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London and its hidden rivers

29 September 2014

Should someone ask you to name all the rivers in central London, the first answer would might be a list of just the one; namely the Thames. However there are in fact many more rivers than this but almost all are now underground and not visible from the surface at all. The rivers include Stamford Brook, Counters Creek, Falcon Brook and River Fleet to name just a few. Focusing on one in more detail, River Fleet is the largest of London’s hidden and underground rivers and is the source of the name Fleet Street, not the other way around. To explain where this river goes, below is a section from Wikipedia that expands on this in more depth :- The Fleet arises on Hampstead Heath as two sources, which still flow on the surface as the Hampstead Ponds and the Highgate Ponds. Then they go underground, pass under Kentish Town, join in Camden Town and flow onwards to King’s Cross. King’s Cross was originally named Battle Bridge, referring to an ancient bridge over The Fleet where Boudica’s army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans. The river then flows down Farringdon Road and Farringdon Street, and joins the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge. Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon fleot “tidal inlet” In Anglo-Saxon times, the Fleet served as a dock for shipping. In Roman times, the Fleet was a major river, with its estuary possibly containing the oldest tidal mill in the world. In Anglo-Saxon times, the Fleet was still a substantial body of water, joining the Thames through a marshy tidal basin over 100 yards (91 m) wide at the mouth of the Fleet Valley. Many wells were built along its banks, and some on springs (Bagnigge Well, Clerkenwell) and St Bride’s Well, were reputed to have healing qualities; in the 13th century the river was called River of Wells The small lane at the south-west end of New Bridge Street is called Watergate because it was the river entrance to Bridewell Palace. By the 13th century, it was considered polluted, and the area characterised by poor-quality housing, and, later, prisons (Bridewell Palace itself, Newgate, Fleet and Ludgate prisons were all built in that area). The flow of the river was reduced greatly by increasing industry. As London grew, the river became increasingly a sewer. In 1728 Alexander Pope wrote in his Dunciad, “To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames/The king of dykes! than whom no sluice of mud/with deeper sable blots the silver flood” The river gives its name to Fleet Street which runs from Ludgate Circus to Temple Bar at The Strand. During the 1970s, a planned London Underground tube was to lie under the line of Fleet Street and was originally named ‘Fleet Line’. However this part of the route was not constructed when Sir Horace Cutler won a Conservative majority on the GLC and the line was terminated at Charing Cross and renamed as the Jubilee line to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee of 1977. There were some objections to the cost of renaming the line and protest leaflets appeared with the slogan “Would Jubileeve It?” In one place the River Fleet is now 40 feet below street level.   London is perhaps one of the greatest cities in the world for what lies beneath and not known by many, but as many of the team at Icon Relocation are born in or close to London, perhaps the fact that we know so much about the city isn’t such a surprise. Source - Many thanks to Wikipedia for the ‘extra’ details and to Sandra Crisp’s web site who provided the image.

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