Holland Park could never have become one of London's most desirable neighbourhoods had Counter's Creek remained visible. Upper classes homeowners would never have tolerated a smelly rubbish-strewn stream as their main form of waste disposal, so the area's transformation from rural estate to residential development rested on the construction of an expensive sewer.
Landowner Lord Holland seized his chance when the West London Railway asked to lay tracks across the west of his estate, granting passage subject to the burial of Counter's Creek. A deal was struck in 1838, and one mile of river duly vanished. Two major housing developments sprang forth – the Norland and Holland Estates.
The new sewer followed St Ann's Road southwards, then carved through a gap in the splendid stuccoed arc of Royal Crescent [photo]. From here it continued downhill via Holland Villas Road – a street still hugely aspirational even by Holland Park standards.
The river may now flow out of sight, but basement inundation remains an ever-present risk. In the sodden summer of 2007, for example, particularly heavy rainfall caused Counter's Creek sewer to overflow and more than 450 local properties were flooded.
Following Counter's Creek: To trace the river south from the Westway, stick to the east side of the dual carriageway. Not the side where the mega Westfield shopping centre is [photo], but the opposite residential flank [photo]. Here highrise council estates cosy up against uber-affluent Notting Hill, with Counter's Creek forming the stark boundary between the two. Once past the Holland Park roundabout, your best bet for following the river's course is to hop on a train.[photo][photo]
5) Counter's Bridge
At the far end of Kensington High Street, on the main road to Hammersmith and all points west, is the location of the medieval bridge that gave Counter's Creek its name.
It's fortunate that the river wasn't named too early. During the 15th century this crossing was known successively as Contessesbregge, Contassebregge, Cuntassebregge and Countesbregge – at least one of which might have proved terminally embarrassing in later years. The noblewoman to whom the bridge refers is thought to be Matilda, Countess of Oxford, then in residence at Earl's Court.
The view north from the modern bridge is dominated by the iron and glass covered halls of the Olympia exhibition centre [photo]. The first and largest of these was erected in 1886 as the National Agricultural Hall, although the space within was soon taken over by less pastoral exploits such as the Motor Show and Ideal Home Show.
And that's no stream down there, that's the old West London Railway exploiting the creek's former course. The cutting may be considerably wider than the brook here ever was, but the entire line remains an under-served backwater, with sporadic services up and downriver to nowhere terribly exciting. [photo][photo]
6) Kensington Canal Lock
In the early 18th century, at the height of canal mania, it seemed like a good idea to transform the lower two miles of Counter's Creek into "a Canal for the Navigation of Boats, Barges and other Vessels." The perfect route, so shareholders hoped, for transferring cargo inland from the Thames. Thus was the Kensington Canal created, linking Chelsea to a new dock basin just south of Counter's Bridge.
The canal opened with a flourish in 1828, but it led nowhere useful and traffic soon proved 'very limited'. Eleven locks would have been needed to extend the navigation north to the Grand Junction Canal, but no further investment was forthcoming. It wasn't long before the entire canal was sold off to the West London Railway and most of the waterway disappeared beneath its tracks. Limited trade continued on a short stretch south of the King’s Road, delivering coal to the Imperial Gas Light and Coke Company, with the last barge running in 1967.
The dock basin disappeared beneath a Homebase store in the 1990s, leaving a boarded-up lock-keepers cottage as the last surviving remnant of the Kensington Canal. Alas the arrival of a Tesco hypermarket on the West Cromwell Road sealed its fate and, despite considerable local opposition, the cottage was demolished in 1998 to make way for a particularly unattractive multi-storey car park. [photo]