diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The River Tyburn
4a) Buckingham Palace → Westminster

The final stretch of the Tyburn, from Buck House east to the Thames, isn't especially well documented. That's a) because this was originally marshland, and b) medieval Londoners weren't especially interested in drawing accurate maps as a legacy to future generations. What is certain is that the most obvious route, along the line of the lake down the middle of St James's Park, isn't the original. This started life as a long ornamental canal, arrow-straight, created by a French landscape gardener at the behest of king Charles II. 150 years later the Prince Regent asked John Nash for a more naturalistic redesign, and he created the curving lake we still see today [photo]. So, lovely though the view is from the central bridge near the pelicans, it's definitely not rivery. [photo] [photo]

Instead the waters of the Tyburn probably followed Buckingham Gate, which is a mostly tedious road heading downhill from the southern corner of the palace [photo]. Past the Wellington Barracks, past the end of Petty France, then forking left at the Blewcoat School (now the National Trust's main London giftshop). It tracked Caxton Street before, peculiarly enough, flowing straight through the modern site of New Scotland Yard [photo]. And then across Victoria Street into Abbey Orchard Street, which was indeed where the nearby Abbey grew its fruit, but is now covered by a Peabody Estate and some ugly civil service bastions.

A millennium ago the Tyburn bifurcated approximately here. Its twin streams formed the western boundaries of Thorney Island - then a small eyot in the Thames covered by thickets. As the highest land hereabouts it was the only place capable of supporting foundations, so the nucleus of Westminster grew up on the island with the Abbey and the Palace at its heart. Expansion required drainage, so Thorney gradually merged with the mainland and lost its identity. Today the name survives only in Thorney Street, which is the service road round the back of MI5's HQ at Thames House.

Branch 1 of the lower Tyburn passed to the north of Westminster Abbey and up to the foot of Whitehall. It supposedly ran along the line of King Charles Street [photo], between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and HM Treasury [photo]. And then across the foot of Whitehall, south of the Cenotaph, to reach the Thames in the vicinity of Westminster Pier [photo]. Don't go looking for traces today, there's nothing to see. Meanwhile branch 2 continued through Dean's Yard at the back of Westminster School [photo] - an esteemed private establishment who are holding their 450th Anniversary Gala tonight. Then along Great College Street, which feels more Winchester than Greater London, and out into the Thames south of the Houses of Parliament [photo]. The mouth would have been somewhere in Victoria Tower Gardens, and a storm drain outlet is still visible at low tide close to Lambeth Bridge. [photo]

Following the Tyburn: The Mall, Buckingham Gate, Caxton Street, Victoria Street, Abbey Orchard Street, Dean's Yard, Great College Street, Victoria Tower Gardens.

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