London has a lot more rivers than just the River Thames and River Lea – but many of the rest are either very small and easily overlooked, or buried underground (culverted), typically by industrious Victorians looking to clean up channels that became sewers, or to create extra space to build infrastructure on. There are a number of maps and books (and even a porcelain piece) detailing these lost rivers and subterranean spaces – that often reveal themselves through streetnames, strange dips in street topographies, or unexpected lakes in parks.
One of the most attractive and informative maps that we’ve seen is this work by illustrator Olivia Whitworth, which was featured in the Telegraph newspaper last year. It combines the factual – tracing the routes and neighbourhoods of the secret rivers – with the artistic – attractively illustrating the above-ground features that give a clue to what lies below.
From the Westbourne (which feeds the Serpentine in Hyde Park) to the River Peck (which gives Peckham its name) and the New River (which isn’t a river – as shown on the map, it does not flow down to the Thames at sea level, but rather terminates in Islington – it is a historic drinking water channel.) A key distinguishes hidden parts of the rivers in light blue from darker blue above-ground above-ground sections.
Remember next time you see a mysterious dip in London’s urban landscape – the contours could be hinting at a long-forgotten river that lives on under your feet and in maps like these.
Images © Olivia Whitworth.