already bursting at the seams, so I will conclude New York with one additional post focused on the cartographic as to not overwhelm.


HEADER:  Bronx River, image by Nathan Kensinger as part of his New York’s Forgotten Rivers series.

What’s in a name?  Why does language matter?  I asked this question previously in the post “Language as the Thread“, and it continually emerges and weaves through the study of hidden hydrology.  The names of streams and places, which are shaped by geography and culture, enliven our discovery of the old and the new.  I admit to a love of language, but had not specifically focused on toponyms to the degree I have until reading and following the fantastic Robert Macfarlane, who challenges us to expand these connections by “…collecting unusual words for landscapes and natural phenomena” and celebrating them.  He calls the accumulation the word hoard. and can be best accessed in his 2016 book Landmarks.

For water, like other phenomena, there are many encyclopedias for terms and usage both regional and global to encompass the range of toponymic variations.  And people also like making maps of these as well. The map that sparked this post I saw on Twiiter that was published in 2011 by Derek Watkins –  “Mapping Generic Terms for Streams in the Contiguous United States” which “…illustrates the range of cultural and environmental factors that affect how we label and interact with the world.”   [click to expand and zoom on the map below]

Even though I moved around a bit as a kid, i’m a straight stream or creek person, with an occasional Brook or Fork.  The graphics break down multiple regional variants:

“Lime green bayous follow historical French settlement patterns along the Gulf Coast and up Louisiana streams. The distribution of the Dutch-derived term kill (dark blue) in New York echoes the colonial settlement of “New Netherland” (as well as furnishing half of a specific toponym to the Catskill Mountains). Similarly, the spanish-derived terms rio, arroyo, and cañada (orange hues) trace the early advances of conquistadors into present-day northern New Mexico, an area that still retains some unique cultural traits. Washes in the southwest reflect the intermittent rainfall of the region, while streams named swamps (desaturated green) along the Atlantic seaboard highlight where the coastal plain meets the Appalachian Piedmont at the fall line.”

The focus on non-traditional toponyms for streams is great, although myself, like many others, mentioned “Where are Creeks, or Streams, or …” due to the absence of these being visible on the map.  A bit of digging shows that and he mentions that “This map taps into the place names contained in the USGS National Hydrography Dataset to show how the generic names of streams vary across the lower 48. Creeks and rivers are symbolized in gray due to their ubiquity (although the etymology behind the American use of creek is interesting), while bright colors symbolize other popular toponyms.”  Perhaps its just gray on black, but I think showing in one more visible color (a neutral light blue) and keying these would help paint a picture of all streams and then highlight the stranger ones. Minor graphic critique aside, it’s a cool exploration.

Watkins also references a British version, by James Cheshire on his site Spatial,ly where he created a map Naming Rivers and Places and maps brook, aton, water, river, and canal.

He adds that he:  extracted the major rivers and streams in Great Britain from the Ordnance Survey’s Strategi dataset and coloured them according to whether they are a “river”, “canal” (not sure if this really counts in terms of naming), “water”, “afon” (Welsh for river) and “brook”. You can see that a clear geography exists. I was not surprised by all the “afons” being in Wales but I was surprised to see so many “waters” in Scotland.”

There are many variations I’m sure just from perusing some I wonder about the term Beck, which comes up in a lot of literature in the UK and the studies of some of the lost rivers I’ve read.  According to the quick etymology it is used in Northern England, derived from “Old Norse bekkr, related to Dutch beek and German Bach . Used as the common term for a brook in the northern areas of England, beck often refers, in literature, to a brook with a stony bed or following a rugged course, typical of such areas.”

There’s another link to some simple toponymic maps on by Paul Fly in a set GNIS maps via flickr as well – where these are mapped with less at once so you see the comparative differences, along with some other iterations like Lake/Pond, and Branch/Run/Brook and a plethora of

Some additional links of interest from Watkins post include the book Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States by George R. Stewart which also has a great essay on Slate here.  Additionally he mentions The Cultural Geography of the United States by Wilbur Zelinksky and the writings of Robert Cooper West.

More on toponyms and the application here in the Pacific Northwest in relation to hidden hydrology, and a wealth of additional discussions more generally on language, culture, and water to come.

