Lost rivers of South London cycling tour - Saturday 23 March 2024 2pmRegular price $26.00
Join Open City for a cycling tour exploring the fascinating history and topography of South London’s lost rivers
There are just two remaining open rivers in inner South London: the River Wandle in Wandsworth to the west; and the Ravensbourne in Lewisham to the east. Yet between these two, there are a cluster of long-vanished smaller streams: the Falcon Brook, the Heathwall, the Effra, the Earl’s Sluice, each with their own smaller tributaries, which disappeared from view into sewers in the 1860s as part of Joseph Bazalgette’s London Main Drainage scheme.
It is these absences that provide the focus for an unusual cycling tour led by Jon Newman: archivist, tour guide and self-appointed historian of their vanishings. This eight mile semi- circular tour, starting at Clapham Junction and finishing on the Thames at Nine Elms, provides an introduction to the landscapes and history of these rivers’ lower reaches. It also provides a context for the history of the growing nineteenth century debates about public health, urbanisation, water supply and drainage and the need for a solution to London’s increasingly polluted rivers. Bazalgette’s hard-engineering solution was not supposed to leave visible traces, but Jon’s tour will reveal how the lines of these rivers can still be read today: in the lie of the land, through subsequent development patterns, in the river trees still found growing above vanished river banks, and in the survivals of stink pipes, manhole covers and other street furniture.
Meet: Falcon Glade Park, 119 Falcon Rd SW11 2PE
End: River Thames at Vauxhall Tower
Duration: 3 hours approx
Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Easy - Moderate. The route passes through Battersea, Clapham, Brixton, Loughborough Junction, Kennington and Vauxhall, using parks and side streets wherever possible, but does include some main roads
Accessibility: At at one point on the tour bikes will need to be carried down a short flight of steps
About your guide: Jon Newman is a historian and archivist with many years experience working in and writing about South London. His ‘South London Walks’ series has explored at the influence of place on the work of William Blake in Lambeth, John Ruskin in Herne Hill and James Whistler in Battersea. Jon has also carried out detailed research into the geography and history of many of South London’s underground watercourses – including book-length studies of the River Effra and of the Heathwall in Battersea.