diamond geezer

 Thursday, September 30, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Stamford Brook
lower course: Ravenscourt Park → Hammersmith Creek


At the northern end of Ravenscourt Park there's a pond. It's a rather attractive asymmetrical pond with a central island, and a stone footbridge up one end beneath which the watery channel disappears. It's a waterfowl magnet, and the parkkeepers have kindly provided an identification board in case you can't tell your moorhens from your mallards. What most visitors don't realise is that in a previous incarnation it used to be part of a moat fed by the Stamford Brook. The moat surrounded Paddenswick House - a mansion of great standing dating back to the 12th century, and once owned by Edward III's mistress. Paddenswick House was upgraded several times over the years, and the gardens were duly landscaped (hence the park), but incendiary bombing in 1941 left the structure in need of total demolition so there's no trace now. Apart from the moat, that is. [photo]

Within the grounds of Ravenscourt Park the Stamford Brook's trio of headwaters finally merged, then headed south. We know that their combined flow was still visible 100 years ago in a culvert running beneath 180 King Street (now an estate agents) [photo]. From King Street onwards the river was once wide enough to be navigable, and the wharf-lined inlet so formed was known as Hammersmith Creek. It's anything but picturesque today. Hammersmith and Fulham Town Hall has been erected either on top of or right beside the old waterway, and you won't be seeing this building appearing on local postcards. Having said that, one bunch of architects have ambitious plans to restore the Stamford Brook to the surface here, including a potentially very expensive crossing of the A4 at aqueduct or surface level. The full scheme will never happen, not in this financial climate, but something more symbolically fluvial could easily reappear beside the town hall as part of a smaller scale redevelopment.

And finally, Furnival Gardens. This Thames-side park lies on the northern rim of the Hammersmith meander, and was created for the Festival of Britain out of an area of bombed wasteground. It's a very pleasant spot, with manicured flowerbeds and a small walled garden. Pleasant enough to be the location of choice for toddling families, keen joggers and Woodpecker-swilling inebriates. A semi-private pier juts out into the Thames, from which it's possible to look back towards the riverbank. If the tide's low enough, revealed before you is the outlet of the sewer which replaced Hammersmith Creek [photo]. One flap, which raises if it rains too much [photo], and a grey sludgy channel guiding whatever emerges into London's largest river [photo]. It's no wonder that Thames Water are keen to construct a mega-expensive replacement, starting very nearby indeed and heading down to Beckton. Those who live nearby will raise a cheer that former plans to sink the new tunnel from Furnival Gardens have been withdrawn. And come 2020 even the old Stamford Brook dribble-pipe will have been realigned, redirected and reborn.


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