Can massive computing power and artificial intelligence crack the code of deep history of places? This is a fundamental question of a project discussed in an article on nature.com “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks”. Frédéric Kaplan plans to “…scan documents including maps, monographs, manuscripts and sheet music. It promises not only to open up reams of hidden history to scholars, but also to enable the researchers to search and cross-reference the information, thanks to advances in machine-learning technologies.”

The Venice Time Machine can link citizens and businesses with historic maps of Venice, such as this sixteenth-century view of the city. Credit: EPFL/Archivio di Stato

The goal is to crunch enough data to outline the connections that emerged in historical societies including “social networks, trade, and knowledge”.  While of interest to historians, it could also inform economists and epidemiologists, as well as other disciplines.  Much like Rome, Venice, mentioned as “The Serene Republic“, is a good for this endeavor due to the wealth of knowledge and its organization, aided by its protected lagoons and it’s desire for documentation.

“As Venice’s empire grew, it developed administrative systems that recorded vast amounts of information: who lived where, the details of every boat that entered or left the harbour, every alteration made to buildings or canals.”

While there was been study over the years, much of the archive “…predominantly written in Latin or the Venetian dialect, has never been read by modern historians. Now it will all be systematically fed into the Venice Time Machine, along with more unconventional sources of data, such as paintings and travellers’ logs.”

Kaplan’s interest has been to employ AI for lingustics, so the concept of using machine learning to study patterns in language is fundamental to the work, along with digitization of many thousands of pages of documents, building on work already done by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage.

There’s a lot more about the linguistic ‘hacking’ of documents, as illustrated below, but the concept also involved diving into the archival cartography.   “In 2006, a huge, purpose-built scanner began to digitize the archive’s precious store of more than 3,000 maps of Italian towns, including many commissioned by Napoleon. These ‘cadastral’ maps delineate property boundaries and record the ownership of small parcels of land; some of the documents are as large as 4 metres by 7 metres.”

The result is the ability to create some amazing detail with overlay of multiple sources:

“One cadastral map of Venice that he commissioned in 1808 has provided a backbone of reliable data, allowing historians to add geographical context to a 1740 census that lists citizens who owned and rented property in the city. By combining this with 3D information about buildings from paintings such as those of Canaletto, the time-machine team has produced an animated tour through Venice, showing which businesses were active in each building at the time.”

A video on YouTube outlines the ambitions of the project.  From their summary:  “The State archives of Venice contain records stretching back over a thousand years. The vast collection of maps, images and other documents provide an incredibly detailed look into Venetian history. This could be used to create a kind of virtual time machine for historians and the public to explore the city.”

What implications does this have for hidden hydrology?  To me, the overwhelming task of both digitizing information and determining patterns is something that is daunting for a team of professionals, much less individuals looking to glean discoveries from their local place.  The sheer effort and technology in digitization and analysis could be employed to discover key linkages and patterns that may illuminate historical hydrology, topography, and other clues.  An example mentioned in the article highlights the concept, using animations to look at spatio-temporal change , in fact “One is a dynamic video of the development of the Rialto from AD 950 onwards, using diverse sources of information at different time points. The simulation shows how the buildings — and the iconic Rialto Bridge — sprung up among the salt marshes, along with the area’s periodic destruction by fires and subsequent reconstructions.”

The possibilities with large data sets is intriguing, and the article mentions cross-disciplinary opportunities, as well as larger connections to other ‘time machines’ in cities, such as a new effort in Amsterdam and possibilities in Paris.  It adds a dimension of big data as a potential avenue for exploration, yet is tempered by age-old techniques and cautions of the next shiny object.

“The unbridled ambitions of the time-machine project are a concern for some researchers, not least because many of its core technologies are still being developed. “The vision of extending digital representation into different time slots is absolutely, self-evidently right — but it might be better to develop things more in a lot of different, small projects,” says Jürgen Renn, a digital-humanities pioneer and a director at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science.  Nevertheless, Daston suspects that the time machine heralds a new era of historical study. “We historians were baptized with the dust of archives,” she says. “The future may be different.”

