diamond geezer

 Friday, January 29, 2010

The River Westbourne
8) Tyburn Brook

London used to have two Tyburn rivers. The main river ran from Hampstead to Westminster, and I'll be covering that in copious detail later in the year. And then there was the Tyburn Brook, a minor stream entirely unconnected to its namesake, and which trickled unassumingly through Hyde Park. Which makes it a tributary of the Westbourne, and that's why I'm following it here.

There used to be a village called Tyburn, recorded in the Domesday Book, set in fields around the junction of two Roman Roads - Edgware Road and Oxford Street. The village green was long used as a place of execution, and gained notoriety in 1571 when a three-legged mega-gallows was erected in the middle of the roadway. For two centuries vengeful Londoners flocked here to enjoy a good hanging, with unfortunate prisoners carted through the streets from Newgate Prison to satisfy the baying crowds. Civilisation's come a long way since. The road junction's still murderous, now part of the Marble Arch gyratory, and a plaque in the middle of a pedestrian traffic island now marks the spot where the Tyburn Tree bore blood-red fruit. [photo]

The Tyburn Brook rose nearby, close to Tony Blair's house in Connaught Square. I would have taken a photo of the ex-PM's gaff, except that both his front and back doors appear to host permanent police presences, and so attempting a snap seemed somewhat unwise. Neither was it possible to take photos of St George's Fields, an ultra-exclusive ziggurat-style housing development named after the public burial ground it replaced. But I did manage to capture a shot of the Tyburn Convent [photo], a unique reverential hideaway where 24 reclusive nuns still pray daily for the souls of those who lost their lives on the nearby gallows (especially Catholic 'martyrs'). There are far quieter spots in central London, but few more peaceful.

Across the road, in Hyde Park, a gentle dip in the grassy plain reveals the course of the Tyburn Brook [photo]. Somehow it's still there, obvious only if you're deliberately looking, and leading downslope into the trees where joggers jog and unleashed dogs play. A few more clues survive - an old iron water pump in the middle of nowhere [photo], and some damp patches in the grass even when it's not rained for a while. And then it's only a few hundred more yards (past the Old Police House and the Norwegian Memorial Stone) down to the Serpentine, where the Tyburn Brook emptied into the Serpentine. Who'd ever guess?
Following the Tyburn Brook: Connaught Square, St George's Fields, Tyburn Convent, Bayswater Road, North Carriage Drive, Upper Parkland, Lower Parkland, Serpentine Road.

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