'Lost' rivers at the heart of London's new mini cities

"Lost" London rivers are being revived at the heart of new neighbourhoods as the appetite for waterfront living grows
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* There are more than 20 "lost rivers" in London that have been buried under streets and houses.

* Old Oak Common: 99-acre west London site will be a key transport hub and has been earmarked as "the next Stratford and Canary Wharf combined".

* Many current large-scale development projects are strategic sites along rivers that once flowed openly through the city, including the redevelopment at Earls Court exhibition centre, where a five-acre park is being re-established, as well as 7,580 new homes at Lille Square and 820 new apartments at Lots Road power station.

* Mayor Boris Johnson's London Rivers Action Plan aims to reinstate sub-terranean streams and waterways and create new parks and recreational places.

London's lost rivers
Hidden rivers that fed the wharves and mills of the industrial revolution influence today's urban patterns

London is usually seen as a one-river city, just the mighty Thames, but there are more than 20 “lost rivers”, too. These were the veins around which the villages of London grew. They ran into the main artery of the Thames and became important transport channels and commercial centres, allowing medieval London to flourish. These were rivers such as the Fleet, which flows from Hampstead to Ludgate Circus.

London’s landscape was shaped by the hills and valleys these rivers created. These waterways often provided the boundary between parishes and towns, but as the metropolis mushroomed the rivers got in the way and were buried under streets and houses.

London's lost rivers
Berkeley Homes is creating 920 homes including penthouses, plus a hotel, shops and restaurants near Aldgate at Goodman's Fields. Call 020 3217 1000
Fleeting Memories: reviving the River Fleet through King's Cross
A proposal to resurrect the buried River Fleet as it flows through King’s Cross, and create a new waterfront park on the site of blighted railway land has won the Royal Institute of British Architects Forgotten Spaces award. This imaginative idea, called Fleeting Memories, comes at a time when London’s “lost” rivers are being rediscovered as a fresh wave of regeneration flows into the capital’s key locations.

“London once needed all the rivers it could get — for drinking water, harbours, wharves, mills and tanneries,” said Tom Bolton, author of London’s Lost Rivers. Later, rivers were incorporated into the sewer system designed by Victorian engineer Joseph Bazalgette. Today most large-scale development projects where new districts are being built — at King’s Cross, Earls Court, Paddington, White City, Aldgate, Cricklewood, Chelsea and Vauxhall — are strategic sites along rivers that once flowed openly through London.

“These places are where the city initially grew during the industrial revolution and the rivers have strongly influenced today’s urban patterns,” said John Letherland of Farrells, architects and urban masterplanners.

“In the post-industrial period, the old factories and industrial complexes were replaced by new buildings with new uses, such as Earls Court exhibition centre and Mount Pleasant postal depot. Now these uses are becoming defunct and the scale and location of the sites provide a perfect template for big place-making schemes — new neighbourhoods, with real communities.”

London's lost rivers
Old Oak Common: a 10,000-home "mini-city" is envisaged on the Counters Creek path in west London. This key area is also earmarked for a Crossrail interchange with the HS2 high-speed rail link
Old Oak Common: "the next Stratford and Canary Wharf combined"
Counters Creek, one of the main hidden waterways, flows from the Thames at Lots Road power station via Earls Court to Kensal Green. “We call this the ‘land of the giants’ because there are so many huge footprint buildings at places like Old Oak Common,” added Letherland.

Lying just north of Wormwood Scrubs, 99-acre Old Oak Common has been earmarked as a giant transport interchange, linking Crossrail and the “electric spine” of HS2, the proposed high-speed rail link between London and the North of England.

Many Londoners don’t know where Old Oak is — or that it is less than three miles from Oxford Street. Letherland said the site is the next Stratford and Canary Wharf combined, but on the west side of London, with unparalleled accessibility to airports, the Channel ports, provincial cities and all parts of the metropolitan capital.

Much of the land is public sector-owned and is expected to double in value once the detailed planning framework is in place. In its master-plan, Farrells’ envisages a “mini city” with up to 10,000 new homes and 20 million square feet of offices and shops.

