Wednesday, 14 October 2009

thames and tyburn

The lost rivers of London, via Strange Maps.

London has only very recently emerged from the tidal marshes and floodplains of the Thames Valley; only very recently ceased to be a site of soft clay pools and nomadic tribes of proto-humanoid hunters. Beginning with the Romans' wooden river defences and culminating with the 19th century embankment and 20th century River Barrier programs, the city has slowly re-claimed an inhospitable and humid landscape.

The dominance of the 'Dark River' over the city is absolute, and Londoners will not share its ancient and prestigious path with any rival. The Fleet, the Effra, the Falcon, all were made to disappear out of deference to the Thames. Even the lesser tributaries– the Black Ditch and Earl's Sluice, for example – are invisible. Although I can't help but suspect this has more to do with their role in the Great Stink of 1858.

But what would happen if these rivers were unburied? The Tyburn turned loose? In ancient times London used the source of the Tyburn as the site of immense gallows for the mass and public execution of criminals and political scapegoats (such as those brothers of the Charterhouse). Now Marble Arch blocks its way – could hangings take place there instead? Where now the river is only visible as it runs underneath Grey's Antiques, the uncovered Tyburn would spill down over Hyde Park in a deluge of destruction.

It would flood Buckingham Palace, turning the royal household into a tidal marshland ruin:

Buckingham Palace as it would sit on the tidal plains of the River Tyburn, via Time Team (UK only).

It would flow around the rise of Westminster City, as it used to, and once again set Thorney Island in the middle of the river.

Thorney Island, via the Museum of London.

Let's do it. Let's flood London.


  1. I've just read both The Drowned World and The Concrete Island while on holidays. They are essentially the same story but set in different environments ~ the wet one offering greater scope for illustrators.

    As inter 7 does not allow comments from those without a personal url ... let me say here (in relation to today's post) that I dream of the day when I can not only determine where WiFi is strongest, but can tune in and surf in my head without the need for trendy (read white) digital equipment

  2. My initial idea was to just be able to sense the radio/microwaves - but perhaps being able to... 'listen' to the web would be just as, or more, useful. Nice point. Re: digital 'white goods': touché.

    Also, thanks for alert, I've now modified Inter 7 to allow for anonymous comments.