Description:The City of London has, or had, running under it several rivers. These rivers were once part of the countryside until the City encroached upon them. The rivers were vaulted and paved over. Today feint remains can be seen on the surface – the dip of a road where the banks once were, the occasional sighting of water upwelling, etc. Some street names also betray rivers beneath them – Fleet Street or Walbrook for example.
This audio feature is about one particularly river – the Walbrook. Arguably it was London’s first river: Walbrook, stream of the ancient Britons. The feature sets out to show that today there are still rivers on London's surface. They are rivers of people. One only has to stand at one of the main stations into London to see, and hear the rivers flowing. These rivers ebb and flow. They are like the Thames in being tidal. Commuters are coming-in and going-out of London. Audio recordings of rivers of people and water are contrasted to reveal their similarity, their fluidity.
Treatment: How does one record a river, like the Walbrook that cannot be seen, nor easily traced? A brook similar to descriptions of the Walbrook, Boundary Brook in East Oxford have been recorded in several places to giving differing sounds of flowing water: open, culvert, emerging. These are set off against the sound of footsteps in Walbrook Street, near to Cannon Street railway station. The Street is canyon like and its stone-faced buildings reflect the sound well with little road noise. A fade from one into the other reveals how a waterfall is similar to foot falls.
Who is interviewed? The Station manager at Cannon Street, near where the Walbrook is said to empty into the Thames is interviewed and the Rector of a church in the City, which is built upon the river Walbrook. This church, St Margaret’s, Lothbury, is opposite the Bank of England.
The reputed route of the Walbrook has been walked and builders excavating foundations approached. None would be interviewed, as the developers feared the commercial consequences should a river be found near to their new developments.
Visiting the Thames where the Walbrook is documented to join it revealed no outfall. There is an opening that is covered by a heavy cast hatch. No water flows from it. The Walbrook certainly in its ancient route is no longer. It is lost and no longer flowing, at least on this occasion. In a sense then the source of the Walbrook is not some up welling in the earth but the maps and books that document its route. As London developed the Walbrook, fair and sweet water became foul with sewerage. Today it seems it is probably joined into a sewer and diverted, as no doubt it has been many times in its history.
There are other flows in the City: money. Requests for interviews to investment bankers have been made but declined. The flow of capital is reflected in this audio feature by the reading of the FTSE 100 Index. A short reading by the Rector at St Margaret’s further contrasts human, financial and water flows. He reads in the church's clock tower, the flow of time all around. Ticking away.
See reading at Poems on the Underground
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