30 May 2020

DOWN AT THE OLD COCK AND PYE

Tom Bolton. London’s Lost Rivers, A Walker’s Guide, 2 volumes. Strange Attractor, 2019.

The first volume of this set was originally published in 2011 and I reviewed it in Magonia HERE. This is an updated edition, reflecting the changes that have been made to London's cityscape in the intervening years. Some parts of the routes have been closed off by building development, and some have been opened up as regeneration work has been completed. 
🔻
Volume One largely covered streams and rivers which are quite well-known and and have been described in numerous books on hidden London – The Fleet, the Tyburn. The Effra, as well as a few more rather more obscure ones. Volume Two broadens into the Eastern and Western fringes of the metropolis, as well as a plunge into its very heart. In the west, it guides us round the complex ganglion of water courses in Hammersmith and Chiswick, which join and separate in no particular pattern and manage to enter the Thames at three separate points.

In the east, the aptly named Black Ditch (one of several streams with that name in London's outskirts) and now relegated even further to being a mere sewer, traces the history of poverty and pollution that once spread beyond its banks. Further east the Hackney Brook, long lost to sight and traceable only through a palimpsest of old maps, ancient boundaries and garden walls, has become a magnet for cultural and magical imagination through the works of the Hackney School of writers, musicians, artists and magicians.

The Cock and Pye Brook, which circulated around Covent Garden and Seven Dials might not even have ever existed as a river and was perhaps just a series of drainage ditches. Its alleged tributary, the legendary Soho Stream, once visible through a grating in the floor of the Mandrake Club, seems as furtive as any denizen of that louche neighbourhood.

Contrasting with the twisting line of those streams, which seem determined to cover their traces, Counters Creek slices an almost dead straight line through west London, from a mysterious well hidden in Kensal Green Cemetery along a route which has been followed by canals and railways, passing through poverty and wealth, to its outlet at Chelsea Harbour. It has been a visible boundary for a thousand years, from forgotten Saxon landholdings to the even more vanished West London Congestion Charge Zone.

Most of the rivers in Volume Two are more comprehensively lost than those in Volume One. Only the merest slope in a street, the curve of a garden wall or an isolated ‘stink pipe’ remaining as witness to their existence. But in following these hidden lines and learning to uncover the clues to what is beneath your feet as revealed in these books, you will discover, as I said in my first review, a world where your view of reality can be redefined by an apparently random walk following a line on a map. – John Rimmer

No comments: