John Stow's Survey of London, written first in 1598, is something that continues to fascinate me. He is the best source in print for what London was like in the time before the Fire in 1666. The Hollar exhibition at the Guildhall Library I saw recently complement Stow's words beautifully and the two taken together allow a visualisation of this more or less vanished city that I find utterly fascinating. The except below, copied from the excellent Tuft's Digital Library, illustrates the continuing importance of the ancient Roman Wall that once defined the city limits. I find it amazing that in the 16th century, before today's sophisticated means, people had a knowledge of what had occurred in their city 12 centuries before.
As I'm sure you know, London's whole reason for being was the river Thames. But it wasn't the only river in London, as this passage highlights:
Of Auncient and present Rivers, Brookes, Boorns, Pooles, Wels, and Conduits of fresh water, seruing the Citie, as also of the ditch compassing the wall of the same for defence thereof.
AUNCIENTLY, vntill the Conquerors time, and 200. yeres after, the Citie of London was watered besides the famous Riuer of Thames, on the South part, with the riuer of the wels, as it was then called: on the west, with a water called walbrooke running through the midst of the citie into the river Thames, seruing the heart thereof. And with a fourth water or Boorne, which ran within the Citie through Langboorne ward, watering that part in the East. In the west suburbs was also an other great water, called Oldborne, which had his fall into the riuer of Wels: then was there 3. principall Fountaines, or wels in the other Suburbs, to wit Holy well, Clements well, and Clarkes well. Neare vnto this last named fountaine, were diuers other wels, to wit, Skinners well, Fags well, Tode well, Loders well, and Radwell. All which sayde Wels hauing the fall of their ouerflowing in the foresayde Riuer, much encreased the streame, and in that place gaue it the name of Wel. In west Smithfield, there was a Poole in Recordes called Horsepoole, and one other Poole neare vnto the parish Church of Saint Giles without Cripplegate. Besides all which they had in euerie streete and Lane of the citie diuerse fayre Welles, and fresh Springs: and after this manner was this citie then serued, with sweete and fresh waters, which being since decaid, other meanes haue beene sought to supplie the want, as shall be shewed: but first of the aforenamed Riuers and other waters, is to be said, as following.
Thames the most famous riuer of this Iland, beginneth a little [1603.12] aboue a village called Winchcombe in Oxfordshire, and still increasing passeth first by the university of Oxford, and so with a maruelous quiet course to London, and thence breaketh into the French Ocean by maine tides, which twice in 24. howers space doth eb and flow, more then 60. miles in length, to the great commoditie of Trauellers, by which all kind of [p. 12] Marchandise bee easily conueyed to London, the principall store house, and Staple of all commodities within this Realme, so that omitting to speake of great ships, and other vessels of burden, there pertayneth to the Citties of London, Westminster, and Burrough of Southwarke, aboue the number as is supposed of 2000. Wherryes and other small boates, whereby 3000. poore men at the least bee set on worke and maintained.
