As a lover of historical fiction, primarily covering all of Great Britain, I am familiar with the River Fleet and River Tyburn from that reading. As I’ve never been to London and haven’t given the rivers much thought, I assumed they were all still visible. At least ones like Fleet because it was rather large. This is a fascinating story and I guess it makes sense to bury them if they were nothing but sewer traps.
Dozens of rivers and canals were buried beneath London’s streets more than a century ago. How do they look today? To find traces of them you’ll need to have a good ear, know where to look and visit some unlikely places.
Among the congested traffic of central London’s St Pancras Road, around the corner from the glass and steel skyscrapers of the Euston Road, it is hard to imagine a river once ran through grassy fields.
But outside St Pancras Old Church is a plaque showing a sketch of people in that exact spot bathing on the banks of the Fleet in 1827. The river is one of many in London that was converted into a sewer as the capital’s population grew.
Today, in many parts of the city you could be standing within inches of one of its lost rivers and not even realise it.
“Wherever you live, not far from your doorstep, you can probably track down a hidden river you never would have guessed would be there,” says Alex Werner, head of history collections at the Museum of London.