Book Review: London's Lost Rivers By Paul Talling

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By M@ Last edited 79 months ago
Book Review: London's Lost Rivers By Paul Talling


We've all heard of the River Fleet, right? Some of us have even paddled in it. Many will also know of the Tyburn, Westbourne, Hackney Brook and Neckinger. But have you ever encountered the Black Ditch or, right beneath Covent Garden, the Cock and Pye Ditch?

A new book from Paul Talling (you may remember him from such works as Derelict London) gets down and dirty with the capital's 'lost' rivers. Even if you've previously dipped your toe into the subject, you'll find much of interest here.

The format is spot on. Short bursts of text describe the tell-tale signs (look for 'stink pipes', sloping roads, and the sound of gushing water beneath manhole covers). Each watercourse is accompanied by an excellent selection of photos taken by the author.

Stretching the title somewhat, almost half the book is given to vanished canals and docks. No bad thing, as the same emphasis on spotting remnants is rewarding here, too.  Clearly, a decision was made to only include waterways that are now completely or wholly invisible at surface level (i.e. 'lost'). Hence the absence of the New River, the Ravensbourne, Wandle and Hogsmill, for example, which all retain lengthy open sections.

There's plenty of competition in this watery space. A book of the same title, by sometime Londonist contributor Tom Bolton, is due out next month. A scholarly account of similar name has been around for years. Many of the rivers have been covered online by Diamond Geezer, and we've personally traced the Tyburn, Westbourne and Peck.  Talling's highly visual, fact-packed, waffle-free account is the freshest take we've yet seen. A must-buy for anyone who enjoys the 'hidden' side of London.

London's Lost Rivers by Paul Talling is out 5 May from Random House.

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Last Updated 03 May 2011