A group of Lightmongers and their family and friends met at the Hardy Tree by St Pancras Old Church on 3rd June to begin a walk, which would follow the path of the Fleet River to the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge. In fact the Fleet is now underground and forms part of the London sewer system but at one point we could definitely hear and smell it!
As we walked the route our guide imparted many facts about the river and it’s history as well as other information about the history of the places and street names we were walking through. In Roman and Anglo Saxon times the Fleet was a major river but the flow of the river was greatly reduced as London grew in population, with local industry waste (such as remains of carcasses from the adjacent Smithfield Market) and human waste polluting the river by the 13th century. The lower section of the river was known as the Fleet Ditch by this time and was little more than an open sewer. In 1710 Jonathan Swift mentioned the filth in the Fleet during a storm in a poem:
“Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood,
Drown’d Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench’d in Mud,
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood”
We were very lucky with the good weather and appreciated finally reaching our destination; the Black Friars pub was a welcome end of the tour with a drink and a meal. Thanks go to our guide Paul Talling, who has written a book on “London’s Lost Rivers”, for an excellent tour and to the Events Committee for organizing the walk.
Many thanks also to all members and guests who supported this walk, which, in addition to being enjoyable and interesting, was raising funds to support the work of the Lightmongers Charitable Trust.