Walbrook is a subterranean river in the City of London that gave its name to a City ward and a minor street in its vicinity.

Ward of Walbrook
Ward of Walbrook
Location within Greater London
OS grid referenceTQ325810
Sui generis
Administrative areaGreater London
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townLONDON
Postcode districtEC4
Dialling code020
PoliceCity of London
EU ParliamentLondon
UK Parliament
London Assembly

The ward of Walbrook contains two of the City's most notable landmarks: the Bank of England and the Mansion House. The street runs between Cannon Street and Bank junction, though vehicular traffic can only access it via Bucklersbury, a nearby side-road off Queen Victoria Street.

The river

The Walbrook is one of many "lost" rivers of London, the most famous of which is the River Fleet. It played a very important role in the Roman settlement of Londinium, the city now known as London. The stream started in what is now Finsbury and flowed southward through the centre of the walled city, bringing a supply of fresh water whilst carrying waste away to the River Thames, at Dowgate. Effectively dividing the settlement in two, it emerged just to the west of the present-day Cannon Street Railway Bridge. During Roman times it was also used for transport, with the limit of navigation some 200 m from the Thames, where the Bucklersbury building now stands. It was there the Romans built a port and temple to Mithras on the east bank of the stream.[1] The temple was found and later excavated during rebuilding work after World War II. The Roman Governor's palace was found further down the east bank of the stream, near its entry into the Thames. The etymology begins soon after Londinium was captured by the invading Anglo-Saxons in the late 6th century (also known then as Caer Lundein). It is thought that the brook's name comes from weala broc meaning "brook of the foreigners" (native Britons).[2] Another theory is that it was so named because it ran through or under the London Wall. Walbrook divided the city into two hills: Ludgate Hill to the west and Cornhill to the east.[3]

When the church of St Margaret Lothbury was rebuilt in 1440, the Lord Mayor Robert Large paid for the lower Walbrook to be covered over. By the time of the first maps of the area, the "copperplate" map of the 1550s and the derivative "Woodcut" map of c.1561, the whole Walbrook within the city walls was culverted. John Stow, the historian of London, wrote about the Walbrook in 1598, saying that the watercourse, having several bridges, was afterwards vaulted over with brick and paved level with the streets and lanes where it passed and that houses had been built so that the stream was hidden as it is now.[3]

The Walbrook's source was in Moorfields, north of the city wall, through which it passed just west of All Hallows-on-the-Wall Church.[4]

Modern developments

In the 1860s, excavations by General Augustus Pitt Rivers uncovered a large number of human skulls, but almost no other bones, in the bed of the Walbrook.[5] This has been seen as reminiscent of a passage in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (c. 1136) in which a legion of Roman soldiers who surrendered to Asclepiodotus after being besieged in London were decapitated by his allies the Venedoti, and their heads thrown into a river called the Gallobroc.[6] However, Geoffrey's History is unreliable, and other theories have been proposed. Some historians consider these skulls to be a result of the rebellion of Boudica.[7]. In the late 20th century, archaeologists proposed that the skulls represented ritual deposits of heads related to the Celtic cult of the head. Excavations in Drapers Gardens in the early 21st century revealed a cemetery in which graves had been scoured by the River Walbrook, and it was suggested that skulls might come from this. More recently, the skulls have been dated mostly to the early 2nd century AD, and it has again been suggested that the skulls are the consequence of an anti-Roman rebellion in the 120s when London suffered a second major fire often called the Hadrianic fire.

As late as the early 19th century, part of the branch that runs from Islington was open and powered a lead mill.[1]

The construction of the massive infrastructure of the London sewerage system, with five main sewers, incorporated many existing culverts, storm sewers, and sluices. This included the culverted Walbrook, which by 1860 had been linked into a network of 82 miles of new sewerage lines, channelled to the Northern Low Level Sewer at a point near the Bank of England. Many small leaks stream into the rounded sewer for much of the year when the water table is high enough.[8]

On 18 June 1999, during the "Carnival Against Capitalism", timed to coincide with the 25th G8 summit, fire hydrants were opened along the route of the Walbrook by Reclaim the Streets, symbolically releasing the river to "reclaim the street" from the "capitalist forces" of city growth which had subsumed it.[9]


Maps of the Roman period show the Walbrook as having many tributaries. Roman London, a New Map and Guide[10] shows six branches. Most of these branches are to the West of the main stream. The main branch flows south down Bloomfield Street, to the east of Finsbury Circus. Stow in the 16th century suggested there was a branch, called the Langbourne (see Langbourne Ward) to the east, rising at St Katherine Coleman and running SW along Fenchurch Street (making this area 'fenny'), along Lombard Street, into Sherbourne Lane and presumably into the Walbrook.[11] Later scholars have been dubious. Ralph Merrifield reported a stream flowing SW through the area that would later be the Roman Forum, which would have flown into this putative stream in Lombard Street. The main mentioned at the top of this section reports another stream called the 'Lorteburn' flowing directly into the Thames; perhaps there has been confusion between these various streams.

The ward

A street called Walbrook which runs along the lower part of the brook's course. There is also a clearly visible valley, which can be seen most clearly at the junction of Walbrook and Cannon Street.[12] On the street is a church called St Stephen Walbrook, which originally stood on the west bank of the stream, but was rebuilt around 1439 on the east side. In 1666 the church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and Sir Christopher Wren built a new church there in 1672 to replace it, which still stands. The historic London Stone is situated on Cannon Street within the ward of Walbrook. The Bank of England and Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor, are both situated in Walbrook ward. Within the ward is also The Walbrook Club, a private dining club founded in 2000. It was designed by the late Mark Birley of Annabel's and is set in a Queen Anne-style townhouse.[13]

Walbrook is one of 25 wards in the City of London, each electing an Alderman and Commoners (the City equivalent of a Councillor) to the Court of Common Council of the City of London Corporation. Only electors who are Freemen of the City of London are eligible to stand.


The ward is represented in the City of London Corporation by John Garbutt Alderman and the Common Councilmen James Thomson (Deputy) and Peter Bennett.[14]

See also


  1. Trench, Richard; Hillman Ellis (1985). London under London a subterranean guide. John Murray (publishers) Ltd. pp. 27–29. ISBN 0-7195-4080-1.
  2. https://www.oldenglishtranslator.co.uk/
  3. London Archaeologist Spring 2003
  4. Barton, Nicholas (1962), The Lost Rivers of London.
  5. Lewis Thorpe, The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin, 1966, p. 19
  6. Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regum Britanniae 5.4
  7. John Morris (1982), Londinium: London in the Roman Empire p. 111.
  8. "Walbrook River from London's Lost Rivers website". Archived from the original on 28 July 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  9. Tyler, Wat (2003). "Dancing at the Edge of Chaos: a Spanner in the Works of Global Capitalism". In Notes From Nowhere (ed.). We Are Everywhere: the Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism. London: Verso. pp. 188–95. ISBN 1-85984-447-2.
  10. Roman London - a New Map and Guide (published by the Museum of London)
  11. https://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/new-history-london/pp656-661
  12. Grid reference Finder measurement tools
  13. Rankine, Kate (13 September 2003). "Business profile: Chairman with a passion for needlework". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 February 2012.
  14. "Elected Members - Walbrook Ward". Walbrook Ward. Walbrook Ward. Retrieved 6 November 2017.

London The Biography by Peter Ackroyd page 33

Next confluence upstreamRiver ThamesNext confluence downstream
River Fleet (north) Walbrook River Neckinger (south)
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