The River Fleet plaque

Little can be seen of the subterranean waterway that starts at Hampstead Heath as it runs through Camden Town, past Kings Cross and down into the River Thames. Until recently, the route was only marked by manhole covers that give away the River Fleet’s location by the faint noise of flowing water as the Fleet makes its way through the borough.

The largest of London’s hidden rivers, the Fleet is an unsung hero of Camden that informed the city structure north of the River Thames. Be it in the naming of streets, the positioning of railway stations or the location of markets and industries, there are subtle references to the river all along the route from source to the mouth at Blackfriars Bridge.

fleet street road sign
Fleet Road sign 

The River Fleet was culverted in the late 1800’s and formalised as part of the extensive sewer network that was put into motion by Joseph Bazalgette, who masterminded one of the great feats of Victorian engineering. Whilst this brought cleaner and healthier streets back then, it has almost completely removed any trace of the riparian features that used to be. You can see a video by The Londonist here:

As part of a green space investment project at Goldington Crescent Gardens, the existence and historical positioning of the Fleet has been brought to the surface again through the installation of decorative plaque made out of cast iron. The plaque celebrates the lost river and is set into the footway at Goldington Crescent Gardens, formerly known as Pancras Wash that used to act as a flood plain for the Fleet at peak flows. The plaque makes subtle reference to the combined sewer network by mimicking a drain cover in its appearance.

plaque

By standing in the location of the plaque you can imagine the flowing river of yesteryear. If you were to walk the route of the river today it would take you on a meandering route through Camden’s streets, past a number of green spaces and features of historical interest.

St Pancras Old Church and River Fleet 1815
St Pancras Old Church and River Fleet 1815 

This image shows the River Fleet passing St Pancras Church Yard. Image provided by Camden Local Studies and Achieves.

There is growing interest in the Fleet and the history that surrounds it, with interpretive walks curated by hidden river enthusiasts such as Tom Bolton, author of London’s Lost Rivers or fellow Fleet specialist Paul Talling, author of the Lost Rivers of London.

To find more information about walking tours please visit: http://www.londonslostrivers.com/river-fleet-walk.html