Header image via: nature.com

Continuing to cover the range of cities with active projects and people investigating hidden hydrology, I return to Indianapolis, which i covered a bit in my early post on Ben H. Winter’s novel Underground Airlines.  The subject of the novel and post focused on Pogue’s Run, a buried creek that served as the locus for a pivotal scene in the novel.  The specifics can also be gleaned from the Atlas Obscura post “You Can Follow a Hidden Stream Beneath Indianapolis—If You Know Where to Look” here for more context on this, which originally was the tip off on this great story.  And definitely, beyond the hidden hydrology reference, the novel was one of the best I read last year.

As with most cities, one river or creek seems to dominate the imagination, and Pogue’s Run is that for Indianapolis, with a number of historical ruminations, such as Historic Indianapolis, which showed a etching by Thomas B. Glessing of “Surveyors mapping the new capital in 1820”, and noting that the stream was probably Pogue’s Run.

In the course of finding out about Pogue’s Run, a number of other interesting people and projects emerged from Indianapolis.  Below are some summaries

Stuart Hyatt

A main feature of the original article, beyond Winters’ book, is the photography and music of Stuart Hyatt, who has documented the underground stream in depth.  A few of his photographs from the previous post, along with links to the video of his band Field Works, whose album is aptly titled ‘Pogue’s Run’.

A video connects the music to place, which “follows a humble waterway through urban neighborhoods in Indianapolis. From its source, through the city, into a mysterious three-mile underground tunnel, and finally to the White River, Pogue’s Run represents the ongoing tension between nature and civilization.”

Charting Pogue’s Run

Artist Sean Derry’s work “Charting Pogue’s Run” investigated the creek via an 1831 map, with a thin line of blue paint and cast iron marks woven through.

A bit of description (longer version on his site):

“Charting Pogue’s Run investigates the past and present characteristics of Pogue’s Run as it flows from the Neareastside neighborhood to its confluence with the White River south of downtown. Beginning on E. New York St., along the boundary of the Cottage Home neighborhood, a blue line and small iron markers map the stream’s 1831 path through the city. This addition to the city-scape traces the streams meandering path across 4.5 miles of Indianapolis.

The work, along with Hyatt’s,  was covered as part of the free workshops, “Rethink, Reconnect, Reclaim”, which “explores creative approaches for improving Indianapolis”.  See a video of the project here:

StreamLines

A surprise was finding the comprehensive Streamlines project, led by environmental artist Mary Miss, a continuation of her legacy of environmental art, in this case “StreamLines is situated on five sites, in diverse communities along tributaries of the White River. Miss’ sculptural elements reveal the natural systems and infrastructure that impact the Indianapolis waterways and encourage exploration of the area.”

Apart from site specific art: “StreamLines is an interactive, place-based project that merges the sciences and the arts to advance the community’s understanding and appreciation of Indianapolis’ waterways. This work is made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation and is modeled on the City as Living Laboratory/FRAMEWORK.  StreamLines features art created for specific sites along six Indianapolis waterways of focus to Reconnecting to Our Waterways (ROW): Five environmental installations by Mary Miss/City as Living Laboratory® (MM/CaLL); A series of dance performances by Butler University Department of Dance; Six musical compositions curated by Michael Kaufmann/The Kinetic Project; A collection of poems penned by Indiana poets selected by Poets House”. 

A diagram of the concept of her site specific installations, which include similar themes, as noted, around the concept that ‘Rivers are the Lifelines of our Cities.”

Along with some of the installations themselves, which are place based but tied together thematically.  An excerpt from her site “At each site, the three states of water – ICE, VAPOR, WATER are written on the surface of the mirrors. Words on the ground express the themes of each different location. They are formed of reverse letters, which are legible in the reflection in the mirror above.  Site themes address water and its many states in the environment, the importance of water to Indianapolis’ development and history, water infrastructure and the connection to the watershed.  At the outer edges of the installations, smaller mirrors (18” in diameter) and small pedestals in groups of two or three present texts, much of it legible only in reflection, such as poetry, scientific and historical facts, riddles, jokes, prompts, and questions. These texts also direct visitors to the app and website for additional information.”

The markers and poetry are located in and around installations, circling back to the formative river, the poem “Pogue’s Lost Horse” by Catherine Bowman connect to the place in other ways, through words, visions, and rhythm.

