diamond geezer

 Thursday, July 29, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
The River Walbrook
1) Shoreditch - Liverpool Street


Trying to locate the source of the Walbrook is fraught with difficulty. It's said by some to have arisen in Moorfields - once a large area of marshy fenland outside the City walls, broadly where Moorgate station and Finsbury Circus stand today. If so, expect the stream to have 'emerged' and 'coalesced', rather than bubbling forth from one distinct spring. Others think there were lots of tiny brooks draining a wider area to the north of the City. If so, then as one modern hydrologist has it, "Walbrook is merely a generic term for a network of convergent southbound streams". A third group are convinced that the river had slightly longer tributaries, probably two, one of which flowed down from Islington and the other from Shoreditch. If so, they'd probably have been pretty piddly streams, possibly only much in evidence after a decent amount of rainfall. I've decided to run with this third option, because I've seen it in print most often. Starting in Shoreditch.

St Leonard's ShoreditchYou'd think "Shore Ditch" was a sure fire reference to something lost river-y, but apparently this isn't the case. There was a wellspring here once, allegedly, close to the Roman road junction outside St Leonard's Church [photo], and this could have been the Walbrook's most northerly source. Don't go looking for any evidence on the ground, but the blogger at Spitalfields Life has had a long chat with the vicar and he assures us the river once flowed from here. The fledgling Walbrook would have dribbled south through the heart of trendy Shoreditch [photo], quenching the bar-ghetto between Curtain Road and Shoreditch High Street [photo]. Precisely here could be found Shakespeare's first two London theatres - The Theatre and The Curtain - so it's a pretty good bet that young Will relieved himself into the Walbrook on a number of occasions.

The river would have followed the line of the old Broad Street Railway, which may or may not be a lucky coincidence. It entered the modern City of London beneath the Broadgate Tower [photo], the ancient valley now marked by a chasm of glass and steel between lofty heights [photo]. And then south across the extensive financial wastes of the Broadgate development. You'll find no medieval street patterns here, just a warren of mighty office blocks dumped down where Broad Street station and its sidings once stood. Seething with suits from Monday to Friday, at weekends its solitary piazzas echo with workmen, cleaners and the occasional lost tourist [photo]. Running parallel to the rail terminus at Liverpool Street [photo], it's here at ye olde Moorfields that the Walbrook proper began.

An approximate map of the Walbrook's course (my best Google map attempt)
Read all my Walbrook posts on one page, in the right order


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