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London's Top 5 Lost Rivers

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by Bryony Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from goo.gl/Ta4oAX.
Published May 14th 2014
The Underworld of the Capital
river effra
Image from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Effra_vauxhall_2.jpg

London, the capital of England; it is a vibrant, bustling city, full of activity, and lively energy. And yet, beneath the surface of our streets lurks an underworld. Just like the River Styx, which transports lost souls to the netherworld, London has many ghosts below ground. Rivers have been built over, lost, abandoned, and eerie, with only the faintest evidence of the existence still on display. Overall there are twenty-two rivers, eight canals, and eight wharves that have been covered over in London. The major ones include:

River Westbourne


The River Westbourne is a Thames tributary starting from Hampstead Heath. It was originally known as the Kilbourne, because it passed through tKilburn, and because the suffix 'bourne' is the Anglo-Saxon for 'river'.

The Westbourne once flowed into the Serpentine until it was dammed by Queen Caroline in 1730, and now connects to the sewer system.

When Belgravia, Chelsea, and Paddington were developed during the mid nineteenth century, the river was built over and directed into pipes. You can see it travelling through a green pipe at Sloane Square station.

River Tyburn

river tyburn
Image from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Rivertyburn.JPG

The Tyburn is a stream running underground from South Hampstead through St. James's Park, and into the River Thames. The Tyburn also travels under Buckingham Palace, connects to the sewer system and can allegedly be seen flowing under Gray's Antiques in Mayfair.

River Fleet


The River Fleet is London's largest subterranean river. It started out on Hampstead Heath as two waterways, which were both dammed in the eighteenth century. It is now part of the underground sewer system that joins at Camden Town. It continues to King's Cross, and once travelled under Battle Bridge, where Boudica is believed to have fought the Romans. It joins the Thames at Black Friars Bridge, where it can still be seen.

River Walbrook

The River Walbrook played an important role during the time of the Roman Empire. It acted as a route of transport, brought in fresh water, and deposited waste in the Thames. The Romans built a port and the a temple to Mithras by it. The brook is believed to be named after fact that it travelled under the London Wall. Starting in Finsbury, the Walbrook is one of the earliest 'lost rivers', having been covered over by order of the Lord Mayor in 1440. Nothing of it can be seen above ground.

River Effra

river effra
Image from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Effra_vauxhall_1.jpg

The River Effra probably has the most mystery - or at least speculation surrounding it. Since the mid nineteenth century, the Effra has been part of London's underground sewerage system, with a visible outlet at Vauxhall. It has a much grander - or theorised grander - past, with claims that it was once travelled on by King Cnut and Queen Elizabeth I. There is also dispute about its name. Some think it comes from the Celtic word for 'torrent', while others think it is an old pronunciation of Heathrow.
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Why? Discover what lies beneath London
Where: Across London
Your Comment
Very interesting article, Bryony! Nice one :)
by Fiona Anderson (score: 2|937) 1586 days ago
Bryony - I really enjoyed this article. Great photos, great information. Awesome! ;)
by SocialHummingBird (score: 3|1161) 1579 days ago
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