The dance and musical numbers are available on the site and best captured in video, as well as the Streamlines Vimeo page, which also has interviews and other info.  One of my favorite is the ‘Choreographing the Movement of the Waterways’, described here: “This video explores the story behind the dance component of StreamLines. On September 24, 2015, more than 100 members of the Butler Ballet performed Riverrun, a site-specific dance choreographed by Butler University Dance Professor Cynthia Pratt for the StreamLines project. This dance was part of the programming for the project’s launch and performed in Holcomb Gardens on the campus of Butler University. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”

There’s also a video delving into the work on the musical composition and soundscape, and “explores the story behind the six musical compositions of StreamLines. Curator Michael Kaufmann worked with six musical artists – Olga Bell, Hanna Benn, Stuart Hyatt, Roberto Lange, Matthew Skjonsberg and Moses Sumney – to create the sound art for StreamLines. The site-specific art invites the community to learn, explore and experience the science of Indianapolis’ water systems”

Beyond Pogue’s Run, the work draws from a variety of local waterways, as mentioned in this post from Next City“The White River flows through downtown, joined by Fall Creek, Pogue’s Run, Central Canal, Pleasant Run and Eagle Creek, many of which also flow through Indy’s most underserved neighborhoods.”  Part static placemaking and part events, there is a simple google map to locate the places included.

It’s really interesting to see how Indianapolis expresses the connection to lost waterways and hidden hydrology primarily through art, spanning literature, dance, poetry, music, and environmental installations.  It showcases the diversity of means to tell these water stories – technical, mapping, ecological, historical, artistic, designer, and provides a unique snapshot of a community, it’s rivers, and how each are shaped, and shape one another.

 

A short rumination from Akiko Busch in the NY Times asks us to Learn a River’s Name Before It’s Gone resonated with me around the idea of language as the cultural thread that weaves.  Describing a road trip, where she wrote down the list of over 100 rivers crossed, concluding that “If we couldn’t hear the sound of the water itself, the syllables of the names became a new way for me to chart this country.”  The simple idea of knowing the name of something (or someone, for that matter) and although we go a bit crazy with naming storms, Busch posits that:

“it would likely be of greater benefit if we could find a similar pleasure in learning a few of the names that identify those features of the natural world we live with all the time. Which is to say, instead of making up new names, we might consider learning the names that already exist.”

Data and science are critical elements in understanding on many levels, but words and names provide a level of connection.  Busch continues: “Giving something a name is the first step in taking care of it. Place names help us to attach landscape to history and region. And when it comes to the question of attachment, we are not just speaking of how names are attached to places, but how humans become attached to places.”  Stories of places abound, and continued attacks on environmental regulations aims to further degrade our protections, so “perhaps we could make the effort to learn as many of the names of those places — and the trees, the rivers, the ranges, all the species that live there — as possible, before it’s too late.”

Robert Macfarlane, quoted in Busch’s essay above, says that “Once a landscape goes undescribed and therefore unregarded, it becomes more vulnerable to unwise use or improper action.”  To me he embodies the idea of naming and knowing, and I was fascinated by his take on the vibrancy of language, and the stories of how this language is being lost, and the need to retain it – from this Guardian article ‘The word-hoard: Robert Macfarlane on rewilding our language of landscape‘.  I wrote about this here in Landscape+Urbanism, and have been currently reading his book Landmarks, which breaks down place language in short essays interspersed with lists focusing on language specific landscape features.  The resources   The publication of his book led to him receiving a deluge of words from readers from around the globe,  Recently on Twitter, Macfarlane posts daily words and continues to collect new ones and has amassed a following of those interested in the word hoard.

This idea connects with other writers of lexicography, such as the fabulous book Home Ground: A Guide to the American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, which provides  “descriptive language for the American landscape by combining geography, literature, and folklore” and those gems that have been formative for many landscape architects, such as Anne Whiston Spirn’s poetic Language of Landscape.  New forms are emerging as well, such as the Lexicon for an Anthropocene Yet Seen,   Many

Whose Language, Whose Culture?

