THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON The River Westbourne 11) Sloane Square (revised)
Hang on, we'll be at that tube station any minute. First we have to follow the Westbourne out of Belgravia and across Cliveden Place. This was part of the main road down to Chelsea, and the old river flowed beneath at a lonely span nicknamed Bloody Bridge. The name may come from an incident in 1748 when four upstanding gentlemen were attacked and robbed by two highwaymen in the immediate vicinity, or that may just be an old husband's tale. An alternative name for this 12-foot-wide crossing was Blandel Bridge, and the Victorian office block which now inhabits the site is known as Blandel Bridge House. [photo]
OK, here we are at last at Sloane Square tube station, a District line halt with a secret. Look up while standing on either platform, approximately at the foot of the stairs down from the ticket hall, and you'll see a thick black pipe passing overhead [photo]. Looks innocuous enough, but this nine-foot diameter tube is actually a Victorian sewer which carries what's left of the River Westbourne. [photo][photo]
The stream's foul-smelling waters were finally confined to underground pipes - the Ranelagh sewer - in the mid 1850s. A decade later the District line was carved through Belgravia in cut and cover tunnel, only slightly deeper than the sewer, which lead to a spot of awkward engineering at Sloane Square. The original brickwork had to be replaced by a cast iron pipe, stretching seventy feet across the station chasm at an angle of 48°, and a complex series of trestles and girders ensured that West London's slurry continued to flow during construction. Not even a near direct hit by a German bomb in 1940 (destroying the ticket hall and killing 79 train passengers) caused any serious damage.
If you don't fancy forking out to pass through the ticket barriers, it's (just about) possible to view Sloane Square's legendary aqueduct from outside. Head round the back of the station into Bourne Street (named after you know what) and look for the gap in the terrace next to number 79. The view's not great because it's through two sets of railings, but the storm drain's metal weathershield can be readily discerned between the two platform canopies below [photo]. Alternatively head up the road to Skinner Place, a stumpy side alley which ends abruptly above the westbound tracks. You'll have to be tall to peer over the wall of the final front garden on the left, and take care not to arouse the suspicions of residents peering out of their windows, but that's most definitely the entombed Westbourne you can see down there piping across the tracks. Following the Westbourne: Cliveden Place, Sloane Square, Bourne Street, Skinner Place.