diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 30, 2010

The River Westbourne
9) Knightsbridge

In the undergrowth at the eastern end of the Serpentine, at the Knightsbridge end of Hyde Park, stands a lone stone urn on a plinth [photo]. It's a memorial to Queen Caroline, the Hanoverian lake-dammer, without whom Hyde Park would have been just another big royal park without a water feature. A second urn-on-a-plinth [photo], more visible but less ornate, reminds passers-by of the Westbourne's even longer legacy: "A supply of water by conduit from this spot was granted to the Abbey of Westminster with the Manor of Hyde by King Edward The Confessor." From bubbling spring to monk's goblet, these piped waters helped medieval London to grow and to thrive.

Here too is the closest the Westbourne comes to resembling a genuine river. Caroline's lake was designed with an eastern sluice gate [photo], through which the old river used to depart, and which still exists alongside the outside catering deck of The Serpentine Bar & Kitchen. But the waterfall beyond the sluice isn't original [photo], nor the sub-tropical Dell below, they're a rather more recent environmental project. And there's no escape. The Serpentine's outfall merely churns through these bowery water gardens for a few over-landscaped metres before being recycled back into the lake. [photo] [photo]

Previously the Westbourne used to flow beneath Rotten Row [photo], Hyde Park's arterial bridleway, before exiting the greenspace towards Knightsbridge. You may not previously have realised, but this most exclusive of London neighbourhoods owes its name to a crossing over the River Westbourne. There’s conflicting evidence as to whether the name started out as "Kyngesbrigg” or "Knightsbrigg" - the former because the bridge was once owned by Edward the Confessor, the latter because two medieval knights are said to have duelled to their deaths on a bridge above the stream.

The original stone bridge survived for many centuries conveying travellers on the main road between Westminster and Kensington. Sometimes the river was much harder to cross, as for example in 1809 when flooding was so widespread that “foot-passengers were for several days rowed from Chelsea by Thames boatmen." The old Knight's Bridge, two brookside taverns and the river itself were swallowed up in the 1840s during the construction of Albert Gate. These two classical Palazzo-style blocks, one on each former riverbank, are now the French and Kuwaiti embassies. More recent neighbouring developments are less architecturally sympathetic, as Knightsbridge flaunts its global wealth in high rise ugliness. [photo]
Following the Westbourne: The Serpentine, The Dell, Rotten Row, South Carriage Drive, Albert Gate, Knightsbridge, William Street.

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