23rd February 2017: Lost River Effra walk

This lost river is well documented but various authors offer alternative courses for the Effra.  Never mind the lost river, we were lost several times looking for the start line between Crystal Palace Station and Westow Park; fortunately Joanna knows the area.  The authorities suggest that the spring waters of Gypsy Hill produce a true source on the lower corner of Westow Park, whence we set off in earnest.  Upper Norwood slopes house the Virgo Fidelis convent, set up by royalist nuns fleeing the democratic revolution in Paris 1848.  This was later flooded by the river sufficiently to destroy its retaining wall; the nuns are buried behind the convent buildings near the old river course. We marched along Elder Road, past a grand sheltered housing range, on to West Norwood.  Here some of us briefly explored Southern Metropolitan Cemetery (home to Isabella Beaton and Henry Tate) while others took coffee in a nice shop.  A trek into West Dulwich enabled us to explore Belair Park whose pond outflows into the Effra sewer.  Walking past the Picture Gallery and along genteel arts-and-crafts Burbage Road to Herne Hill Village, we crossed Half Moon Lane to reach the top of Brockwell Park, whose springs and ponds also feed our river.  This is where we picnicked under threatening skies before sauntering down past Effra Road and Water Lane into central Brixton.  We cheated here, taking a bus to the Oval Cricket Ground, where we  learned that its curved embankments were formed by digging out the Effra for its sewerising burial.

Crossing the charming Vauxhall Park, we made our way to Brunswick House on Nine Elms Lane to take afternoon tea among the brilliant bric a brac of the Lassco antiques company.  Finally, passing through the oppressive St George’s complex (previously the Effra Site) to the somewhat windswept Thames Embankment, we found the tide low enough to take the slipway beside the Vauxhall Cross Spooks Palace (housing the SIS) onto a pebble beach.  Here we found two massive outflow gates and associated apparatuses.  The first is the exit for the Effra Storm Relief Tunnel which gurgles below the spooks’ basement gym; the second, older, outflow on the other side of Vauxhall Bridge, was the place where Effra Creek once allowed riverine activities, though probably not the apocryphal Queen Elizabeth I boat-borne visit to Sir Walter Raleigh for tea in Brixton. This was a testing walk in breezy conditions – but full of interest.  In several quaint old pubs along the way Joanna is well remembered.

Our next expedition on Thurs 16th March will follow the two mile stretch of the lost River Walbrook from Shoreditch through the City to its Thames outflow.  We will meet at Old Street Station at 11.00.  However, Veronica is to organise a breakfast time trip up the Walkie Talkie to its splendid roof garden before this, at 9.30.  Details will be posted on this blog and the email round-robin around 9th March.


Steve Butters


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