The Fleet River from St Pancras to Camden Town

Having run past St Pancras church the Fleet heads towards Camden. Slight traces of the valley can be discerned here and there, mostly on an alignment to the west of the Regents Canal. The river was culverted around the time of the canal’s construction between Camden and Kings Cross. The canal formerly ran on the contours following the higher side of the Fleet Valley between Camley Street and the top end of Pancras Road, but this is no longer so obvious because of buildings lining the sides of the canal. In 2005-2007 building work took place near the Constitution Inn and for a while the canal had its splendid prospect overlooking the centre of London ‘restored.’ The Fleet passed under a bridge at what is now the junction of Crowndale and Pancras Road. It meandered along the west side of St Pancras Way (see map below) to a point north of the junction with Pratt Street, where it then followed the Regents Canal closely to a point at what is now Camden Road. Shortly after this the Fleet passed underneath the Regents Canal and headed away to the north.


There used to be a bridge over the Fleet where Pancras Road and Crowndale Way meet

I love the way the large archway to these flats is positioned. Its virutally on the course of the old Fleet River, and it sort of mimmicks the former river crossing that existed at this point. I’m sure the architect had some subconscious thing going when he decided to place the archway at this particular location. Perhaps he somehow foresaw that there would one day be an attempt to re-open as much of the Fleet River as possible and has ensured that the river could pass beneath these flats without any demolition being neccessary! But again, it could well be that the archway was well placed so that the building’s foundations didn’t impinge on the Fleet Sewer…


Looking from the valley of the Fleet St Pancras Way up to where the Regents Canal runs behind the wall at the far end of Granary St. Certainly at one time two lots of waterway would have been visible here for the Fleet was still open to the world in the 1830’s


The alignment of some buildings & backways reflect the former route of the Fleet. Crowndale Road is at left, St Pancras Way along the bottom of the picture

The Fleet meets the Regents Canal


Before Kleine Wharf on the Regents Canal was built, the vacant site ensured spectacular views across the Fleet Valley to Euston and the Telecom Tower during the winter of 2007/08. Clearly in the early days of the Regents Canal boat crews would have had an excellent view of the Fleet River meandering in its valley


This is a summer 2006 view of the site from St Pancras Way bridge. The grey/green buildings (definitely not George Ewer’s offices! For non-bus enthusiasts this link might explain the joke…) were temporary accomodation for the workmen whilst building works were underway. The removal of these over a year later afforded the spectacular views to Euston seen earlier. The drop from the Regents Canal down to the River Fleet’s valley is clearly visible. The land in the immediate foreground are now occupied by the buildings shown in the picture below. The brick built warehouses that form the Pratt Street industrial estate are marked with a large circle in both pictures


Beyond the junction with Pratt Street, St Pancras Way ascends to higher ground, in the process crossing the Regents Canal

The Fleet would have crossed the area of the picture diagonally from St Pancras Way towards the centre of the grassed lawn in front of these industrial units in Pratt Street. The buildings on the right form a frontage onto the Regents Canal adjacent to St Pancras Way bridge.

Camden Town


The bridge at Royal College Street over the Regents Canal. Royal College St climbs up from the Fleet Valley to cross the canal, and looking at land elevations, it is pretty obvious that the Fleet has to run at a considerable depth below the roads, in order to be able to pass under the canal itself at the rear of Sainsbury’s in Camden Town


Looking across the Regents Canal from Lyme Terrace to the south of Camden Road across the Fleet’s valley

The ‘Thalweg’ (the valley) that the Fleet ran through can still be made out on the canal’s offside where the land drops to the level of the blue house. The Fleet passed from the parked blue mini and made its way across the forecourt to the white building on the right. Admitedly the land is now higher than it once was as the river’s course has been filled in, but this the best proof so far in the Camden area of the former existence of the Fleet River. The whilte building with balconies (extreme right) is actually where the Fleet made one of its closest approaches to the Regents Canal. Its interesting how the large tree fits into the large loop of the Fleet Rver at the bottom of the picture. The tree certainly knows something we don’t! The red arrow in the picture below shows the perspective from Lyme Terrace. Royal College Street bridge is at the top and Camden Road bridge at the far left.

