THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON The River Effra 4) Vauxhall/Kennington
At the top of Brixton Road (at Hazard's Bridge) the Effra veered left, forming the south-western boundary of Kennington Common. Throughout the 18th century this open space was a gathering place for public speaking, and also an infamous place of execution for the county of Surrey. St Mark's church, built in imposing classical style beside the Effra in 1824, now occupies the corner of the common where the gallows were erected [photo]. The creek continued west beneath Clapham Road (at Merton Bridge), approximately where Oval tube station stands today. This old Roman Road formed the dividing line between the medieval manors of Kennington and Vauxhall.
A short distance to the north, one gentle meander unexpectedly inspired an international landmark. In the 1790s the river's natural curve was echoed by an elliptical road built around a former cabbage garden. The KenningtonOval, as this patch of green became known, was leased by the fledgling Surrey County Cricket Club in 1845. The landlord was, and still is, the Duchy of Cornwall. As for the Oval's famous gasometer, this was erected three years later on the site of the former South London Waterworks. This private utility company had drawn water from the tidal Effra via an artificial channel, supplying the local population from two small reservoirs to the north of the cricket ground. Other top-level sports have been played at the Oval over the years, including the first twenty-or-so FA Cup Finals and the first ever England v Scotland Rugby Union match. Rest assured that the Effra never crossed the pristine grass, flowing instead out beyond the southern perimeter road. [photo][photo]
In its lower reaches, west of the Oval, the Effra originally split into two branches. A smaller stream meandered west to meet the Thames at Nine Elms, while the main river ventured a little further north. Known locally as Vauxhall Creek, it was sufficiently deep and wide to bear the passage of large barges. The creek flowed beneath Wandsworth Road at Cox's Bridge - a crossing mentioned in ecclesiastical records as early as 1340, but which is probably now buried somewhere beneath the twin prongs of Vauxhall bus station. [photo][photo]
Not far now to the Thames, which the Effra entered approximately a hundred metres to the south of Vauxhall Bridge [photo]. Slightly upstream, a few wooden posts sticking out of the mud are thought to be the remains of a Bronze Age crossing - notionally the first ever 'London Bridge'. The mouth of Vauxhall Creek has been overlooked by many diverse structures since, including a defensive Civil War quadrant fort (17th C), the entertaining delights of Smith's Tea Gardens (18th C) and the Phoenix Gas Works and Belmont Candle Manufactory (19th C). Alas, by the time the windowless Nine Elms Cold Store was erected alongside in 1961, even the last few hundred yards of river had vanished beneath the refrigerated lorry park. The Effra's end is now marked only by a sewer pipe outfall [photo], occasionally disgorging rainwater into the Thames between the owl-topped towers of St George's Wharf[photo] and the spooky fortress of MI6HQ. [photo]