The naming, of course, needs to respond to pre-European settlement, as much of the work of ‘finding’ hidden hydrology uses maps that are made by Europeans and often (purposely or ignorantly) erase place names that have be tied to places for years.  As we look back into history, we are challenged to find not just the names of places on a map, but to search a richer heritage of Native place names. The work on the Welikia Project explains: “The Lenape people inhabited Mannahatta for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived. They named their island home “Mannahatta,” meaning “Island of Many Hills.” We use the term “Mannahatta” to refer to the island as it was in 1609, and “Manhattan” to refer to the metropolis of today.”  When they expanded the concept to the larger NY City metro area, they also adopted the Lenape expression “Welikia,”meaning “my good home,” and infuse place making with Native settlement patterns often in their work.

The Waterlines Project here in Seattle is a great example of connecting Hidden Hydrology to Native language, providing on the map a key with Coast Salish Place Names.

The place names on this map, written in the Lushootseed language of the Coast Salish people, are drawn from elders who worked with ethnographers in the early twentieth century, from the work of linguists and scholars such as the late Vi Hilbert, and from an atlas created by Coll Thrush and Nile Thompson for the book Native Seattle.  Place names are stories: proof of presence, archives of meaning, evidence of ancestry, and a reference for treaties and other legal connections to territory. They provide context to the ongoing presence and strong connections to the city for Native people as co-managers of our shared resources. Refer to “An Atlas of Indigenous Seattle” for further information on the Native place names found on this map.”

I’m inspired to learn the names (those of the present, past and distant past) of the local places across history and dig into some of these local resources as I continue to compile my working base of Seattle and Portland Hidden Hydrology.  I found a post by local writer David B. Williams on his GeologyWriter blog – which was helpful in summarizing Seattle’s Stream Names, for the more recently naming, and soon to come is some documentation of my recent muddy exploration of Licton Springs, which is named for Liq’tid (LEEK-teed) or Licton (Item #9 above), the Lushootseed word ‘Red Paint’ for the reddish mud of the springs.

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The concept of history is relative. Living in the Pacific Northwest in the United States, a span of a few hundred years constitutes the sum of contemporary settlement and European colonization (with some exceptions). Many contemporary cities such as Seattle and Portland, for instance, were only formally settled in the 1850s, are were not urbanized for decades after, resulting in relatively short histories. Obviously these lands were populated for years previously by indigenous peoples, some with formal and informal settlements, however, either way, the modern urban form is young.

The eastern US has a slightly longer history, but even New York’s history of European settlement dates around 1600, so around four-hundred plus years.  Many places in the world have a much different story and measure history is very different terms.  Rome, for instance, offers a different scale of time, much deeper picture of history spanning millennia.  Depending on who you consult, Rome was a village since the 9th Century BC and became a city around 753 BC, so has been evolving for almost 3,000 years.  In much of this span “The Roman empire stretched over three continents, had 70 million people, and had a logistics and infrastructure system that kept them going for centuries.”  (via Science 2.0)

A great site to explore this immense history with a unique focus on water is Aquae Urbis Romae: The Waters of the City of Rome – a long-term project of Katherine Wentworth Rinne from 1998 to present, which is published by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities from University of Virginia.

A summary:  “Aquae Urbis Romae is an interactive cartographic history of the relationships between hydrological and hydraulic systems and their impact on the urban development of Rome, Italy. Our study begins in 753 BC and will ultimately extend to the present day. We examine the intersections between natural  systems–springs, rain, streams, marshes, and the Tiber River–and constructed systems including aqueducts, fountains, sewers, bridges, conduits, etc., that together create the water infrastructure of Rome.”

The site has a ton of information, especially great for an Italophile such as myself.  The content is organized into a few categories, some of which are for archival purposes as their web presence is not longer functional, but there is info organized as a timeline (including a GIS Timeline Map), as well as by typology, and studies of topography.  There are maps and a list of resources and some good primary and secondart texts available.  The journal “The Waters of Rome” offers ten essays with some additional scholarship on Rome history and culture around water.  I’ve yet to dive in depth into these, but look forward to it.

For hidden hydrology perspective, the Timeline features the ability to isolate typologies that allow focused look at systems.   A section of maps on Hydrological Setting, shows the hidden streams overlaid on modern (c. 1998) city grid and topography.  “This map represents a composite of data drawn from archaeological, geological, historical, and literary evidence concerning the hydrological structure of the intramural city and its immediate surroundings. It does not represent a specific point in time, but rather represents an amalgam of hydrological features, most of which have been known since antiquity. However, water is dynamic and therefore constantly changing. Springs can disappear, dry up entirely, or reemerge at a different, sometimes distant location. Streams and rivers can change course, and the profiles of their beds are constantly changing as well.”