Beyond St Pancras Way the Regents Canal turns through a ‘S’ bend to head for the three locks heading up to Hampstead Road. The ‘S’ bend was clearly constructed to permit a sump to be built underneath the canal, at what is now the rear of Sainsbury’s store in Camden, to permit the two waterways to pass each other with the least amount of excavation needed. The somewhat precarious nature of this kind of sump, in a very constricted area, no doubt the Fleet had the dubious pleasure of flooding the canal construction works!


The Fleet wold have passed under the BTP headquarters in Camden Road (just off the right side of the picture) and then on an alignment underneath where this red bus stands waiting for the lights off Camden Terrace onto Camden Road. The parapet of the bridge across the Regents Canal can be seen behind the cyclist.


Looking over the bridge in Camden Terrace at the rear of Sainsbury’s. The Fleet passed under the canal at this point

I could be wrong but it does appear from the land levels that a sump was built to take the Fleet River under the canal, otherwise the river would have had to be dug down to an incredibly deep level in order to pass underneath. It is recorded that the Fleet flooded and damaged the canal works here during construction. This gives a clue to the nature of the crossing that was used to take the river under the canal.

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Building the canal over the Fleet River

The builders of the Metropolitan railway in the 1860’s would have done well to take heed of what happened here when the Regents Canal was built. The Fleet had to be diverted in order to facilitate the construction of the canal. Naturally it burst its banks and flooded the Regents Canal works. It would seem the Fleet will do whatever it can to make ‘objections’ to any attempts to subvert its right of way, as a pub landlord recently claimed when the Newberry Arms in Kentish Town was threatened with demoliton.


This is Kentish Town Lock. A short distance away where these new houses are, the Fleet River veered away from the Regents Canal, and headed due north. The two branches of the river, from Hamsptead and Highgate merged about here to form a common route to the Thames at Blackfriars


Looking from the bridge over the canal along Kentish Town Road. The road falls towards the Fleet’s valley before climbing again towards Kentish Town. The river would have been somewhere about where the people are walking on the pavement near the bus. The red circle indicates ‘Water Lane’ on the side of the railway viaduct. This is discussed below

The railway viaduct was built in 1850 for the North London Railway. The Fleet caused the builders of the North London Railway many problems trying to build the viaduct at this point.


Water Lane is called such because it used to run alongside the Fleet River

Again problems were encountered with the Fleet during canal construction, but nowadays the Fleet flows in an unidentifiable location far below the canal. I assume that a sump was used to take the river under the canal otherwise the river would have had to be dug very deep down in order to effectively clear the bed of the canal. The river then parallels the canal to a point past Kentish Town Lock, after which it passes the aptly named Water Lane and then veers directly northwards roughly along Torbay Street towards Kentish Town.

To give some idea of the Fleet as it exists in Camden Town, here’s a picture from John Doe’s exellent collection. I’m sure the Fleet narrows considerably north of Camden, and this is possibly what it looks like with this picture from Thames Water. Its actually a side tunnel off the main sewer under Farringdon Road but again I suppose it does give an idea of what to expect towards Hampstead!

In Kentish Town can be found Angler’s Lane, whose name deriviates from the the fact that people used to go down this lane to fish in the Fleet River. The stretch from here to Hampstead Heath was covered over by the 1870’s. The Fleet River has two branches from Hampstead Heath that meet north of the lock. Its sources and its waters can be seen in the north of the heath, the eastern branch begins very near Kenwood House. The river’s course forms the Highgate and Hampstead Ponds before meeting at Camden and running as a single river on its subterranean journey underneath the city to Blackfriars.

There are other websites that suitably feature the Fleet River between Hamsptead Heath and Camden Town. This is the furthest possible extent to which boats navigated from the Thames, hence this is the end of London Canals’ feature on the Fleet.

For information on the Fleet, these websites are recommended: [youtube http://youtube.com/w/?v=h0VmGuoNJZQ&feature=related].

Wells: The Fleet River was also known as the ‘River of Wells’ for it had five wells, or health spas, on its route, all in the Kings Cross area. This feature by Chesca Potter tells us their history and demise. Also some information at The Book of Days.

Maps: There are two available online, but neither of these are very accurate especially in the Kings Cross/St. Pancras area! The first is Diamond Geezer’s, the second is Lynette’s and the third is strangemaps (this latter shows all the lost rivers of London.)

Perhaps one day the course of the Fleet from Camden northwards to Hampstead will be investigated!

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