diamond geezer

 Friday, July 30, 2010

THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON
The River Walbrook
2) Liverpool Street - Bank


London WallThe Walbrook entered Roman Londinium through a culvert under the city walls about halfway between Moor Gate and Bishop's Gate. It brought fresh water for drinking and cooking, so it was allowed to pass unhindered beneath the ragstone bulkhead. And as the brook beneath the wall, that's how the Walbrook got its name. Probably. Very little about this river is certain, you should know that by now.

The entrance point today is marked by an unlikely dual carriageway sloping down past the church of All Hallows On The Wall. This building is a rare survivor in a sea of modern architectural tedium, although at the top of the hill the new spire-topped Heron Tower injects a striking contrast into the skyline [photo]. And then on into the city proper, and an area you way not know too well. There are a lot of gates and walls and narrow alleyways, as if those round here would rather not too many of the outside world wandered by. If Throgmorton Avenue's locked off then slip down the nearby passage and enter the mysterious enclave around Austin Friars [photo]. Wiggly lanes lined by obscure financial institutions, plus De Nederlandse Kerk (which has been serving the capital's Dutch community since 1550). Alas the Walbrook ran slightly further west, past Drapers Hall, through what's now the chunky brown lump of Angel Court. Over the last fifty years, it seems, architects have infilled umpteen corners of our great City with stacked-office ugliness.

Tokenhouse YardTo Tokenhouse Yard. This is a neat yet non-descript EC2 cul-de-sac, with a narrow alley at one end leading to a snack shop and gentleman's barbers. Along one side is an elegant fa├žade with classical columns, and along the other a building site [photo]. Really quite typical. But this is apparently the spot where two tributaries of the Walbrook met. Above this point marshy uncertainty, below this point a fairly definite river course. There's even a map of the Walbrook stuck to the building site wall, because construction projects in the City have to take archaeology very seriously. Roman remains (including a timber-lined drain) have been found beneath basement level, the poster informs, as well as telltale lost-river alluvium. London's original watery dividing line passed straight through here, then south to Lothbury.
"Now for the North side of this Lothbury, beginning at the East end thereof: Upon the Water-course of Walbrooke, have ye a proper Parish Church, called St. Margaret. Which seemeth to be newly re-edified and builded, about the Year 1440. For Robert Large gave to the Quire of that Church one hundred and 20 Pounds for Ornaments. More to the Vaulting over the Water-course of Walbrook, by the said Church, for the enlarging thereof, Two Hundred Marks."
Not many medieval churches had to be specially constructed so that a stream could pass underneath! By the time Wren rebuilt St Margaret's after the Great Fire there was no need for special vaulting as there was no longer a river [photo]. But there were genuine underground issues at the next building across the street - the mighty Bank of England [photo]. Sir John Soane had to deal with the buried Walbrook when he designed and constructed the City's financial fortress - its waters were seen trickling beneath the foundations. A similar, though unexpected, archaeological revelation occurred in the late 1950s when the "Travelator" at Bank station was being installed. Next time you're walking down to the Waterloo & City line on Europe's first moving pavement, be aware that you're also wading through the channel of the deep-buried Walbrook. [photo]


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