1st December 2016:Lost Rivers of London project, the Westbourne

On 1st December six Thursday walkers met in fog and frost by Whitestone Pond at the top of Hampstead Hill to find the source, then trace the course, of the Westbourne.  Below the pond we found a reedy hollow which our book (Tom Holton London’s Lost Rivers 2011) assured us was the spring source.  A little further down the hill was the house Paul Robeson stayed in while playing Othello (received well in London, banned in Washington).  Walking through controversial Branch Hill housing estate and continuing downhill past mansions we saw a cross section of Hampstead life, dark histories lurking in the mists.  We had to accept our guidebook’s assurances that the course of the river (now piped) lay in the back gardens on our right. That was until we reached mansion flat blocks in Cannon Hill, West Hampstead, alongside which we put ears to a manhole cover, as instructed. Sure enough we heard cheerful gurgling, not all of it ours.
In this way we continued, through the fascinating districts of South Kilburn, Paddington and Bayswater, with some further chances to hear storm water, leavened with light sewage, splashing through the pipework.  After crossing Bayswater Road we reached Hyde Park’s Long Water, the ornamental lake standing at the northern head of the Serpentine. We followed the Serpentine through increasing knots, then crowds of walkers-out on what was now a glorious blue-sky afternoon; took the Knightsbridge exit and walked though stately mews lanes (passing the cottage where Judy Garland died) to Sloane Square.  Afternoon tea on the sixth floor of Peter Jones’s rewarded our pioneering trek – though two of us braved the darkening dusk (still with a rosy glow in the west) to walk across the grounds of the Chelsea Hospital to the place on the Victoria Embankment where the piped river discharges into the Thames. Evelyn has divining talents: she pointed to the cross current ripples where, she said, our river was making itself felt on the Thames tide surge.
We want to make such a lost river expedition a monthly event in winter months. So we propose tracing the Tyburn on Thursday 12 January 2017. We will meet at Hampstead tube station at 10.30.
Steve Butters
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