That the riuer of Wels, in the west parte of the Citty, was of olde so called of the Wels, it may be proued thus, William the Conqueror in his Charter, to the Colledge of S. Marten le Grand in London, hath these wordes: I doe giue and graunt to the same Church all the land and the Moore, without the Posterne, which is called Cripplegate, on eyther part of the Postern, that is to say, from the North corner of the Wall, as the river of the Wels, there neare running, departeth the same More from the Wall, vnto the running water which entereth the Cittie: this water hath beene long since called the riuer of the Wels, which name of riuer continued, and it was so called in the raigne of Edward the first: as shall bee shewed, with also the decay of the saide riuer. In a fayre Booke of Parliament recordes, now lately restored to the Tower, it appeareth that a Parliament being holden at Carlile in the yeare 1307, the 35. of Edward the 1. Henry Lacy Earle of Lincolne complayned that whereas in times past the course of water, running at London vnder Oldeborne bridge, and Fleete bridge into the Thames, had beene of such bredth and depth, that 10. or 12. ships, Nauies at once with marchandises, were wont to come to the foresaid bridge of Fleete, and some of them to Oldborne bridge: now the same course by filth of the Tanners & such others, was sore decaied, also by raising of wharfes, but specially by a diuersion of the water made by them of the new Temple, for their milles standing [1603.13] without Baynardes Castle, in the first yeare of King Iohn, and diuers other impediments, so as the said ships could not enter as they were wont, & as they ought, wherefore he desired that the Maior of London with the shiriffs, and other discrete Aldermen, might be appointed to view the course of the saide water, and that by the othes of good men, all the aforesaide hinderances [p. 13] might bee remoued, and it to bee made as it was wont of old: whervpon Roger le Brabason, the Constable of the Tower, with the Maior and Shiriffes were assigned to take with them honest and discrete men, and to make diligent search & enquirie, how the said riuer was in old time, and that they leaue nothing that may hurt or stop it, but keepe it in the same estate that it was wont to be: so far the record. Whervpon it folowed that the said riuer was at that time cleansed, these mils remoued, and other things done for the preseruation of the course thereof, notwithstanding neuer brought to the olde depth and breadth, wherevpon the name of riuer ceased, and it was since called a Brooke, namely, Turnmill, or Tremill Brooke, for that diuers
Mils were erected vpon it, as appeareth by a fayre Register booke, conteyning the foundation of the Priorie at Clarkenwell, and donation of the landes thereunto belonging, as also by diuers other records.
This brooke hath beene diuers times since clensed, namely, and last of all to any effect, in the yeare 1502. the 17. of Henrie the 7. the whole course of Fleete dike, then so called, was scowred (I say) downe to the Thames, so that boats with fish and fewel were rowed to Fleete bridge, and to Oldburne bridge, as they of olde time had beene accustomed, which was a great commoditie to all the inhabitants in that part of the citie.
In the yeare 1589. was graunted a fifteene, by a common Councell of the citie, for the cleansing of this Brooke or dike: the money amounting to a thousand marks was collected, and it was vndertaken, that by drawing diuerse springes about Hampsted heath, into one head and course, both the citie should bee serued of fresh water in all places of want, and also that by such a follower as men call it, the chanell of this brooke should bee scowred into the riuer of Thames, but much mony being therein spent, ye effect [1603.14] fayled, so that the Brooke by meanes of continuall incrochments vpon the banks getting ouer the water, and casting of soylage into the streame, is now become woorse cloyed and then euer it was before.
The running water so called by William Conquerour in his saide Charter, which entereth the citie, &c. (before there was any ditch) betweene Bishopsgate and the late made [p. 14] Posterne called Mooregate, entred the wall, and was truely of the wall called Walbrooke, not of Gualo, as some haue farre fetched: it ranne through the citie with diuers windings from the North towards the South into the riuer of Thames, and had ouer the same diuerse bridges along the Streetes and Lanes, through which it passed. I haue read in a Booke intituled the customes of London, that the Prior of the holie Trinitie within Aldgate ought to make ouer Walbrooke in the ward of Brodstreete, agaynst the stone wall of the citie, vz. the same Bridge that is next the Church of All Saints, at the wall. Also that the Prior of the new Hospitall, S. Marie Spittle without Bishopsgate, ought to make the middle part of one other Bridge next to the said Bridge towardes the North: And that in the 28. yeare of Edwarde the first, it was by inquisition found before the Maior of London, that the parish of S. Stephen vppon Walbrooke, ought of right to scowre the course of the saide Brooke, and therefore the shiriffes were commaunded to distraine the sayde Parishioners so to doe: in the yeare 1300. the keepers of those Bridges at that time were William Iordan and Iohn de Beuer. This water course hauing diuerse Bridges, was afterwards vaulted ouer with bricke, and paued leuell with the Streetes and Lanes where through it passed, and since that also houses have beene builded thereon, so that the course of Walbroke is now hidden vnder ground, and therby hardly knowne.
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