The Fleet River

The Fleet river is one of London’s lost rivers, running from springs at Hampstead and Highgate into the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge.

On the way, it flows through the ‘Ken Ditch’ that apparently gives Kentish Town its name, and of course, past Fleet Street. Between the two, it runs through Battlebridge at Kings Cross, and onto Clerkenwell by Farringdon. So although not flowing under Fleet Street itself, it does link the past and present site of the Guardian….

What was for years the filthy Fleet Ditch was culverted in the 19th century and became the Fleet sewer.

It didn’t always stay out of sight. Basements in Clerkenwell regularly flooded. The engineers digging out the route of the Metropolitan line faced the Fleet erupting more than once, covering the neighbourhood with filth and disrupting the rail works.

With the Fleet now safely underground, it risks being forgotten, although you can apparently hear it underground at Ray Street and at Charterhouse Street.

Earlier this year there were reports that the Environment Agency might open up some of our lost rivers. Similar projects have already seen bits of the river Wandle, for example, restored, although I fear the Fleet may be a bit too built up to create much of a wildlife habitat.

In the meantime, this week there’s a great piece in the FT about a walk (well, more of a pub crawl!) along the route of the Fleet. And you can trace it on the map courtesy of the ever wonderful Diamond Geezer.



  1. Wow, so *that’s* why it’s called Kentish Town; “Ken Ditch Town”. Always wondered what the “Kentish” connection was with a part of London that’s the other side of the Thames from Kent.

    I take it you’ve seen some of the fascinating “subterranean London” sites dotted around the web?

  2. bridgetfox said

    Yes indeed. see

    The Ken is the same as in Ken-wood on the hill. Not Kent at all.

  3. Bev Rowe said

    Unfortunately Mills (“British Place Names”, OUP) does not support this derivation. Apparently it was spelt “Kentisston” in 1208, which rather tells against the Ken Ditch theory. Mills explains it: “Probably ‘estate held by a family called Kentish’. ME surname meaning ‘man from Kent’ + OE tun”.

  4. tim said

    i believe the Ken-ditch theory. it would have named long before 1208, possibly as caen-ditch town, or ‘tun’. and then morphed into kentisston. the land as far i’m aware was always owned by St Paul’s.
    also as it was in the St Paul’s prebend of Cantelowes, Kentish Town could be a corruption of Cantelowes Town.
    ‘Scholars’ who write books about place name history always seem to come up with similar explanations, usually name of man or old word for geographical feature + old word for farm or settlement. They can’t all be that!


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