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Index to Stow's original Survey of London written in 1598


Anciently, until the Conqueror’s time, and two hundred years after, the city of London was watered, besides the famous river of Thames on the south part, with the river of Wells, as it was then called, on the west; with the water called Walbrooke running through the midst of the city in the river of Thames, serving the heart thereof; and with a fourth water or bourn, which ran within the city through Langborne ward, watering that part in the east. In the west suburbs was also another great water, called Oldborne, which had its fall into the river of Wells; then were there three principal fountains, or wells, in the other suburbs; to wit, Holy well, Clement’s well, and Clarkes’ well. Near unto this last-named fountain were divers other wells, to wit, Skinners’ well, Fags’ well, Tode well, Loder’s well, and Radwell. All which said wells, having the fall of their overflowing in the aforesaid river, much increased the stream, and in that place gave it the name of Well. In West Smithfield there was a pool, in records called Horsepoole, and one other pool near unto the parish church of St. Giles without Cripplegate. Besides all which, they had in every street and lane of the city divers fair wells and fresh springs; and after this manner was this city then served with sweet and fresh waters, which being since decayed, other means have been sought to supply the want,[13] as shall be shown. But first of the aforenamed rivers and other waters is to be said, as following:

Thames, the most famous river of this island, beginneth a little above a village called Winchcombe, in Oxfordshire; and still increasing, passeth first by the University of Oxford, and so with a marvellous quiet course to London, and thence breaketh into the French ocean by main tides, which twice in twenty-four hours’ space doth ebb and flow more than sixty miles in length, to the great commodity of travellers, by which all kind of merchandise be easily conveyed to London, the principal storehouse and staple of all commodities within this realm; so that, omitting to speak of great ships and other vessels of burthen, there pertaineth to the cities of London, Westminster, and borough of Southwark, above the number, as is supposed, of 2000 wherries and other small boats, whereby 3000 poor men, at the least, be set on work and maintained.

That the river of Wells, in the west part of the city, was of old so called of the wells, it may be proved thus:—William the Conqueror in his charter to the college of St. Marten le Grand, in London, hath these words: “I do give and grant to the same church all the land and the moor without the postern, which is called Cripplegate, on either part of the postern; that is to say, from the north corner of the wall, as the river of the Wells, there near running, departeth the same moor from the wall, unto the running water which entereth the city.”[19] This water hath long since been called the river of the Wels, which name of river continued; and it was so called in the reign of Edward I., as shall be shown, with also the decay of the said river. In a fair book of parliament records, now lately restored to the Tower, it appeareth[20] that a parliament being holden at Carlile in the year 1307, the 35th of Edward I., “Henry Lacy, earl of Lincoln, complained, that whereas in times past the course of water, running at London under Oldborne bridge and Fleete bridge into the Thames, had been of such breadth and depth, that ten or twelve ships navies at once, with merchandise, were wont to come to the foresaid bridge of Fleete, and some of them to Oldborne bridge: now the same course, by filth of the tanners and such others, was sore decayed; also by raising of wharfs; but especially, by a diversion of the water made by them of the new Temple,[14] for their mills standing without Baynardes Castle, in the first year of King John,[21] and divers other impediments, so as the said ships could not enter as they were wont, and as they ought: wherefore he desired that the mayor of London with the sheriffs and other discreet aldermen, might be appointed to view the course of the said water; and that by the oaths of good men, all the aforesaid hindrances might be removed, and it to be made as it was wont of old. Whereupon Roger le Brabason, the constable of the Tower, with the mayor and sheriffs, were assigned to take with them honest and discreet men, and to make diligent search and enquiry how the said river was in old time, and that they leave nothing that may hurt or stop it, but keep it in the same state that it was wont to be.” So far the record. Whereupon it followed that the said river was at that time cleansed, these mills removed, and other things done for the preservation of the course thereof, notwithstanding never brought to the old depth and breadth; whereupon the name of river ceased, and it was since called a brook, namely, Turnmill or Tremill brook, for that divers mills were erected upon it, as appeareth by a fair register-book, containing the foundation of the priory at Clarkenwell, and donation of the lands thereunto belonging, as also divers other records.

This brook hath been divers times since cleansed, namely, and last of all to any effect, in the year 1502, the 17th of Henry VII., the whole course of Fleete dike, then so called, was scowered, I say, down to the Thames, so that boats with fish and fuel were rowed to Fleete bridge, and to Oldborne bridge, as they of old time had been accustomed, which was a great commodity to all the inhabitants in that part of the city.

