This is the latest in a series of articles and illustrations from our new special edition publication New Cartography.  The magazine offers readers a fresh and alternative take on mapping the urban environment through a collection of articles and illustrations from a wide array of contributors. The complete magazine can be viewed here.

River Below

The Fleet tide is no inlet now,
merely a memory hidden
in Anglo-Saxon, it’s vowels
stretched and turned like gold to fine thread.

High up in Hampstead, the algae
unstirred by midge and mayfly,
the pond the usable face
of far-off hidden Fleet.

And long before the word had changed,
translated to tabloids,
metonymy of old press,
the tide had turned to Wapping,
lost in ebbs and flows to Canary Wharf.

We have dismissed Fleet.

But here Fleet is, since clay
clogged this basin,
since man thought to shape
substance from symbols,
etching names on the land that stick
then change.

Here a slow underflow crams all
into a trickle of slurry,
a wikipedia of wells
and pot and ponds and mammoth bones.

Here Fleet is, drowned in concrete,
pewtered in a sewer, dribbling
down through Battle, Clerk’s Well, Old Bourne;*
a city beneath a city,
that slides
forgotten towards the Thames.

*Battle is an abbreviation for Battle Bridge, supposed site of Boudicca’s last battle and now King’s Cross St Pancras.  Mammoth
bones were found on this site in the 17th Century.

Clerk’s Well is now Clerkenwell. In the 13th Century the Fleet was known as The River of Wells.

Old Bourne has now become Holborn.


Static Water

Feral Camden you swallowed my river,
And grisly, vomited body parts onto pavements.

In Spring the flood took us by surprise,
And we wound cycle wheels by small ponds.

Summer left it green, algae eating Tesco bags,
Longboats, swans.

By Winter you lost your edge, misty
Concrete covered by fall and dark brown leaves.

Now three men tattooed row eastwards,
Like modern magi smoking skunk.

The found craft lurches and bobs, half-sunk
In the static water and, strangely, I think of my Fleet far below.


Upbrook Mews

Standing here
I am startled
by the sheer space; brick and sky
rise up above,
towering high.

And in it you,
borrowed river,
frozen flow in time
now concrete
and only in mime
a bridge
of busy traffic.

The article was commissioned by The New Wolf for New Cartography – an IdeasTap-sponsored magazine.