If you listen carefully just above this unassuming grate you can hear the ripple and splash of flowing water. This is the sound of the River Fleet, London’s largest subterranean river. Forced underground by the city’s burgeoning populace the river still flows from its source to its mouth where it joins London’s main waterway, the Thames. Yet what lies beneath?
By 1680 this part of the river had been turned in to the New Canal. It was hailed as the Venice of England but its days were numbered from the very beginning.
It was poorly used as a canal and, despite its new clothes, it still stank to high heaven. The satirical cartoon, right, shows the new canal and the undesirables it attracted. Within a generation it was no longer fit for purpose as a canal.
The river was channelled underground in the 1730s from Holborn to Fleet Street, which still bears its name. Decades later it was filled in and arched over from Fleet Street down to the river Thames and is covered by what is now New Bridge Street.
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