Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Grubby Nymphs of the Fleet River

New College Street is my favourite road in all of London. There are a few reasons for this. First is the nearly adequate cycle infrastructure, where the  cycle lanes go down the inside of the parked cars - ensuring that if you get doored, at least you won't get run over. Then there is the history. The poets Verlaine and Rimbaud spent a quarrelsome, drunken summer there. The Brew Dog wasn't open in those days, so I guess they must have bought their booze at the Sainsbury's in Camden Road.

There is the presence of a genuine pie and mash shop. And then, under the middle of New College Street, flows the lost River Fleet.

In the days when all Middlesex was meadows and barley fields, and Islington was just a glint in the eye of an old man with a dream that one day he would overthrow bastard feudalism, nymphs lived in the iron-rich, sparkling waters of the Fleet.

Beautiful and happy, they bathed in the silky brook, as it ran through the hayfields of what we call Kentish Town, and laughed as they danced on the rushy banks where the St Pancras Travis Perkins now is.

The Middlesex idyll was not to last. As London spread north, bringing Cockneys with their music halls, jellied eels and pearly monarchs, they also brought their sewage and an unpleasant habit of chucking their rubbish in the river.

And so the great Bazalgette, in protecting the Cockney hordes from sewage, floods, seepage and floods of sewage, over-covered the now grimy Fleet, used parts of it as sewers, and ran great interceptor drains to carry the waters off to the East End.

In normal circumstances the nymphs would have packed their bags (an easy job when you have no clothes) and headed out. But they knew the River Lea was soon to be full of shopping trolleys, so that wasn't an option.

So, grubby and resentful, they stayed where they were. Now, during the day, they hunker down and try to avoid the foul stream of water and the "fatbergs". On sunny evenings they transfer to the quiet of Regent's Park, and there they remember their joy when London was young, look at the Telecom Tower and weep. Then they try to buy some grass at the Lock, and push a few towpath cyclists in the canal.

The Beaker Folk like to go down occasionally and make amends to these resentful, dirt-encrusted mythical creatures. So today, on the annual Fleet Pilgrimage, we're off to London. First stop is the Hardy Tree at Old St Pancras, then it's on to Royal College Street, where the more gullible Beaker Folk will shove pie, mash and eels through the gratings into the Fleet, as a peace-offering to the nymphs.

It has to be said, the nymphs have never said thanks. Still, you've got to do your bit.


  1. Have you been reading Ben Aaronvitch?

  2. That makes three of us wanting to encourage the good Archdruid to read the adventures of PC Peter Grant.

  3. Waiting and waiting for the Hanging Tree to come down in price.... NO Don't Tell what happens, Pleeese.

  4. Waiting and waiting for the Hanging Tree to come down in price.... NO Don't Tell what happens, Pleeese.

  5. I have no idea what you are all talking about.


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