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River Tyburn

A Lost River Tour

James Houston

22 October 2016

An eight mile bicycle tour tracing the path and past of London’s lost River Tyburn from Hampstead to the Thames.

The main source of the River Tyburn was the Shepherd’s Well in Hampstead. The well was renowned for being pure - it tasted clean and didn’t freeze in Winter.

The well stood in meadows until the late 1870s when the houses in Fitzjohn’s Avenue were built. The river was culverted into a sewer and buried behind the houses.

The river flowed South past where Swiss Cottage now stands, below Swiss Cottage Park, then on to St John’s Wood and Regents Park.

When the Regents canal was built, the Charlbert Bridge was built to carry the river over the canal.

The river then flows through the grounds of the American ambassador’s residence, Winfield House and on into Regents Park. The boating lake was originally created by damming the Tyburn but is now thought to be fed by pumped groundwater.

South of Regents Park the iron pipe carrying the river can be spied in Baker Street underground station, at the Paddington end of the eastbound Circle Line platform.

The area southeast of here used to be known as Tyburn. The place names were later changed. Tyburn Estate was renamed after its parish church to St Mary-on-the-(Ty)Burn, which later became Marylebone. At its southern end was Tyburn Street (now Oxford Street) and Tyburn Lane (now Park Lane).

The river flows past Paddington Street Gardens. This used to be St George’s burial ground and between 1731 and 1857 saw 80,000 burials.

The course of the river through Marylebone can easily be discerned by the winding streets in the area’s otherwise grid-like street design. The river (sewer) can be seen and heard through manhole covers along Marylebone Lane.

Near here, a 1¾ mile conduit was built from elm in the 13th century to supply fresh drinking water to Cheapside in the City of London. This pipe that ran via Trafalgar Square, the Strand and Fleet Street had its demise in the Great Fire. By 1700 the city was taking its water from the new river.

Where Marble Arch now stands is close the site where the Tyburn gallows stood between 1196 and 1783. From 1571 it was possible to hang 24 people at once on the three-sided gallows known as the ‘Tyburn tree’ and tens of thousands of people were hanged here.

The river crosses Oxford Street near Christopher Place. Visit the basement of the antique market in Grays Mews and you can see a tribute to the river - apparently when the developers moved into here in 1977 they discovered groundwater springs flowing through it.

The river flows South across Brook Street (named after the Tyburn). Handel lived on Brook Street and composed his water music here. The route passes a house where photographer Terence Donovan lived and worked.

The stream exits Mayfair via the Shepherds Market, where the original May Fair was conducted on its banks for the first 16 days of May each year from 1735 until authorities banned it in 1764.

The exact course of the Tyburn below Green Park is not known for certain. It may have headed towards Westminster forming ‘Thorney Island’ by flowing around both sides of where Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament now stand.

Until 1830s the area to the South of Victoria Street was mainly market gardens. This was then built on to form Pimlico, with the Tyburn being culverted into a sewer around the 1850s.

Through Pimlico, much of the Tyburn is beneath the wide and winding Tachbrook Street. A plaque marks the end of the river, and the end of the Tyburn can be seen from Vauxhall Bridge at low tide.

Learn More

Thanks heaps to Love London Brompton Tours for the company and good times, Stephen Myers and Tom Bolton for their knowledge, and the NPR Visuals Team for kind permission to use their website code.

If you’re thinking of doing the ride yourself you may wish to download the .gpx file of the route.

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Project Credits
James Houston