The River Thames flows through the centre of London and is known pretty much the world over. However, not so many people know that there are a lot of smaller rivers and streams which feed into it. Some no longer exist and many others are built over and now flow underground before reaching the Thames.
One of the better known such rivers is the Fleet. It originates from two streams located in the Hampstead area of North London. They were dammed up in the eighteenth century which caused the formation of ponds; the Highgate Ponds and the Hampstead Ponds. The name Fleet comes from the old Anglo Saxon word Fleot which means “tidal inlet.” From Hampstead the river flows approximately four miles south before reaching the Thames.
Its route takes it through parts of North London including Camden Town and King’s Cross. From here it runs pretty straight under Farringdon Road, then Farringdon Street and under Ludgate Circus located at the end of Fleet Street, the previous home of many of Britain’s national newspapers. It then flows into the Thames under Blackfriars Bridge. If you are careful, look over the embankment and you will see the outflow gate.
When the Romans occupied London, then known as Londinium, it provided a ready source of fresh drinking water. But that did not last long. By the thirteenth century, it had become badly polluted. And things got a lot worse. Soon it became completely clogged up with raw sewage.
Today, the water is cleaner but it now flows underground. There are a couple of gratings where you can hear the river flowing beneath you. But be very careful as they are both located in the middle of a road. One is located in Ray Street, outside the Coach & Horses pub and the other is at the junction of Farringdon Road and Charterhouse Street.
As I said earlier, there are many such hidden and lost rivers and some have very interesting routes through London. One of them actually flows over the platforms of a well-known Tube Station. But that is for another story in this series.