The Lost Rivers Brewing Co. was born following an lively chat with a wise old man about the Lost Rivers of London. Inspired by his tales we decided to name not only the brewery after the Lost Rivers but also the ales being produced such as the Neckinger, Walbrook and Silk Stream. The story continues in that we aim to put these brews in the bars and restaurants located just a stones throw away from the Lost Rivers such as the Bermondsey Yard Cafe which houses the Neckinger due to it's address being close to the Lost 'Neckinger' River.
What Lost Rivers?
We were suprised to discover that dozens of these 'Lost' rivers and canals were buried beneath London’s streets more than a century ago, each one progressively lost over as the capital grew. Amongst the congested traffic of central London’s St Pancras Road, around the corner from the glass and steel skyscrapers of the Euston Road, it's hard to imagine a river once ran through grassy fields. But outside St Pancras Old Church is a plaque showing a sketch of people in that exact spot bathing on the banks of the Fleet in 1827. The river is one of many in London which was converted into a sewer as the capital’s population grew.
Over the centuries, London’s rivers have been through massive transformation. Back in the early days they were used for drinking and fishing, the springs fed wells such as Clerkenwell, where the clerks of the parish would drink water. The River Fleet became polluted as Smithfield butchers threw remains of dead animals into the river, and was eventually incorporated into the sewer system. The River Tyburn which flows through Regents Park under Buckingham Palace, was once reputed to have some of London’s best salmon fishing. The Fleet was once a broad tidal basin, several hundred feet wide when it reached the Thames, but like many of London’s other rivers, its flow greatly reduced as the city’s population grew and it became an open sewer. The Fleet’s reputation for slum dwellings, crime and disease was such that Charles Dickens based Fagin’s Den in Oliver Twist in the area it flowed through. Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, the capital’s rivers became integral to Christopher Wren’s redevelopment plans for the city. The vision was to have canals with arch bridges like Venice but in reality, the sewage meant it just got clogged up.
Today, in many parts of the city you could be standing within inches of one of its lost rivers and not even realise it. These underground waterways have not disappeared entirely from view with the odd street name (such as Fleet Street) and occasional opening in the banks of the Thames acting as reminders of their presence. Through walking the rivers many people have made efforts to map them which you can see in Richard Fairhursts novel map which shows a few of the subterranean rivers alongside some other notable underground features in London.
The rivers may now be subterranean but their impact on London’s landscape remains with borders between different parts of the capital owing much to its buried waterways including the damming of the Westbourne which was ordered by George II’s wife Queen Caroline in 1730 to form the Serpentine and increase Hyde Park’s aesthetic appeal.
This amazing video below courtesy of Sandra Crisp shows the mapping of London’s Subterranean Rivers and allows the viewer to fly through a 3D map of London, revealing the sites of ancient and subterranean rivers based on research using old maps and books. Evoking existing and long disappeared waterways that bubble unseen beneath our feet. These include IncluThe Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, Quaggy, Counters Creek, Neckinger and more.
For more information on the Lost Rivers of London we recommend reading London's Lost Rivers by Paul Talling where a lot of this info was sourced. Please click here to visit his website.