London’s Tyburn River Revisited by a WCSIM History Walk

Twenty fortunate WCSIM Members and their guests were privileged to be guided by Deputy Master Martyn Wheatley and his wife Valerie on a wonderful history walk following the course of the underground Tyburn River across London. Rising

Rising on Haverstock Hill, Hampstead and crossing the Regents Canal inside a bridge, we picked up the route by Baker Street Tube Station on Saturday 12th March.

Having paid due homage to Sherlock Holmes and the Beatles, outside the Marylebone Road entrance to Baker Street station we turned South on Baker Street before heading through a former incredibly important graveyard, now lovely Paddington Street Gardens, to join Marylebone Lane.

We had barely reached our second grating when disaster struck – Martyn’s torch line shed the all-important torch leaving just the battery case on the end of the rope! We really did need Rev. Preb’d Jeremy Crossley’s ‘divine light.’ Totally unflustered, Martyn continued, passing the famous Paul Rothe & Sons 4th Generation Delicatessen, and on spotting a hardware store that Arkwright would have been proud of, Martyn emerged brandishing a brand new torch – plus 4 Candles (fork handles) and some ‘Os’ (hose)! The divine light was indeed shining! Which was more than be said for the torch, but new grating = new torch.

It was all just in time, to enable another viewing of the Tyburn, as we approached 25 Brook Street (spot the river reference) famous for the ‘Twin Hs’ who resided there, albeit some 250 years apart, Georg Friedrich Händel and James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix! Access to the museum is from Lancashire Court and do look at

Barely around the corner into Bourdon Street the walk took us into Terence Donovan country, famous for his photography of Twiggy, and many other models, commemorated in 3 metallic statues in Bourdon Place.

In a flash we were in Berkley Square and Martyn explained how the area became (filthy) rich and famous and attracted more and more wealthy celebrities as the heart of Mayfair. We salivated at the menu of the charming Guinea Grill and Restaurant, est. 1675, that Martyn described as one of the best steak houses in London! It was clearly getting time for lunch as we headed towards Shepherd Market and the group split into its culinary needs for a well-earned drink and some sustenance.

With loins girded we were ready to negotiate another clutch of twists and turns following the streets that closely tracked the river’s course, not only physically but often in names like Engine Street referring to a mill or machine powered by the river.

We passed by the spiritual home of Radio Luxembourg for almost 60 years, and then nearby, the home of Sir George Caley, a truly great scientist and engineer. Caley was the father of aerodynamics and his four definitions of weight, lift, drag and thrust plus his prediction of powered flight, put the Wright Brothers aloft fifty years later.

There was fascination and amazement at Down Street Underground station, now closed but such beautiful brickwork; this was a location used by Churchill and others during war years; it also had a direct underground link to the War Rooms near Admiralty Arch!

Crossing Piccadilly and into Green Park the Tyburn disappears into marshy ground of the Thames flood plain, not far from the now splendid Canadian War Memorial water feature. The Tyburn was used to fill the lake in St James’s Park before being contained in a brick-lined tunnel under Buckingham Palace where it divides, some 1.3miles from its outfall into the Thames.

There was time to enjoy the walk around the Palace gates close to Buckingham Gate and Victoria Station, where it still passes amongst the myriad of underground lines towards the aptly named King’s Scholars’ Passage. At one time this was known as the King’s Scholars’ Pond Sewer; Martyn said, “It is easy to see why!” It was temporarily unveiled during Victoria Station developments, alas now covered by the North Ticket Hall.

Martyn had a final couple of surprises in store as we stopped outside a blue plaque bearing the name of Lord Leslie Hore-Belisha, a former 1930s Minister of Transport who oversaw the rewriting of the Highway Code, the introduction of the 30mph speed limit for motor cars in built-up areas, the introduction of the driving test and the famous beacon that still bears his name.

Skirting Pimlico tube station the Tyburn’s route crosses Grosvenor Road and at Tyburn House and Rio Cottage a plaque records below the houses are a semi-circular opening in the river wall and a heavy iron sluice gate that were installed in 1832 to control the outflow into the Thames.

Within site of the beautiful Vauxhall Bridge it is incredible to think we have walked all the way from Holmes’ “Baker Street Ireggulars” to the site of Britain’s Foreign intelligence Service – MI6!

It was time for drinks at the equally famous Morpeth Arms and considerable thanks to Martyn and Valerie for a wonderful few hours.

written by Liveryman Alan Budge