london’s hidden rivers and hamlet

london’s hidden rivers, by david fathers

north of the thames (west to east)

  • Stamford Brook
  • Counter’s Creek
  • River Westbourne
  • River Tyburn
  • River Fleet
  • Hackney Brook
  • River Walbrook

south of the thames (west to east)

  • Falcon Brook
  • River Effra
  • River Neckinger
  • Earl’s Sluice & River Peck

we forget that the land cities are built on was once the same as the land cities are not built on: fields, woods, streams and rivers

the earth of those fields remains under london’s buildings and roads, and so do the waterways

it was aidan andrew dun who first preached to me these rivers: with ian dalgleish at the voice box on the south bank, probably early noughties – the great poet performing from memory the beginnings of vale royal, his epic on the fleet

from that moment i have had a growing awareness and knowledge of the underground rivers of london, enhanced by the clearer 3d perception given to the cyclist; a few years ago i ‘cycled the fleet’ from hampstead ponds to blackfriars, working out the route gravitationally

david fathers’ book is a solid, pocketable, and colourful guide to walking the lines of these rivers from source to thames, studded with pictures and (for a book so small) vast amounts of text chunks on the rivers themselves and on random fascinating things to see en route; this easter at least one will be walked


hackney empire, rsc, saturday 10th march, matinee

an african hamlet, but ‘done straight’ – it never felt gimmicky; a mainly black cast, but that wasn’t to make a point, it was just hamlet, but so clear and rich, and – just fun – it’s rare to see a shakespeare production where the action is so transparent; i didn’t want it to stop

How they are related

There’s always some connection: the Hackney Brook flows unseen beneath the streets 200 yards north of the Hackney Empire. Whether it’s where Ophelia was found drowned is another question, but there’s quite a lot of concrete now ‘aslant a brook’. As for underground rivers being an image for the unconscious, well (if you’ll pardon the pun): the play’s subterranean action is Hamlet’s struggle with his emotions – desire and fears for revenge, more complex ones for Ophelia and Gertrude.

We don’t need the ‘Oslo’ bar at Hackney Central to remind us of the place’s nordic links; David Fathers tells us that ‘In the fifth century, a Danish lord named Haca (or Hacon) established a stronghold on an area of raised land or island (an ‘eyot’) above the marshes’. Hamlet managed to escape arrival in England and instant execution; Haca got here and gave his name to his, er, hamlet, perched some little way above the marshes of the (very unhidden) River Lea.

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