Fleet Bridge. 1859. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall, p. 441. For the location of this long-vanished bridge, see the end of the commentary below. Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Pittsburgh and the Internet Archive and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Commentary by Mr. and Mrs. Hall

Close beside [Blackfriars] bridge (on the west of the London end) is a large arched sewer, which is all that now represents the old river Fleet, thus converted into an immense drain; but in the olden time it was a stream wide enough to allow barges to go inland as far as Holborn, and spanned by a bridge near the Thames, "after the manner of the Rialto, at Venice." There is preserved in the library at Guildhall a curious painting, executed in the early part of the last century (attri- buted to Canaletti, but most probably by Hogarth's friend, Scott), which preserves a view of the "River Wells," as it was anciently called, but which had obtained an unsavoury reputation at that time, not a little aided by the severe lines of Pope, who summoned the heroes of his "Dunciad" —

"Where Fleet ditch, with disemboguing streams,
Rolls the large tribute of dead dogs to Thames."

This little river, in its days of purity, obtained its name from the fleetness with which its waters ran toward the Thames. The stream comprised the waters of certain "wells," or springs, to the northward of the city, and obtained a large accession about Clerkenwell; thence they continued down Turnmill Street, a name very simple in its etymology, and derived from the mills on the banks of the rivulet, which widened at Holborn (literally "old bourne," or "old brook"), where a bridge was erected; another was opposite Fleet Street; and a third nearer Bridewell, which is that represented in our engraving. [441-42]

Reconstruction of the appearance of the Fleet River before the Great Fire of 1866

Bridewell Palace and Blackfriars Monastery at entrance to Fleet River. “From a model by John B. Thorp in the London Museum.” Source: London past and Present.

Related Material


Hall, Mr. and Mrs. S. C. The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue, and Cp., 1959. Internet Archive version of a copy in the William and Mary Darlington Memorial Libray, the University of Pittsburgh. Web. 10 March 2012.

Salaman, Malcolm C. London past and Present. London: The Studio, 1916. Web. 10 March 2012.

Last modified 12 March 2012