Of the ancient and present rivers [etc]

A Survey of London. Reprinted From the Text of 1603. Originally published by Clarendon, Oxford, 1908.

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'Of the ancient and present rivers [etc]', in A Survey of London. Reprinted From the Text of 1603, (Oxford, 1908) pp. 11-19. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/survey-of-london-stow/1603/pp11-19 [accessed 19 April 2024]

Of Auncient and present Riuers, 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.

Riuer of Thames.; Whirries on the Thames.

Thames the most famous riuer of this Iland, beginneth a little 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 slow, more then 60. miles in length, to the great commoditie of Trauellers, by which all kind of 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.

Riner of wels.; Decay of the Riuer of the Wels.; Parliament record.; Riuer of Wels bare ships.; Patent record: Mils by Baynards castell. made in the first of King Iohn.; Riuer so called in the yeare 1307.; Turnemill Brooke.

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 I. Henry Lacy Earle of Lincolne complayned that whereas in times past the course of water, running at London under 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 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 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.

Fleete dike promised to be clensed; the money collected, and the Citizens deceiued:

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 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 <choken> then euer it was before.

liber customs.; Walbrook vaulted and paned ouer.

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 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.

Langborne.; Shareborne lane. Langbourne ward.

Langborne water, so called of the length thereof, was a great streame breaking out of the ground, in Fen Church street, which ran downe with a swift course, west, through that streete, thwart Grastreete, and downe Lumbard streete, to the west ende of S. Marie Wolnothes Church, and then turning the course South down Shareborne lane, so termed of sharing or diuiding, it brake into diuerse rilles or rillets to the Riuer of Thames: of this bourne that warde took the name, and is till this day called Langborne warde. This Bourne also is long since stopped vp at the head, and the rest of the course filled vp and paued ouer, so that no signe thereof remayneth more then the names aforesaid.


Oldborne, or Hilborne, was the like water, breaking out about the place where now the bars do stand, and it ran downe the whole streete till Oldborne bridge, and into the Riuer of the Wels, or Turnemill brooke: this Bourne was likewise long since stopped vp at the heade, and in other places where the same hath broken out, but yet till this day, the said street is there called high Oldborne hill, and both the sides thereof togither with all the grounds adioyning, that lie betwixt it and the riuer of Thames, remaine full of springs, so that water is there found at hand, and hard to be stopped in euerie house.

Fitzstephen. Holy well.

There are (saith Fitzstephen), neare London, on the North side, special wels in the Suburbs, sweete, wholsome and cleare, amongst which Holywell, Clarkes wel, & Clements well, are most famous and frequented by Scholers and youthes of the Citie in sommer euenings, when they walke forth to take the aire.

The first, to wit, Holy well, is much decayed and marred with filthinesse purposely laide there, for the heighthening of the ground for garden plots.

Clements well.

The fountaine called S. Clements well, North from the Parish Church of S. Clements, and neare vnto an Inne of Chancerie, called Clements, Inne, is faire curbed square with hard stone, kept cleane for common vse, and is alwayes full.

Clarks well.; Playes by the parish Clarks at Clarks well.; Playes at the Skinners well.

The third is called Clarkes well, or Clarken well, and is curbed about square with hard stone, not farre from the west ende of Clarken well Church, but close without the wall that incloseth it: the sayd Church tooke the name of the Well, and the Well tooke name of the Parish Clarkes in London, who of old time were accustomed there yearely to assemble, and to play some large hystorie of holy Scripture. And for example of later time, to wit, in the yeare, 1390. the 14. of Richard the second, I read the Parish Clarks of London, on the 18. of July, playd Enterludes at Skinners well, neare vnto Clarkes well, which play continued three dayes togither, the King, queence, and Nobles being present. Also the year 1409. the 10. of Henrie the 4. they played a play at the Skinners well, which lasted eight dayes, and was of matter from the creation of the worlde. There were to see the same, the most part of the Nobles and Gentiles in England,&c.

Skinners well.; Wrestling place.

Other smaller. welles were many neare vnto Clarkes well, namely Skinners well, so called for that the Skinners of London held there certaine playes yearely playd of holy Scripture,&c. In place whereof the wrestlings haue of later yeares beene kept, and is in part continued at Bartholomew tide.

Fagges well.

Then was there Fagges well, neare vnto Smithfield by the Charterhouse, now lately dammed up, Todwell, Loders wel, and Radwell, all decayed, and so filled vp, that there places are hardly now discerned.

Somewhat North from Holywell, is one other well curbed square with stone, and is called Dame Annis the cleare, and not farre from it but somewhat west, is also one other cleare water called Perillous pond, because diuerse youthes swimming therein haue beene drowned, and thus much bee said for Fountaines and Wels.

Horsepoole in Westsmithfield, was sometime a great water, and because the inhabitants in that part of the Citie did there water their Horses, the same was in olde Records called Horspoole: it is now much decayed, the springs being stopped vp, and the land water falling into the small bottome, remayning inclosed with Bricke, is called Smithfield pond.

Poole without Creplegate.

By S. Giles Churchyard was a large water called a Poole, I read in the yeare 1244, that Anne of Lodburie was drowned therein, this poole is now for the most part stopped vp, but the spring is preserued, and was cooped about with stone by the Executors of Richard Wittington.

Patent. 1236.; Water conuayed from Teyborn.

