The River that Stole a Coffin

Another of London’s not quite lost rivers but more of a hidden one is situated in south London. It is the River Effra and it rises in Upper Norwood, not far from Crystal Palace. Like many of these rivers, it still exists but is mostly underground and has often been incorporated into the various sewage systems.

When the Great Stink occurred in London during the nineteenth century, caused by the amount of untreated sewage dumped into the Thames, the government of the day instructed Sir Joseph Bazalgette to come up with a solution to solve the problem. He returned with a plan which involved the building of a sewer system under much of central London. It incorporated a number of London’s rivers being used as part of the new system.

The River’s Outlet into the Thames

    This included a branch of the Effra which aided the part of the system termed the South High-Level Sewer. This had an outfall into the Thames at Deptford. The river was also incorporated into the South Low-Level Sewer. This was picked up in the Vauxhall area and flowed to its outfall near Gravesend in Essex.

    There is an urban myth relating to the River Effra. It says that during the Victorian era a coffin was seen to be floating down the river and then into the Thames. Investigators were led back to West Norwood Cemetery and to a particular burial plot. But the strange thing was that the grave appeared to be undisturbed.

    It took further investigations to discover that the ground underneath the grave had subsided with the result that the coffin sank down into the underground river. From there it was carried off downstream until it emerged into the open. It is a nice story but there does not seem a lot of evidence to support it but who are we to say that it didn’t happen?

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