London’s rivers and waterways such as the Walbrook are invisible threads, binding London together under the surface. They were here long before people or buildings arrived and remain as a hidden system cutting through the layers on which London now stands, and revealing the many age old mysteries hidden in the City.
The Art Installation by Christina Iglesias :Forgotten Streams’ is located at Bloomberg’s European Headquarters in London. The revelatory landscape is woven through three different plaza spaces, evoking the Lost River of London, namely the Walbrook.
The Walbrook, flows through the heart of the City of London. There is a street called Walbrook, which runs parallel to the river’s course.
The name Walbrook which gives its name to the existing City ward is thought to originate from the fact that the river/brook ran through the London Wall – a defensive wall built by the Romans around London (then known as Londinium).
The Romans built the Temple of Mithras on the east bank of the Walbrook in the middle of the 3rd century AD. The temple was discovered accidentally during construction work beside the route of the Walbrook during the 1950’s.
Mithraism an ancient religion of the Persian god of light and the sun, Mithras was popular among the Roman military, City merchants, traders and business people. It was a strong rival to Christianity in the first three centuries AD. It is believed that in the temple Roman soldiers sought valour and virility in shower-baths of hot blood from slaughtered bulls.
After Londinium was captured by the invading Anglo-Saxons during the late 6th century, all the British inhabitants were forced to live on the east bank of the Walbrook while the Saxons would reside on the west.
The upper part of the Walbrook was covered over in 1440 when the Church of St Margaret Lothbury was built and vaulted over the stream. The lower part at Dowgate near the Thames existed until later and was recorded by the historian John Stow that the water had “such a swift course that in the year 1574 a lad of eighteen years minding to have leapt over the channel, was borne down that narrow stream towards the Thames with such violent swiftness as no man could rescue or stay him”.
The Walbrook was considered a filthy nuisance at the time and now runs completely underground and feeds a sewer. The debris dug from the river – hoes and ploughshares, chisels and saws, scalpels and spatulas, the heads of forgotten gods and a collection of human skulls tell the earliest London tales.
The Ward of Walbrook is one of the spots you may pass on one of our City of London Tours.