London's lost rivers
The old Lots Road power station site will be home to two residential skyscrapers with 820 homes in a new waterfront development. Call 020 7610 9693
Earls Court: new urban villages
At Earls Court exhibition centre, which is soon to be redeveloped, a five-acre river park is being re-established where water once flowed but was later covered over by the railway. The Farrells design for developer Capco is four new “urban villages”, each with a distinct character and style, and a new high street.

In addition to two million square feet of commercial and retail space, 23 acres of public space are being added by reclaiming under-utilised land. Lillie Square, the first phase of 7,580 new homes, will be launched next spring. Visit myearlscourt.com for details.

Lots Road power station is being redeveloped into a new riverfront estate with 820 apartments in two skyscrapers either side of the listed Edwardian power station. Chelsea Creek cuts through this site and is also a boundary line between Imperial Wharf and Chelsea Harbour. Here, developer St George is building a dockside scheme, with a park and navigable canals linked to the tidal Thames via new locks and a tunnel. Prices from £1.8 million. Call 020 7610 9693.

London's lost rivers
Lillie Square at redeveloped Earls Court exhibition centre, where 7,580 homes are being built in four "urban villages", with a re-established river park. Visit myearlscourt.com
The Mayor's action plan: reinstating London's lost streams and waterways
Chiming with these projects is Mayor Boris Johnson’s London Rivers Action Plan, a strategy for reinstating sub-terranean streams and waterways and creating new parks, with green and recreational space alongside. The aim is to reconnect people to the natural environment, reduce the negative impact of climate change and protect wildlife habitats.

This initiative has inspired some of the capital’s best and brightest designers and eco-campaigners to come up with exciting new ideas. “We want to start a conversation about London, to change the way Londoners think about their city,” said Sue Illman, president of the Landscape Institute.

Well-received ideas include a barge walk in Docklands, a park alongside the New River running between Alexandra Palace and Sadler’s Wells, a linear lido along Regent’s Canal between Little Venice and Limehouse, and a reinstated Fleet River channel as a new low-line park.

The river running below modern-day Fleet Street was redesigned by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London of 1666 as a Venetian-style canal, but was later filled in. It would be opened up below street level, with footpaths either side.

Royal Mail has unveiled proposals for redevelopment of the 12-acre Mount Pleasant sorting office, which sits along the course of the River Fleet at Clerkenwell. The scheme of 693 homes plus shops, offices, restaurants and a public square is part of the company’s privatisation strategy, and expected to make it £1 billion.

London's lost rivers
From £850,000: for riverfront homes at One Tower Bridge, Wessex House is part of the development offering 353 homes including a 20-storey tower with a single flat on each floor
Transforming London's former riverbanks
The old rivers link the familiar to places few people visit, pointed out author Tom Bolton. The Tyburn runs directly under Buckingham Palace, while the Walbrook is probably the most direct route into the Bank of England, running in a tunnel under its vaults. The Westbourne flows through a tunnel that runs above Sloane Square Tube station.

The City of London’s origins are rooted in the Walbrook — running from Shoreditch to Cannon Street — it being the river around which the Romans founded the city.

Goodman's Fields: 920 new homes near Aldgate
In the Middle Ages, Goodman’s Fields, by Aldgate, was a farm bordering a tributary of the Walbrook and supplying the City’s food needs. Before the banking collapse in 2008, it was a gated business estate occupied by Royal Bank of Scotland. Berkeley, the new owner, is opening up the seven-acre site and building 920 homes plus a hotel, shops and restaurants. Within the estate, landscape architects Murdoch Wickham are creating an “urban retreat”, with public park, squares and lusciously landscaped courtyards.

The scheme brings a fresh dimension and scale to City-fringe living, where most residential developments are squeezed on to smaller plots. Apartments have projecting glass-walled winter gardens and space-efficient interiors, with concealed storage. Call 020 3217 1000.

Tower Bridge: 353 new riverside homes
Nearby One Tower Bridge maximises its riverfront location by extending the public realm space. The 353-home development will have three green zones, each with a showpiece water feature, one of which will be a spectacular “water clock” with vertical jets which visitors will be able to control by interactive floor pads. The cluster of eight buildings includes a 20-storey tower with just one apartment on each floor. Prices from £850,000 Call Knight Frank on 020 7871 0011.

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