River Westbourne

Route of the River Westbourne (highlighted in blue) shown between West End (now known as West Hampstead) and the Thames on a map from 1790.
The River Westbourne running above the platforms of Sloane Square tube station. The river is inside the green conduit above the train.

The Westbourne or Kilburn is a mainly re-diverted small River Thames tributary in London, primarily sourced from Whitestone Pond, Hampstead Heath and which, notwithstanding one main meander, flows southward through Kilburn and the Bayswater (west end of Paddington) to skirt underneath the east of Hyde Park's Serpentine lake then through central Chelsea under Sloane Square and it passes centrally under the south side of Royal Hospital Chelsea's Ranelagh Gardens before historically discharging into the Inner London Tideway. Since the latter 19th century its narrow basin has been further narrowed by corollary surface water drains and its main flow has been replaced with a combined sewer beneath its route.


The river was originally called the Kilburn (Cye Bourne – royal stream, 'Bourne and burn' being the Germanic word equivalent to rivulet as in the geographical term 'winterbourne') but has been known, at different times and in different places, as Kelebourne, Kilburn, Bayswater, Bayswater River, Bayswater Rivulet, Serpentine River, The Bourne, Westburn Brook, the Ranelagh River and the Ranelagh Sewer. It is of similar size to the Fleet.


Rising in Hampstead at Whitestone Pond[1] the river flows south through Kilburn (also the name of the river at that point) running west along Kilburn Park Road and then south along Shirland Road. After crossing Bishops Bridge Road, the river continued more or less due south, between what is now Craven Terrace and what is now Gloucester Terrace. At this point, the river was known until the early 19th century as the Bayswater rivulet and from that it gave its name to the area now known as Bayswater. Originally Bayswater was the stretch of the stream where it crosses Bayswater Road, "Bayards Watering" in 1652 and "Bayards Watering Place" in 1654. It is said that there is a reference to Bayards Watering Place as early as 1380. There were a few houses at this spot in the eighteenth century and, it seems, a man called Bayard used or offered it as a watering place for horses on this road (formerly Uxbridge Road). The river enters Hyde Park at what is now the Serpentine and is within the park joined by a tributary, Tyburn Brook. The Serpentine was formed in 1730 by building a dam across the Westbourne at the instigation of Queen Caroline, wife of George II, to beautify the royal park. The Westbourne ceased to provide the water for the Serpentine in 1834,[2] as the culverted Westbourne had become the most convenient main sewer and the Serpentine is now supplied from three boreholes from the upper chalk underneath Hyde Park.[3] and was widely imitated in parks and gardens nationwide.[3]

The Westbourne left Hyde Park (both before and after it had been dammed to form the Serpentine) at Knightsbridge which was originally a bridge over the Westbourne itself. It is recorded that, in the year 1141, the citizens of London met Matilda of England (Queen Maud) at this bridge. The river ran from Knightsbridge south under Bourne Street, SW1 and follows very closely the boundary between the City of Westminster and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea,[n 1] joining the River Thames at Chelsea.[4]

The waters of the Westbourne or Bayswater were originally pure and in 1437 and 1439 conduits were laid to carry water from the Westbourne into the City of London, for drinking. In the 19th century, however, the water became filthy and impure by its use as a sewer, and the rise of the water closet as the prevailing form of sanitation.[5]

When Belgravia, Chelsea and Paddington were developed, it became necessary to drive the river Westbourne underground to build over it. The river was therefore directed into pipes in the early part of the 19th century, work which was completed in the 1850s. Since then, the Westbourne has been one of the lost rivers of London, running underground in a pipe.

The pipe can still be seen running above the platform of Sloane Square tube station.[6] It is located just below the ceiling towards the end of the platforms closest to the exits. The pipe is the original one constructed in the 19th century. Although the station was badly bombed during the Battle of Britain in November 1940, the old iron pipe was not damaged.

After flowing beneath the location of the Chelsea Flower Show and beneath a corner of Chelsea Barracks, the river flows into the Thames. Its lower course is, like the Thames, tidal.[1]

A vestige of the river, a wide quay opens into the river Thames about 300 yards (270 m) west of Chelsea Bridge. An overflow outfall, from a pipe named the Ranelagh Sewer, can still be seen at low tide, as most of the Westbourne's course has been used as a convenient depression in the land to place the local sewerage system, some of which takes surface water to form a combined sewer which links to two intercept sewers, the Middle Level Sewer and the Northern Low Level Sewer in the London sewerage system.[5]


The finest and most intelligible map of the whole course of the Westbourne, superimposed over the Victorian street plan, is found in an article by J. G. Waller, published in the Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol VI (1882) pp 272–279.

Waller's map shows that the stream never ran further west than the easternmost extremity of Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill (an east-west road ending at Queensway where the course lay). Westbourne Grove is, as its name suggests, west of the bourne.[7]

See also

Notes and References

  1. Its lower course is nearby the Westminster/Chelsea & Kensington borough boundary (the meandering purple line down the middle of this map)
  1. 1 2 Owen, Jane (21 May 2016). "History on tap". Financial Times. House & Home. pp. 8–9.
  2. "Thomas Hawksley and the Project to Cleanse The Serpentine: 1859–1862". Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  3. 1 2 "Hyde Park: Park of Pleasure". The Royal Parks. 2007. Retrieved 5 September 2007.
  4. http://Londonist.com/2009/11/londons_lost_rivers_from_above_the.php Londonist.com: London's lost rivers from above (Nov 2009)
  5. 1 2 illustrations 1, 4 of the webpage of the Walbrook River page – a synopsis which cites the following books:
    Nicholas Barton, The Lost Rivers of London (1962)
    Anthony Clayton, Subterranean City (2000)
    Michael Harrison, London Beneath the Pavement (1961)
    Alfred Stanley Foord, Springs, Streams, and Spas of London. (1910)
    J. G. White, History of The Ward of Walbrook. (1904)
    Andrew Duncan, Secret London. (6th Edition, 2009)
  6. Clayton, Antony. ( 2000) Subterranean City: Beneath the Streets of London. London: Historical Publications. p. 34. ISBN 0948667699
  7. J. G. Waller Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, vol VI (1882) pp 272–279.

External links

Next confluence upstream River Thames Next confluence downstream
Counter's Creek (north) River Westbourne Tyburn (stream)

Coordinates: 51°29′06″N 0°09′14″W / 51.4850°N 0.1538°W / 51.4850; -0.1538

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