The Walbrook

The Walbrook
   A stream of some size and importance which flowed through the centre of the City from north to south. In course of time it was filled up and eventually built over.
   The City Records and Stow's Survey, together with the investigations made at different periods below the levels of existing streets and buildings, have thrown a good deal of light on the situation of the stream and enable us to identify its course with a fair degree of accuracy.
   The earliest authentic mention of the stream occurs in a Charter of William I., 1068, to the College of St. Martin le Grand, to which it will be necessary to refer in more detail later on.
   By this Charter, King William granted to the College "all the land and moor without Cripplegate on both sides of the postern from the north corner of the wall of the city where the '"rivulus foncium" ibi prope fluenciam' separates the moor from the wall of the city."
   Stow identifies this stream, which he calls the " River of Wells," with the Fleet, but the description given in the Charter makes this identification difficult of acceptance, as the Fleet has a course due north and south at least half a mile west from the" aquilonari comu muri," while it cannot indeed be said to enter the city at any point.
   The portion of the moor demised by the charter would seem to have extended from the north corner of the City Wall by St. Giles Cripplegate Church to the running water of the Walbrook, comprising Finsbury Fields, Moor Fields, and the neighbourhood.
   The Walbrook entered the City to the east of Cripplegate, the exact position being probably located by the discovery, during the investigations undertaken by the Society of Antiquaries in 1905, in the City Wall of two culverts formed directly in the bed of the stream, at or near its base at the time of the construction of the wall, for the purpose of carrying the water through it. These culverts were found at the southern end of Blomfield Street. At this point the width of the bed of the stream was 150 ft. It then continued its course beneath the Carpenters' Hall to the east end of the church of St. Margaret Lothbury. Thence it flowed beneath the eastern part of the kitchen of Grocers' Hall under the church of St. Mildred Poultry, west from the Stocks Market-from thence across Bucklersbury west of the old church of St. Stephen Walbrook (See Lib. Cust, I. 367), and west of the present street of Walbrook by the west end of the church of St. John upon Walbrook under Horseshoe bridge-thence by the west end of Tallow Chandlers' Hall and east of Skinners' Hall behind the houses in Elbow Lane by Greenwich Lane into the Thames at Dowgate. At Cloak Lane the bed of the stream was 248 feet wide.
   Thus it appears, as stated in Letter Book H.p. 216, that the course of the Walbrook flowed through the Wards of Colman Street, Broad Street, Cheap, Walbrook, Vintry, and Dowgate.
   As before stated the stream was of considerable width and velocity, so that vessels could proceed up it as far as Bucklersbury, and its importance is indicated by the fact that the wards of the City in early records are classified according as they lay east or west of the Walbrook.
   It had several bridges over it at various points, and numerous disputes are recorded in the City Letter Books, etc., as to the liability of the owners of property adjacent to the bridges for their repair and maintenance.
   There were two bridges "juxta Moram et juxta ecclesiam Omnium Sanctorum super Wallum" in the wards of Coleman Street and Broad Street, respectively, which had to be kept in repair, the one by the Prior of Holy Trinity and the other as to one half by the Prior of the new Hospital without Bishopsgate and as to the other half by the neighbours (Lib. Albus, I. 582 ; Lib, Cust. I. 409).
   There was a covering over the stream over against the wall of the church of St. Stephen Walbrook, which had to be kept in repair by the parishioners of that church (Lib. Albus, I. 582).
   Besides these bridges, there was Horseshoebridge (q.v.) near St. John's Church.
   In course of time, owing partly to the numerous buildings erected on its banks and to the consequent accumulations of mud and filth, the bed of the stream became more and more filled up, so that frequent orders had to be issued for the cleansing and scouring of the ditch of Walbrook, 16 Ed. I. (Cal. L. Bk. A. p.217), 1374, (Cal. L. Bk. G. 324), and 1415 (ib. I. p.137).
   In 1415 it was ordained that the banks were to be piled or walled by the respective owners residing upon them on pain of forfeiture of property (Cal. L. Bk. I. p.137).
   The course of the bank was visible in 1516 and was referred to in that year in a description of boundaries of a tenement between the church of St. Mildred Poultry and "the course of the bank of the Walbroke" (Lond. I. p.m. 8 H. VIII. p.31).
   In Stow's time (1603) the watercourse was hardly discernible (pp.27, 32).
   Much has been written as to the derivation of the name, the earliest forms in use being as follows: "Walebroc," 1114-30 (Cart. Mon. de Ramsey, I. 139). "Walebrock," 1277 (Cal. L. Bk. B. p.266). " Walebrock," 1281 (ib. p.s). "Walebrok," 1283-5 (Anc. Deeds, A. 1674). "Walebroke," 1277-8 (Cal. L. Bk. A. p.217). " Walebroc " (temp. Ed. I.) (Anc. Deeds, A. 2012). " Walbrookdyk," 1420 (Ct. H.W. II. 422).
