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The Hidden River's of London, England.

Updated on August 7, 2013

As the capital City of England, London has been the natural seat of power for the nation and the United Kingdom for many years. This global city is famous throughout the world for its Entertainment, Fashion, Industry, Banking Institution's and History. The City has seen triumph and tragedy, along with peace and war. From it's ancient beginnings it has been served my the River Thames, the River snakes through the full extent of the capital before meeting the water's of the North Sea.

London is dominated by the River Thames and has been at the heart of the Capital City's development over the thousand's of years. It is surprising to know that the City of London, is not home to just the River Thames. There are many River's that are important to the Cities day to day life, hidden from sight but still flowing in similar channels to what they had always done.

A View of the busy River Thames.
A View of the busy River Thames. | Source

Many of London's lost River's have now been incorporated into the Greater London sewage system. This was a trend which was started when London's growth was at it's peak. In the age of Queen Victoria much of the work was undertaken to ensure all citizens of the City had a supply of fresh water and the ability to dispose of waste water safely. Underneath the City the Victorian engineer's created hidden labyrinths of tunnels designed to divert water features and limit the potential risks of flooding on the Capital.

Had the engineer's of London's past not taken drastic action, the consequences to the prosperity of the City would have been dire. London would not have attracted the power and prestige it prides itself on, no nation would build it's foundations on untamed swampy ground. The diversion of the tributary streams, rivers and becks gave London the solid land to build upon. The area of London in the First century A.D, would have been a collection of Reed beds, small Islands and rocky outcrops.

Roman's pushed the Ancient Britain's back to the River Thame's in 44 AD.
Roman's pushed the Ancient Britain's back to the River Thame's in 44 AD.

River Thames

The River Thame's was called the River Tamesas by the Celtic population of London before the Roman Invasion of 44 AD. After the Roman's took over the land of the Ancient Celts they called the River Thames the River Tamesis , over time the name evolved to the name we know today. The original name is thought to describe the colour of the water in the Ancient British tongue.

The River Thames is believed to have ancient River crossing's at a number of it's points. The most important one would have been near the House's of Parliament, which allowed the North and South of the River to trade effectively. For such a vast expanse of water, it has been essential to have a reliable method of transportation and Bridges, Ferry's and Fords have often been used over the River's history.

Part of the River Fleet running hidden through London.
Part of the River Fleet running hidden through London. | Source

River Fleet

The River Fleet rise's in Hampstead Heath and flows into the River Thames from the North bank of the City. The River Fleet is for the most part under the City of London and is rarely noticeable apart from a few instances where it can be heard or seen. The River get's it's name from the Anglo-Saxon for "Tidal inlet", both the Roman's and the Saxon's used the River for Shipping and as a water source.

As more usable land was reclaimed from the marsh land, the River lost much of it's volume. By the 1600's the River had become a canal and the water quality was very poor. With the expansion of Hampstead and additional space needed for Railway's the remains of the River where covered. By the start of the 1900's much of where London's legal and Journalistic professionals worked was on the route of the River.

Hidden waterway's of London

  • River Fleet
  • River Kilburn/Westbourne
  • River Neckinger
  • River Effra
  • River Rom
  • River Brent
  • River Walbrook
  • River Falconbrook
  • Beverley Brook
  • River Tyburn

Did you know of the hidden river's?

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River Westbourne

The River was originally called many names including the River Kilburn, we know that the Anglo-Saxon designated it a Royal stream. The stream is located in the highly affluent area's of the capital such as Hyde Park, Chelsea, Kensington and Knightsbridge. The highly desirable area of Chelsea and Belgravia is built over the waters of the River Westbourne.

The Engineers of London had reduced the water flow drastically from it's Anglo-Saxon peak. By the 1850's they were able to divert the water into Iron pipework's, this aided the sanitation of the area and improved the water supplies. The Victorian pipework still exists and is visible at the Sloane Square tube station, where you can see it running along the platforms ceiling. The old water route terminates at the River Thames near to the Chelsea Bridge, the only evidence of its original course is a sewage out flow pipe partially hidden in the stone work of the Chelsea Quay.

River Effra

The River Effra is South of the River Thames and is commonly thought to derive it's name from the Ancient Britain's. The original volume of the River Effra has been reduced by the surface water sewage system and the majority of the water flow is now underground. The river rise's in a few locations but Norwood seems to be its main origin. The River Effra would have looked very similar to the Fleet River which is located on the North Bank of the Thames river. It would have provided fresh water to the embryonic London settlement prior to mass industrialization occurred.

Even today the River Effra is seen as a major flood area, in the last hundred years it has done so twice. Some residents want more work on the Effra, to help reduce further risk of floods. Alternative groups wish for the River Effra to return and compliment the only other surface waterway the River Wandle. It is now unlikely that any of these rivers would be allowed to return to their original course, due to the cost involved to change urban planning and infrastructure.


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