The said riuer of the Wels, the running water of Walbrooke, the Bournes aforenamed, and other the fresh waters that were in and about this Citie, being in processe of time by incrochment for buildings and heighthnings of grounds vtterly decayed, and the number of Citizens mightily increased, they were forced to seeke sweete waters abroad, wherof some at the request of king Henry the third, in the 21. yeare of his raigne, were for the profite of the Citty, and good of the whole realme, thether repayring, to wit, for the poore to drinke, and the rich to dresse their meate, granted to the Cittizens, and their successors by one Gilbert Sanforde, with liberty to conuay water from the Towne of Teyborne, by pipes of leade into their Citty.

Andrew Horn Great Conduit in west Cheape. Water conueyed from Teyborn to London.

The first Cesterne of leade castellated with stone in the Citty of London, was called the great Conduit in west Cheape, which was begunne to bee builded in the yeare 1285. Henry Wales being then Mayor, the water course from Padington to Iames hed hath 510. rods, from Iames hed on the hil to the Mewsgate, 102 rods, from the Mewsegate to the Crosse in Cheape 484. rods.

Tonne vpon Cornhill.

The Tonne vpon Cornhill was Cisterned in the yeare 1401. Iohn Shadworth then being Mayor.

Bosse of Belinsgate and other Bosses.

Bosses of water at Belinsgate, by Powles wharfe, and by S. Giles Church without Cripplegate made about the yeare 1423.

Water conueyed to the Gaoles of Newgate and Ludgate, 1432.

Water was first procured to the Standard in West Cheape about the yeare 1285. which Standard was againe new builded, by the Executors of Iohn Welles, as shall bee shewed in an other place. King Henry the sixt in the yeare 1442. graunted to Iohn Hatherley Mayor, licence to take vp 200. fodar of Leade, for the building of Conduits of a common Garnery and of a new Crosse in West Cheape for the honor of the Citty.

The Conduit in West Cheape by Powles gate, was builded about the yeare 1442. one thousand markes was graunted by Common Counsell for the building thereof, and repayring of the other Conduits.

The Conduit in Aldermanbury and the Standard in Fleetstreete, were made and finished by the Executors of Sir William Eastfield in the yeare 1471. a Sestern was added to the Standerd in Fleetestreete, and a Sestern was made at Fleetbridge, and one other without Cripplegate in the yeare, 1478.

Conduit in Grastreete, in the yeare, 1491.

Conduit at Oldbourne Crosse about 1498, againe new made by William Lambe 1577.

Little Conduit by the Stockes market about 1500.

Conduit at Bishopsgate, about 1513.

Conduit at London wall, about 1528.

Conduit at Aldgate without, about 1535.

Conduit in Lothbury, and in Colemanstreet, 1546.

Conduit of Thames water at Dowgate, 1568.

Thames water conueyed into mens houses in the east parte of the Citty.

Thames water conueyed into mens houses by pipes of leade, from a most artificial forcier standing neare vnto London bridge and made by Peter Moris Dutchman in the yeare 1582, for seruice of the Citty, on the East part thereof.

Conduits in old fishstreet

Conduits of Thames water by the parish Churches of S. Mary Magdalen, and S. Nicholas Colde Abbey neare vnto olde Fishstreet, in the yeare 1583.

Thames water conueyed into the west part of the city.

One other new Forcier was made neare to Broken wharfe, to conuey Thames water into mens houses of West Cheape, aboute Powles, Fleetestreet,&c., by an English Gentleman, named Beuis Bulmer, in the yeare 1594. Thus much for waters, seruing this Cittie: first by Riuers, Brookes, Boornes, Fountaines, Pooles,&c. And since by Conduits partly made by good and charitable Citizens, and otherwise by charges of the Communaltie, as shalbe shewed in description of Wardes, wherein they be placed. And now some Benefactors to these Conduits shalbe remembred.

Benefactors towardes the water conduites.

In the yeare 1236. certaine Marchant Strangers of Cities beyond the Seas, to wit, Amiens, Corby, and Nele, for priuiledges which they enioyed in this Cittie, gaue 100. l. towardes the charges of conueying water from the towne of Teyborne. Robert Large Mayor, 1439. gaue to the new water Conduits then in hand forty markes, and towardes the vaulting ouer of Walbrooke neare to the parish Church of S. Margaret in Lothbery 200. Markes.

Sir William Eastfield mayor 1438. conueyed water from Teyborne to Fleetstreete, to Aldermanbury, and from Highbery, to Cripplegate.

William Combes Sheriffe 1441. gaue to the worke of the Conduits x.li.
Richard Rawson one of the Sheriffes 1476. gaue xx.li.
Robert Reuell one of the shiriffes 1490. gaue x.li.
Iohn Mathew Maior, 1490. gaue xx. li.
William Bucke Tailor, in the yeare, 1494. towards repairing of Conduits, gaue C. Markes.
Dame Thomason widow, late wife to Iohn Perciuall Taylor, Maior in the yeare 1498. gaue toward the Conduit in Oldbourne xx. Markes.
Richard Shore one of the Shiriffes 1505. gaue to the Conduit in Oldbourne x. li.
The Ladie Ascue, widow to sir Christopher Ascue, 1543 gaue towards the Conduits C.li.
Dauid Wodrooffe shiriffe 1554. gaue towardes the Conduit at Bishopsgate xx.li.
Edward Iackman one of the shiriffes, 1564. gaue towarde the Conduits C.li.
Barnard Randulph, common Sergeant of the Citie, 1583. gaue to the water Conduits 900 li.

Thus much for the Conduits of fresh water to this Citie.