River Fleet

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The River Fleet is the largest of London's subterranean rivers. Its two headwaters are two streams on Hampstead Heath; each is now dammed into a series of ponds made in the 18th century, the Hampstead Ponds and the Highgate Ponds. At the south edge of Hampstead Heath these two streams flow underground as sewers which join in Camden Town. From the ponds the water flows underground for 4 miles (6.4 km) to join the River Thames.



The higher reaches of this flow were known as the Holbourne (or Oldbourne), whence Holborn derived its name.[1] The water initially flows in two paths before joining and passing under Kentish Town and King's Cross. King's Cross was originally named Battle Bridge, referring to an ancient bridge over The Fleet where Boudica's army is said to have fought an important battle against the Romans. The river then flows down Farringdon Road and Farringdon Street, and joins the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge.

Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon Holburna "hollow stream", referring to its deep valley, and flēot "tidal inlet". In Anglo-Saxon times, the Fleet served as a dock for shipping. Earlier it was called River of Wells.[2]

In Roman times, the Fleet was a major river, with a tide mill in its estuary.[3] In Anglo-Saxon times, the Fleet was still a substantial body of water, joining the Thames through a marshy tidal basin over 100 yards (91 m) wide at the mouth of the Fleet Valley. A large number of wells were built along its banks, and some on springs (Bagnigge Well, Clerkenwell) and St Bride's Well, were reputed to have healing qualities.

As London grew, the river became increasingly a sewer. In 1728 Alexander Pope wrote in his Dunciad "To where Fleet-ditch with disemboguing streams / Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames...".

The small lane at the south-west end of New Bridge Street is called Watergate because it was the river entrance to the Bridewell Palace. By the 13th century, it was considered polluted, and the area characterized by poor-quality housing, and, later, prisons (Bridewell palace/prison, Newgate, Fleet and Ludgate prisons were all built in that area). The flow of the river was reduced greatly by increasing industry.

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