The secrets of London’s lost underground rivers


Most of London’s waterways, its rivers and canals, are famous and well visited. But little is known of London’s lost rivers that still secretly course through London under our feet. The Fleet, Tyburn and Westbourne flow from Hampstead’s ponds and streams across the capital, occasionally rising to glimpse the sky before diving down again into sunless caverns beneath the streets, making their way to the Thames.

The Tyburn starts at South Hampstead and runs through Westminster before meeting the Thames at Whitehall.  It surfaces at Regent’s park to fill its lake then descends under Marylebone. At Gray’s Antique Centre just off Bond Street they have made a feature of the river that runs through their basement, with goldfish swimming its waters. Running beneath Mayfair it flows directly under Buckingham Palace and may well be the feed for the Queen’s own lake in her gardens and the lake of St James’ Park. Finally it splits under Westminster to empty into the Thames either side of the bridge.

A third drain off from the Tyburn runs south under Pimlico and If you are courageous enough to put your ear next to a manhole on Upper Tachbrook Street you will hear the waters of The Tyburn rushing below.

The Westbourne runs away from Hampstead to the west, heading south under Kilburn and Paddington, before bursting out in the Italian Gardens at the north end of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park’s Serpentine. At the far end of the world famous boating lake it plunges into darkness again, snaking under the ‘Knights’ Bridge’ and Belgravia before running right over the tube track at Sloane Square station. You can see the river’s boxed metal viaduct above you at the southern end of the platform. It’s journey ends, running beneath the Royal Hospital, as it finds the Thames opposite Battersea Park.

The Fleet begins in Highgate Ponds and runs through Parliament Hill Fields. After this, little is seen of the Fleet as it makes its way through Kentish Town, slicing its way between St Pancras and King’s Cross stations. Finally it courses beneath Farringdon Road, past the end of Fleet Street, named after the river, and spews out directly under Blackfriars Bridge.

On Bank Holiday Monday 25th August 2014, Paul Talling, author of London’s Lost Rivers (Random House) will be leading a circular guided walk exploring these lost rivers, starting and ending in South Hampstead. Visitors will discover the historic features of the ‘secret’ Tyburn including the remains of the Victorian prison,Tothill Fields Bridewell, built in 1834. Parts of the prison have recently been unearthed near Westminster Cathedral which was built over it.  The prison originally extended over what is now Thirleby Road in Victoria.  Former pubs here on the banks of The Tyburn used to be visited by Charles Dickens, Karl Marx and Bram Stoker.

Most hauntingly, the guided walk will remember the condemned prisoners who crossed the river in irons as they were being marched from Newgate to ‘Tyburn Tree’, the infamous gallows at, what is now, Marble Arch. In the 600 years that the gallows stood there, thousands were hanged, their necks ‘stretched’ in the notorious three nooses of Tyburn’s ‘Triple Tree’ .

The walk starts at 11.45am on Bank Holiday Monday 25th August 2014.  Tickets can be bought via

Meeting point: Hampstead Underground Station


Smriti Gopal

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