Walking London’s Lost Rivers – The Tyburn

A walk along the course of one of the lost Rivers of London – The Tyburn. This buried river flows from Hampstead through Swiss Cottage and Regent’s Park, along Marylebone Lane, through Mayfair and Green Park beneath Buckingham Palace where it splits into channels and we follow it as it joins the Tachbrook to make its confluence with the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge.

Some notes on the Tyburn from historical sources:
“This celebrated place of execution, which figures so prominently in the records of crime, is said to have been first established in the reign of Henry IV., previous to which ‘ The Ekns ‘ at Smithfield seems to have been the favourite locality for the punish- ment of malefactors. The name is derived from a brook called Tyburn, which flowed down from Hampstead into the Thames, supplying in its way a large pond in the Green Park, and also the celebrated Rosamond’s Pond in St James’s Park. Oxford Street was, at an earlier period, known as Tyburn Road, and the now aristocratic locality of Park Lane, bore formerly the name of Tyburn Lane, whilst an iron tablet attached to the railings of Hyde Park,opposite the entrance of the Edgeware Road, informs the passer-by that here stood Tyburn turnpike-gate, so well known in old times as a landmark by travellers to and from London.”
The Book of Days Edited by R. Chambers pub. 1888

Commenting on the boundaries of Westminster Abbey lands as described in an Anglo-Saxon charter in the Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society published in 1864
“then up along to Tyburne (a name well known to all), a large stream, which drained Mary-le-bone, Paddington, and the country around, and discharged itself into the Thames, opposite Vauxhall.”

Note on the course of the Stream in Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society published in 1890
“the sparkling stream flowed in a channel you might almost span with your foot, running down the hill-side, chiefly in the direction of the Dissenters’ College; but leaving that on the west, midway between the garden wall of Belsize Manor, it proceeded southwards. Bending a little westwards it crossed Avenue Road just beyond St. Peter’s Church, then keeping close to the west side of this road until it reached Acacia Road, at the corner of which it received an affluent from Belsize, and then passed southwards by Townsend Road to the corner of Henry Street; it then diverged diagonally to the corner of Charles Street with Park Road. Formerly an aque- duct conveyed it across Regent’s Canal into the Park, the artificial waters of which it once supplied, and continuing its course passed from the Park boundary at the upper end of Cornwall Terrace, crossing Upper Baker Street, New Street, and then Alsops Terrace, in the Marylebone Road, where a depression is to be seen marking the channel.”

Another note on the course in London by Sir Laurence Gomme 1914
“Thus the King’s Scholars’ Pond sewer was so called because it emptied itself into the Thames at the King’s Scholars’ Pond (near the pre- sent Vauxhall Bridge), on ” the great level extending from the Horse Ferry to Chelsey Mead.” Incidentally it may be mentioned that during the reign of Queen Anne the name of the sewer was dutifully changed to Queen’s Scholars’ Pond sewer. Anciently it was known as the Tyburn brook, and later as the Aye brook, and flowed down the hill from Marylebone Fields, passing near the old village of Tyburn and across the Acton or Tyburn road (Oxford Street) and the present Brook Street, through Mayfair to the Stone Bridge, situated at the “dip” in modern Piccadilly. Passing under the bridge and the high road to Kensington, it entered what is now known as the Green Park. Large ponds were formed in the course of the sewer in this part of the park. At the bottom of the hill the streamlet passed through the gardens of Goring or Arlington House, where Buckingham Palace now stands, and along by the ” coach road to Chelsea ” the present Buckingham Palace Road and what is now Vauxhall Bridge Road to the river. At different periods the stream was altered in various parts of its course, and gradually covered in and converted into an underground sewer.”

Note on Thorney Island and the Tyburn in Middlesex in British, Roman and Saxon Times by Montagu Sharpe pub. 1919
“In Middlesex, on the little eyot or island of Thorney (Thornea, overrun with thorn bushes, in loco terribili) being a delta of land where the eastern arm of the Tyburne, or double stream, joins the Thames two miles south-west of the city of London, there had formerly stood a Roman temple, said to have been dedicated to Apollo, the god who inter alia wards off evil and affords help. It would be used by those who travelled to and fro along Watling Street and the south-eastern ports, to make a votive offering before or after their safe passage across this dangerous ford of the Thames. First, an arm of the Tyburne in the Green Park would have to be waded, and then the other in St. James’s Park to reach the
island, prior to fording the Thames to the Surrey bank where St. Thomas’ Hospital now stands, and thence, before the Romans made a causeway, across two miles of treacherous marshes until the rising ground towards Shooters’ Hill was reached.”

Walk along (and off) Watling Street from Cricklewood to Oxford Circus

Cricklewood

After visiting a friend I decided to go for stroll in a sudden outbreak of September sun. Considering the options – my friend’s suggestion of walking to Horsenden Hill, or my vague pang to retrace old routes to Stonebridge Park in the name of nostalgia – I didn’t fancy the long tube ride home at the end. Eventually, my feet decided for me, as they often do, and drew me south along the A5, the old Watling Street, one of the most ancient roads in Britain.

Shoot-Up Hill

There’s an air of chaos on parts of this oldest of thoroughfares, things going down left-right-and-centre. ‘It’s crazy’, says the Scottish guy in the queue at Co-op check-out as I wait to pay for my discounted falafel wrap. One bloke seems to object to me admiring the architecture – or was he offering further information? It was hard to tell in that vibe.

Hillman CricklewoodAt various times I considered deviating from the route as I passed Brondesbury and Kilburn High Road stations but something kept me plodding on, like a well-drilled Roman Centurion returning to Londinium from a stint in the provinces.

Folkies Kilburn

State Cinema Kilburn

The glorious George Coles (of Leyton) designed Gaumont State Cinema played a big part in calling me along the road. It’s tower rising like a beacon above the Victorian/Edwardian shopping parade, apparently inspired by the Empire State Building.

Abbey Road tourists IMG_3022

My discipline waned when I realised that the famous Abbey Road ran parallel to Watling Street. Surely the Beatles were tapping into the psychogeographical resonances of the area when they went all mad and mystical. Abbey Road originally linked the 12th Century Kilburn Priory, sat on the banks of the Westbourne, with an area of woodland owned by the Priory of St. John in Clerkenwell, now simply called St. John’s Wood. The tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken on the zebra crossing were oblivious to all of this and were merely imitating the iconic Beatles Abbey Road album cover.

Chiltern Street

I avoid Lord’s Cricket Ground and pass down Baker Street with a nod to Chiltern Court before turning into Chiltern Street. Paul Weller poses for a photo with a couple of builders. The beginnings of sunset dance on the russet brickwork.

The seductive contours of Marylebone Lane encourage me to follow the flow of the submerged River Tyburn, a meander through smart-set hang-outs and catwalk pavements till I arrive within the gravitational vortex of Oxford Circus where I am sucked beneath the ground into the tube and projected back blissfully East.