   These records are all subsequent to the date of the Charter of William I., 1068, above mentioned, The description given in this Charter is as follows : " Totam terram et moram extra posterulam que dicitur Crepelesgate ex utraque parte posterule videlicet ab aquilonari cornu muri civitatis sicut rivulus foncium ibi prope fluencium ipam a muro discriminat usque in aquam currentem que ingreditus civitatem."
   This is the usual form of the charter in Latin, and as set out in a Register-book of St. Martin le Grand " Registrum Collegii Sancti Martini Magni" among Westminster Abbey MSS. temp. H. VI. 1450-60, f. I (b.).
   But more interesting still for the present purpose is the O.E. form of the charter set out at fo. 66: "Ealle th lande and than more withuten Crepelesgate on agtherhealfe of than northhirne tha's burgwealles eall swa the' wylrithe ' hit sckyled fram tham weallum forth in to thare burh . . ." Or another reading gives, "forth in to tham broke the yrnth in to thaere burh. . ."
   If the transcript is at all correct and can be relied on as a true copy of the original charter, it is a most valuable and interesting document, and suggests an earlier form of the name of the stream than is found elsewhere.
   The form " Wylrithe " or " waelrithe," "ae = y," suggests one or two possible derivations : " wael " = the slain, the dead; " wael " = deep pool, gulf; "rithe = stream.
   The first combination " wadrithe " recalls to mind the suggested derivation. by Layamon c. 1200 of the name "Walbrook" from Livius Gallus:
   "and Bruttes pan broke nome bitachten for Gallus wes islagen per bi haehte hine nemni Galli a pere Englisce boc he is ibaten ' Walebroc '" (Vol. ii. p.27).
   "al paet ' wal ' hes brohten in to pan broke."
   Could it be named after the " wal" that was brought into the brook, and mean stream or brook of the slain " ?
   To the second combination: "wael " = deep pool, "rithe "-stream, might be referred the Latin name " rivulus foncium," which it is difficult otherwise to account for.
   It may be, however, that the accuracy of the transcript cannot be relied on, and that " wylrithe " simply meant a " stream," in which case the earliest form of the name would be " Walebroc."
   This form " wale "suggests the O.E. " wealh," p1. "weala " = a stranger. foreigner. "The stream of the strangers, foreigners."
   For "wale " = " wealh" compare Walden in Herts, derived by Skeat from "weala" the genitive plural of " wealh " meaning " stranger," " foreigners," used especially to denote a Briton or Welshman.
   This gives the meaning: " Brook of the strangers" (perhaps of the Britons).
   This form "wale" would not give the derivation from O.E. "weall " = wall, suggested by Stow.
   The name of the vanished stream still survives in the present street of Walbrook (q.v.).
   It may be interesting to note that in the course of the excavations made from time to time to locate the bed of the stream, numerous discoveries have been made of fragments of Roman pavements, which may be taken as evidence of the estimation in which the Romans held the banks of the watercourse as a place of residence. Roman coins have also been found in the bed of the stream near London Wall of date A.D. 161-180 (Price, Rom. P. in Bucklersbury, p.48, and Arch. LX.).
   Traces of an ancient stream bed have been found near the middle of the street of Walbrook and at Cloak Lane at a depth of from 20 to 22 ft., in Broad Street at a depth of 30 ft.; near London Wall at a depth of 22 ft., and at the Bank of 35 ft. from the present level. In excavations under Nos. 10 and 12 Copthall Avenue, true stream deposits have been found at a depth of about 12-18 ft., washed gravel and sand covered by 5-6 ft. of black mud in which were patches of peat. Any holes dug here, rapidly filled with water. Piles, Roman pottery, and shells were found in the mud in abundance, but none of later date, showing that the deposit took place during the time of the Roman occupation of London and not subsequently. Pieces of Roman sculpture have also been found in Bond Court.
   It may be well to note here the view that has suggested itself as to the formation of the marsh or fen to the north of the City known as Moorfields. There is no evidence to suggest that this marsh was in existence in Roman times, and so long as the Walbrook flowed uninterruptedly through open country, it served to drain the land and to carry away the surplus waters that might otherwise have accumulated in the low-lying districts. But when the Romans built the wall round the City, they obstructed the free course of the stream at that point, so that it could not carry off the waters that collected in the hollow ground to the north of the wall, resulting in course of time in the formation of the marshlands above mentioned.
   As to the course of the stream before it entered the City, Price is of opinion that it had two branches-a western branch rising in Finshury Fields to the N.W. of Finsbury Square and running in the direction of Wilson Street through Moorfields-and an eastern branch rising near to the south end of New North Road near Pitfield Street, Hoxton, and flowing by Willow Walk across Curtain Road to Holywell Lane and thence by the old burial ground of Bethelehem Hospital along Blomfield Street to the ditch of the City Wall (ib. 48-9). He gives a plan of the course of the stream, showing where these two branches respectively entered the City

A Dictionary of London. . 1918.

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