Walking the Counters Creek – lost rivers of London

Lost river walk that links two of the magnificent seven

The Counters Creek has haunted me for a few years, just as the lost rivers of London collectively haunt London. It was there as a presence when I’d documented the protests to save the communities and buildings in Earls Court in 2015 & 2016. It reverberated beneath the tombstones of Brompton Cemetery when I filmed Andrew Kötting dressed as Straw Bear drifting through the portico. And one possible source of the Counters Creek was a marker on my psychogeographic sound trail around Kensal Rise for Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture. So I was well overdue a walk along its course.

Source of the Counters Creek - Kensal Rise has a Story plaque - John Rogers Brent 2020
One possible source of the Counters Creek on the Brondesbury Ridge
Kensal Green Cemetery Chapel - Counters Creek Walk
Kensal Green Cemetery Chapel – near the source of the Counters Creek

The recognised source of the Counters Creek is not up on the Brondesbury Ridge at the junction of All Souls Avenue and Chamberlayne Road, although it seems highly likely that springs from this high ground feed into the river. Both Nicholas Barton in his classic Lost Rivers of London, and Tom Bolton in London’s Lost Rivers – a Walkers Guide, place the source in Kensal Green Cemetery hidden beneath a large stone slab. From here it crosses the Grand Union Canal and flows across Little Wormwood Scrubs, beneath the Westway and down through Notting Dale, the edge of Holland Park to Olympia (where I stopped for a pint and accidentally realised the pub was close to the Countess’ Bridge that gave the river its contemporary name), Earls Court, Brompton Cemetery, Fulham Road, Kings Road, Lots Road, before making a glorious confluence with the Thames in its above ground guise as Chelsea Creek.

Counters Creek Walk
Interestingly, Nicholas Barton only dedicates one paragraph to the Counters Creek
Grand Union Canal - Counters Creek Walk
I was guided along the course of the Counters Creek by Tom Bolton’s brilliant London’s Lost Rivers – a walker’s guide published by Strange Attractor Press

It truly is one of the great lost river walks – not as celebrated as the Fleet, Tyburn, Westbourne, or Effra – but certainly worthy of a song as Paul Whitehouse had improvised from the deck of a Thames Clipper as we filmed a chat about the Thames and passed the confluence. It’s a shame that song never made the final cut of Episode 2 of Our Troubled Rivers. But the song of the Counters Creek can still be felt rising through its culvert beneath the streets of west London.

John Rogers and Paul Whitehouse
John Rogers and Paul Whitehouse during the filming of Paul Whitehouse Our Troubled Rivers

Walking a North London lost river: the Stonebridge Brook

Haringey’s Lost River: the Stonebridge Brook

Back in the summer of 2021 I received an email while on holiday about the sighting of a river with a boat in the 1980’s behind Salisbury Mansions N4. I was intrigued and had a quick look to see if this aligned with the course of any of the lost rivers of the area I was aware of, but drew a blank.
Then I checked the 1863 – 1869 Ordnance survey map of the area and could make out what appeared to be a possible watercourse running off Green Lanes just north of present day St Ann’s Road (Hangar Lane) – along the top of Chestnuts Park which cut across Avenue Road and South Grove (Newsam Ave). Then it could run along modern day Culvert Road, across Seven Sisters Road shortly afterwards flowing parallel to the railway line near South Tottenham Station, beneath the A10 (Ermine St). The watercourse then appeared to feed a lake at Page Green, run beneath the railway line and join the Lea just South of West Junction and near South Junction where it is joined by another stream from the north (the Moselle). Stonebridge House is marked near the course as well – which was another possible indicator.

I was excited to share this potential course with Rebecca who replied that she’d received an anecdote about the St. Ann’s Hospital site. Apparently there was access, via a door and a few steps, to an underground lake – with boats in the basement of one of the nurses blocks. It was said ‘that there is a Victorian underground water holding area, to the south of site.’ “Another former staff member, was able to verify that there was a spring onsite.”
 
 The only way to find out for sure was to walk the course of this potential lost river of Haringey … and try and find a name for it.
 

