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Q: Rivers in London ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Rivers in London
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: rahahroni-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 08 Oct 2002 14:54 PDT
Expires: 07 Nov 2002 13:54 PST
Question ID: 74170
What rivers run through the Kings Cross area of London, particularly
Calthorpe Street, and where can I get a detailed map (online) of this area?
Subject: Re: Rivers in London
Answered By: grimace-ga on 09 Oct 2002 12:17 PDT

The ancient Fleet river runs through this area of London. The Fleet no
longer runs on the surface of the city, alas - it is one of London's
many subterranean rivers, converted into a sewer in the Victorian era.
It has been completely underground since the expansion of Hampstead -
where the river rises - in the 1870s.

The river flows from Hampstead to the Thames, crossing Camden, King's
Cross and Clerkenwell en route. The elgantly curving Farringdon Road
(which intersects with Calthorpe Street) follows the line of the
river. The river gives its name to Fleet Square (around the corner
from Calthorpe Street), the (long demolished)Fleet Prison, the more
famous Fleet Street, and Fleet Lane - these last two being further
south, by the mouth of the old Fleet.

You can see more details of the course and gradual burial of the Fleet
under the burgeoning metropolis at this site. It has some very fine
illustrations of boats sailing from the Fleet to the Thames.

London's Subterranean River Fleet

You can also read about the Fleet and the wells which fed it at this
site. The Clerk Well, or Clerkenwell, is not far from Calthorpe

The River of Wells

There is a stylised map of underground London here. As the site says,
the river is unimposing now, but "such names as Fleet and Effra still
strike fear into the hearts of underground engineers, who know that
any careful excavations could be ruined by the collapse of a rogue

Heritage: Exploring Underground London

You can see the Fleet on this 1827 map. Calthorpe Street is now the
junction off Gray's Inn Road to the right, immediately south of Acton
Street. You can see the course of the Fleet running off parallel to
the right of Gray's Inn Road, following the line of present day
Farringdon Road. King's Cross was known at the time as Battle Bridge,
after the stand-off between Boudicea and the Romans.

Greenwood's 1827 Map: King's Cross

A recent map is here. You'll notice that the river Fleet has vanished
under several miles of Victorian engineering:

Multimap: Calthorpe Street

In this aerial photograph you can see Calthorpe Street running above
the post office depot at the centre of the picture:

Multimap: Aerial Photo

In short, the Fleet River does run through the area you're interested
in, but it is utterly invisible unless you choose to go looking for
it. Thousands of people who live and work in King's Cross and
Clerkenwell have no idea that the river exists.

I trust this is what you were looking for. 


Search strategy: rivers + clerkenwell + king's cross
                 fleet + london

Clarification of Answer by grimace-ga on 09 Oct 2002 12:55 PDT
Carnegie has a good point. Comparing the old and the modern map, it
looks as though the Fleet follows the path of what is now Phoenix
Place, which intersects Calthorpe Street. The Mount Pleasant Post
Office Sorting Office is clearly based on the grounds of the 'House of
Correction' (NB *not* the Fleet Prison), which on Greenwood's map is
shown on the opposite bank of the Fleet from Gray's Inn. So modern
Calthorpe Street crosses the river!

Clarification of Answer by grimace-ga on 09 Oct 2002 13:55 PDT
Of further interest, perhaps:

This page from John Roque's 1746 map shows the area in a rather less
built up state. The Fleet can be clearly seen on the map. Calthorpe
Street didn't exist at this point, except as a faintly visible
footpath leading from Gray's Inn Road to the Fleet, just below the
pond near the top of the picture.

Motco: John Roque's 1746 Map
Subject: Re: Rivers in London
From: carnegie-ga on 09 Oct 2002 12:34 PDT
Dear Rahahroni,

Two extra points:

1. The blue-grey line on the map - also at

- is an administrative boundary, but it would be a good guess that the
part between Kings Cross Station and Farringdon Road follows the route
of the Fleet River.  You will see that this runs under part of
Calthorpe Street.

2. One of London Underground's lines was nearly named after the Fleet
River.  A new line started during the 1970s was originally planned to
run under Fleet Street and was to have been named the Fleet Line.  But
before it was opened it was renamed the Jubilee Line in honour of the
Queen's silver jubilee in 1977.  (By the time the line was eventually
extended much more recently, plans had been revised and it is is now
routed away from Fleet Street.)


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