This information is activated by translation into three-dimensional views in the Topography section, providing some more info on the landform that relates to historical streams.  They are developed thematically as well, with a number of studies such as hydrology and aqueducts serving the baths and fountains in the city.

Today this is somewhat simplistic in terms of graphics. In 1998, this would have been pretty cutting edge stuff.  Similarly, the GIS Timeline map offers both spatial and temporal info in a more interactive format, with the ability to customize.  This is the best info I’ve found on historical hydrology of Rome, via the Geographic features typology that include Marshes, Swamps, Rivers, Streams, and Springs, a few of which are plotted below.

The focus is on water, but not just streams, there’s a range of other typologies, including water distribution, infrastructure, flooding, markets, walls, neighborhoods (rione), baths, fountains, and more.  The icon based map allows for more info via pop-ups.

A legend shows the span on types of info captured, along translation of English and Italian terms.

The temporal aspect is a interesting idea, as it allows a fourth dimension to the mapping that seems vital to historical study. The slider (seen below) allows for all years to be selected, or to select individual decades, and eras, to capture snapshots of info at certain time frames.  As mentioned on the site: “Follow the urban development of Rome through a unique G.I.S. timeline map that chronicles changes to the water infrastructure system from 753 BC through the sixteenth century. See how sewers, aqueducts, fountains and other hydraulic elements changed the face of Rome, as important people like Agrippa, Emperor Nero and popes Sixtus V and Clement VIII, among others, used water as an element of political control.”

This obviously works better for cultural features like buildings and fountains that have specific dates of creation and erasure, so not sure if it captures erasure of surface streams into subsurface routes.  However, with enough information, you could show the disappearance over time for any water system and include animations at a time step (similar to this historical study of the Mississippi River gleaned from the Fisk maps).  Something worthy of exploring with current GIS and animation technologies.

The site is plagued with some old technology in terms of web design (frames, for instance, which are awful for navigation), as well as the mapping and animations discussed above. This is tough, as its always hard to keep things up to date.  Over time, something using the most recent tech quickly becomes outdated, especially on a project that spans decades such as this.  That said, the content holds up very well, and some easy fixes would be to remove some of the clunky old maps and convert these to simpler embedded open source interfaces (Google Earth, etc) – as well as to be able to download GIS files of some of the key info. Sounds like from some of the notes, there’s some updates in the works, so look forward to reaching out to Ms. Rinne and see what she has planned.

The idea of deep history in tied closely with the maps, and the long history of mapping Rome is a fascinating rabbit hole to dive into.  The site offers a link to many Print, Drawing, Map and Photographic collections of Rome, where you will find the the key source in this exploration, the map ‘Roma’ by Leonardo Bufalini in 1551, which shows a somewhat developed city plan along with rudimentary topography and hydrology from almost 600 years ago.

The site offers each of the tiles of the map, (noted: Courtesy of Kersu Dalal, Johnson Fain Partners, Los Angeles).  This shows a lot of amazing detail, and hints at slopes and ridges and depressions that impact water movement.

A figure from the 1897 publication “The ruins and excavations of ancient Rome” by Rodolfo Lanciani shows the ‘Hydrography & Chorography of Anicient Rome’, capturing many of the streams and marshes shown on other maps.

And zooming about a bit, showing the broader area of “The Tiber & Its Tributaries” by Strother Smith from 1877.

The most famous map of Rome is one of my favorites, not mentioned much on this site, but well known.  Almost 200 years after the Buffalini map, the 1748 Map ‘Grande Pianta‘ by Giambattista Nolli (more commonly known as the Nolli map).  This work of art is infamous for it’s detail and unique showcasing of public/private spaces inside and outside of buildings, versus pure figure-ground relationships.  I’ll discuss this map and a few others from Rome in a follow-up post.

Nolli Map – via visual.ly

Images on this post from the site Aquae Urbis Romae: The Waters of the City of Rome unless otherwise noted.
Header image: Castel San’t Angelo from the South, painted in the 1690s by Caspar Andriaans van Wittel

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.