Want a sense of what the London riverscape once looked like? London’s Lost Rivers offers a map of rivers that once ran above ground, but are now directed under streets through culverts. Click here to view the map, and read a description of the rivers.
“Dead Hogges, Dogges, Cats, and well flayd carryon horse, their noysom corpes soyld the water courses; Both swines and stable dunge, beasts guts and garbage, street durt, with gardners weeds and rotten herbage. And from those waters filthy putrifaction, our meat and drinke were made, which bred infection.”
This description of the rivers in Oxford in 1644, from John Taylor’s “Mad Verse”, gives an idea of how the Thames had long been used as an open sewer. In London, the originally beautiful river Fleet, which fed into the Thames, was one of the first to be railed off as a health hazard. - Thames Pilot: The River Environment
The Fleet River was also know as The River of Wells. Click on previous link and the links below to learn more about this fascinating topic. Find amazing photos of the Fleet sewer in Undercity.
- The River Runs Deep: London’s Lost Rivers
- The River Fleet: Peter Van Der Linden
- Sub-Urban: The River Fleet aka The fleet sewer
- Hampstead Heath: Where one can still see the River Fleet above water
“In the “Dunciad,” Pope, lashing the poorer of his enemies, drives them headlong past Bridewell to the mud-pools of the Fleet”— (From The Fleet River and the Fleet Ditch)
To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames,
The king of dykes! than whom no slice of mud
With deeper sable blots the silver flood.
‘Here strip, my children! here at once leap in,
Here prove who best can dash thro’ thick and thin,
And who the most in love of dirt excel,
Or dark dexterity of groping well.
Who flings most filth and wide pollutes around
The stream, be his the Weekly Journals bound;
A pig of lead to him who dives the best;
A peck of coals a-piece shall glad the rest.’
In naked majesty, Oldmixon stands,
And, Milo-like, surveys his arms and hands;
Then sighing, thus, ‘And am I now threescore?
Ah, why, ye gods! should two and two make four?’
He said, and climb’d a stranded lighter’s height,
Shot to the black abyss, and plung’d downright.
The Senior’s judgment all the crowd admire,
Who but to sink the deeper, rose the higher.
Next Smedley div’d; low circles dimpled o’er
The quaking mud, that clos’d, and op’d no more.
All look, all sigh, and call on Smedley lost;
Smedley, in vain, resounds thro’ all the coast.
Image at top from: The River Runs Deep (see link above)
Google map with superimposed Image of the River Fleet at bottom from: Fluffhouse.org. (In this image, the underground Fleet flows from Regent’s Park to the Thames River. Please correct me if I am wrong.)