Haringey Map 1873 'Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland' 
https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’ 
https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
Stonebridge Road, South Tottenham from Stonebridge Brook walk

A year and a half or more passed then a comment from Joe was posted on my Crouch End video in March this year. “At the end of the street that Hornsey Library is in, there’s a manhole cover where you can see and hear the Stonebridge Brook. It starts here in Crouch End and flows down to the River Lea, somewhere near the Markfield Brook. There are a few places in Hornsey where you can spot it running beneath the streets.”
Looking online I found this fantastic thread of information. Including this historical record of the river being discussed for culverting by the local council in its 1906 Report on The Health of Tottenham.
Outlining Typhoid statistics the report refers to the Stonebridge (and Moselle) Brook: “It is a noteworthy fact that 52 out of the 62 cases occurred in the portion of the district “ watered ” by the Moselle and Stonebridge Brooks, most of the objectionable portions of which are now fortunately being culverted.
Amongst the public health improvements put forward the Report recommended, “Culverting Stonebridge Brook (East of Avenue Road to South Grove); Culverting Stonebridge Brook at Green Lanes; Culverting Moselle Brook at Scotland Green
The works under consideration included:
(a) Culverting the Stonebridge Brook between Chestnuts Estate and Culvert Road
(b) Culverting the brook rear of houses in Hermitage Road.”

 I now had enough information to plot a course and head out to walk the Stonebridge Brook.

You can watch my videos of the Moselle walk here and Part two here

East London Walk in Search of a Mystery

A few years ago I was sent an incredible email that contained correspondence between two allotment holders concerning the causes of flooding in Leyton. Previously I was completely fixated on the more elaborate stories contained in this exchange. But recently, revisiting the email for research into the fringe of the Olympic Park for my new book, I released that I’d overlooked the mentions of multiple buried watercourses that are claimed to have historically run through Leyton. So I set out on Easter Monday to hunt for these mysterious buried rivers that are said to flow beneath the streets of Leyton, in addition to our much loved (and celebrated on this blog) Philley Brook (Fillebrook / Philly Brook).

Map of buried rivers in Leyton East London.
Open Street Map “© OpenStreetMap contributors” using data available under the Open Database Licence
Map showing the possible course of buried rivers in Leyton that could cause flooding in the area
Open Street Map “© OpenStreetMap contributors” using data available under the Open Database Licence
‘Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland’  https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

I continued my walk north, passing Etloe House which seems to have had its own stream or ditch. And then progressed along Markhouse Road where I started to shadow the Dagenham Brook until I encountered an accessible open stretch in the new development off Blackhorse Lane around Vanguard Way. It was a fascinating walk that opened up so many new avenues of intrigue in the topography and folklore of Leyton and Walthamstow.

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook is lost no more

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook - Leytonstone's lost river
The Philley Brook / Fillebrook

It was great to get a really clear view of Leytonstone’s lost river, the Philley Brook (Fillebrook) down beside Auckland Road allotments at the weekend. I’d only previously caught glimpses of dark water through the weeds obscuring the culvert. But now with the undergrowth cleared away the river can be clearly seen flowing above ground. To my knowledge this is the only point where the Philley Brook can be seen, although it can be heard in a number of locations running beneath the streets of Leytonstone and Leyton (I didn’t really hear it in the upper Walthamstow reaches).

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook - Leytonstone's lost river which is prone to cause flooding in Leyton, Leytonstone and Waltamstow
The Philley Brook
The Philley Brook beside Auckland Road allotments Leyton
The Philley Brook goes back underground

Moments before this glorious sighting I’d bumped into Claire while filming a Q&A video for my YouTube channel. I mentioned that I felt I hadn’t resolved the question of where the Philley Brook (Fillebrook) made its confluence with the River Lea or if it merged with the Dagenham Brook first somewhere beneath the Eurostar railway sidings. Being a water professional, Claire recommended taking a look at the Environment Agency Long Term Flood Risk maps. And my word, what a revelation. The course of the buried rivers of the area is marked out in dark blue. Thank you Claire!

Flood Risk map Leyton
Flood Risk map Leyton - Philley Brook / Fillebrook

The ‘Unlost’ River of East London

Following the Mayes Brook from Chadwell Heath to Barking

Scanning my list of walks one weekend when heading out to shoot a YouTube video, the Mayes Brook lept out at me. How had I not walked it before. I’d be tracking the tributaries of the lower reaches of the River Roding during the lockdowns of 2020-21 and walks tracing the Cran Brook, Loxford Water and Seven Kings Water, and the Alders Brook had been some of my most memorable walks of that period. Somehow the Mayes Brook had slipped through the net. So one hot day at the end of July I set out to pay tribute to this ‘unlost’ river guided by a blog post by the brilliant Diamond Geezer.

