London’s lost rivers: the hidden history of the city’s buried waterways

Tom Bolton reveals the surprising stories behind the little-known rivers that still surge beneath the streets of London.


Traces of London’s lost rivers are visible throughout the city, if you know what to look for Photo: SF Said

London is usually seen as a one-river city, just big old Father Thames. The city breathes with the rise and fall of its tide, and for centuries the Thames has posed patiently for tourist drawings, etchings and photos. But what of London’s other rivers, the capital’s unseen waterways? Twenty-one tributaries flow to the Thames within the spread of Greater London, and that is just counting the main branches. Once tributaries, and tributaries of tributaries, are included the total moves beyond numbers into the realms of conjecture.


Many of these rivers flow quietly above ground, in plain sight but generally unnoticed beyond their neighbourhoods. Their enticing names echo London’s rural past – the Crane, the Darent, the Mutton Brook, the Pool River – or carry a whiff of the exotic – the Ching, the Moselle, the Quaggy, the Silk Stream. These rivers go about their business forgotten in the background, but many inner London waterways have been deliberately hidden. London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created, but as the city grew they began to get in the way and were buried, bit by bit, under layers of streets and houses.”


The Westbourne river flows through a tunnel that runs above Sloane Square Underground station. Image: SF Said

Full article:

For a more in-depth look see this article by Tom Bolton: Caught by the Effra:


3 thoughts on “London’s lost rivers: the hidden history of the city’s buried waterways

  1. I do the same thing. It is fun to visualise cars driving through a river, only separated by “time”.


  2. I love to picture these things as I walk around London. I used to walk past Old St Pancras church regularly, imagining the River that flowed nearby through open fields and was thought to be a barrier to the plague.


  3. London was shaped by the last Ice Age. Modern day Trafalgar Square was once swarming with hairy rhino and elephants who visited these waters.

    Outside my house was once a fast flowing river, now just a busy road.


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