Catching the tube to Newbury Park I walked along the Eastern Avenue, one of London’s great romantic highways. The sky seems wider above the Eastern Avenue – you sense the vast expanse of the North Sea at the end of the road at Lowestoft. It gives the passage into Chadwell Heath a more epic tone than merely passing from Redbridge into Barking and Dagenham. Likewise the art deco glory of the Plessey Factory beside the road, now defunct it seems, but once part of the defence electronics manufacturer from Ilford that’d used the Central Line tube tunnels between Leytonstone and Gants Hill as a wartime factory. You can still see the squat brick lift entrances nestled discreetly between the houses along the Eastern Avenue.

Chadwell Heath bandstand

‘Chadders’, as my friend exclaimed when she saw where my walk started, is where the Mayes Brook rises, just to the north of St Chad’s Park. I wanted to make a link between this eastern spring and the St Chad’s Well at Kings Cross near the banks of the River Fleet. It seems St Chad of Mercia was associated with wells and springs although I couldn’t find a link to the area. But it gave me something to waffle about in the video.

This first half of the walk was a classic (sub)urban lost river walk – following hints and clues through the streets and alleyways, or in my case following the course as described in Diamond Geezer’s blog, through Chadwell Heath and Goodmayes and back across the border into Redbridge. There was a wide expanse of water in Goodmayes (Good Mayes Brook) Park which you assume is fed by the Mayes Brook, as the Cran Brook, Loxford and Seven Kings Water all feed park lakes along their course. But the river itself remains hidden until you approach Mayesbrook Park where it’s been successfully daylighted and brought back to the surface.

Roxy Avenue, Chadwell Heath London Borough of Redbridge
Roxy Avenue, Chadwell Heath
Roxy Avenue

Leaving the parched earth of Mayesbrook Park, the brook once more disappeared from view and further on flowed above ground, but was not accessible to the walker for the entire way. A fortunate side-effect of this enforced detour into the fringe of Barking was that it took me past the magnificent Elizabethan Eastbury Manor House, built by Clement Sysley.

I did miss a short open section of the Mayes Brook before it crosses the A13 but picked it up on the other side as it ran wide and free across River Road. The last view I had of the river was as it made its final passage through the industrial buildings towards its confluence with the River Roding. From here those waters that rose beneath the ground in a modest street in Chadwell Heath, would flow into the Thames and out into the wild seas.

Walking the lost River Peck

In this walk we go in search of the course of the ‘lost’ River Peck that gives its name to Peckham in South London. The Peck is said to rise near One Tree Hill in Honor Oak and then flows above ground across Peckham Rye before re-entering its culvert as it flows through the streets of Peckham just to the west of Copeland Road. Our walk then goes past Peckham Bus Garage to Kirkwood Road and picks up the course of the river again at Asylum Road near Queens Road Station. The river most likely flows beneath Brimmington Park but we continue along Asylum Road to look at the Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum. The walk takes us along the Old Kent Road to the point where the Peck crosses the road and heads along Ilderton Road to make its confluence with the Earl’s Sluice near Bermondsey South Station.

Thanks to the Peckham Society for their great blog post on The Peck

Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum Old Kent Road
Licensed Victuallers’ Benevolent Institution Asylum

Route of the walk/ course of the River Peck:
One Tree Hill – Oak of Honor
Brenchley Gardens
Marmora Road
Homestall Road
Peckham Rye
Rye Lane
Copeland Road
Blackpool Road Peckham Bus Garage
Brayards Road
Kirkwood Road
Lugard Road
Queens Road Peckham
Asylum Road Peckham
Old Kent Road
Ilderton Road SE16
South Bermondsey Station

Video shot in June 2021

Walking the River Neckinger – Lost Rivers of London

A walk tracing the course of The River Neckinger, one of the Lost Rivers of London.

The river rises on St George’s Fields, now the park around the Imperial War Museum. From here it follows Brook Drive to Elephant and Castle. We walk along Newington Causeway to Borough High Street and pick up the echoes of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which references this spot at the start of the pilgrimage. Our walk then follows the course of the river along Long Lane, past the Kipling Estate and the end of Bermondsey Street. Bermondsey Square sits on the site of Bermondsey Abbey, once one of the most important ecclesiastical institutions in Europe. The river is said to flow along Abbey Street which was once navigable as far as the Abbey.

We then follow the Neckinger across Druid Street and Jamaica Road to an area that was once known as Jacob’s Island. Mill Street takes us to St Saviour’s Wharf where the Neckinger makes its confluence with the Thames.

This video was filmed in December 2020