In the year 1589 was granted a fifteenth, by a common council of the city, for the cleansing of this brook or dike; the money amounting to a thousand marks, was collected, and it was undertaken, that by drawing divers springs about Hampstead heath into one head and course, both the city should be served of fresh water in all places of want; and also, that by such a follower, as men call it, the channel of this brook should be scowered into the river of Thames; but much money being therein spent, the effect failed, so that the brook, by means of continual encroachments upon the banks getting over the water, and casting of soilage into the stream, is now become worse cloyed and choken than ever it was before.

The running water, so called by William the Conqueror in his[15] said charter, which entereth the city, etc. (before there was any ditch) between Bishopsgate and the late made postern called Moorgate, entered the wall, and was truly of the wall called Walbrooke, not of Gualo, as some have far fetched: it ran through the city with divers windings from the north towards the south into the river of Thames, and had over the same divers bridges along the streets and lanes through which it passed. I have read in a book[22] entitled the Customs of London,[23] that the prior of the Holy Trinity within Aldgate ought to make over Walbrooke in the ward of Brod street, against the stone wall of the city, viz., the same bridge that is next the Church of All Saints, at the wall. Also that the prior of the new hospital, St. Mary Spittle without Bishopsgate, ought to make the middle part of one other bridge next to the said bridge towards the north: and that in the twenty-eight year of Edward I. it was by inquisition found before the mayor of London, that the parish of St. Stephen upon Walbrooke ought of right to scour the course of the said brook, and therefore the sheriffs were commanded to distrain the said parishioners so to do, in the year 1300. The keepers of those bridges at that time were William Jordan and John de Bever. This water-course, having divers bridges, was afterwards vaulted over with brick, and paved level with the streets and lanes where through it passed; and since that, also houses have been built thereon, so that the course of Walbrooke is now hidden underground, and thereby hardly known.

Langborne water, so called of the length thereof, was a great stream breaking out of the ground in Fenchurch street, which ran down with a swift course, west, through that street, athwart Gra street, and down Lumbard street, to the west end of St. Mary Wolnothes church, and then turning the course down Shareborne lane, so termed of sharing or dividing, it brake into divers rills or rillets to the river of Thames: of this bourn that ward took the name, and is till this day called Langborne ward. This bourn also is long since stopped up at the head, and the rest of the course filled up and paved over, so that no sign thereof remaineth more than the names aforesaid.

Oldborne, or Hilborne, was the like water, breaking out about the place where now the bars do stand, and it ran down the whole street till Oldborne bridge, and into the river of the Wells, or Turnemill brook. This bourn was likewise long since stopped up at the head, and in other places where the[16] same hath broken out, but yet till this day the said street is there called High Oldborne hill, and both the sides thereof, together with all the grounds adjoining, that lie betwixt it and the river of Thames, remain full of springs, so that water is there found at hand, and hard to be stopped in every house.

There are (saith Fitzstephen) near London, on the north side, special wells in the suburbs, sweet, wholesome, and clear; amongst which Holy well, Clarkes’ well, and Clement’s well, are most famous, and frequented by scholars and youths of the city in summer evenings, when they walk forth to take the air.

The first, to wit, Holy well, is much decayed and marred with filthiness purposely hid there, for the heightening of the ground for garden-plots.

The fountain called St. Clement’s well, north from the parish church of St. Clement’s and near unto an inn of Chancerie called Clement’s Inn, is fair curbed square with hard stone, kept clean for common use, and is always full.

The third is called Clarkes’ well, or Clarkenwell, and is curbed about square with hard stone, not far from the west end of Clarkenwell church, but close without the wall that incloseth it. The said church took the name of the well, and the well took the name of the parish clerks in London, who of old time were accustomed there yearly to assemble, and to play some large history of Holy Scripture.[24] And for example, of later time, to wit, in the year 1390, the 14th of Richard II., I read, the parish clerks of London, on the 18th of July, played interludes at Skinners’ well, near unto Clarkes’ well, which play continued three days together; the king, queen, and nobles being present. Also in the year 1409, the 10th of Henry IV., they played a play at the Skinners’ well, which lasted eight days, and was of matter from the creation of the world. There were to see the same the most part of the nobles and gentles in England, etc.

Other smaller wells were many near unto Clarkes’ well, namely Skinners’ well, so called for that the skinners of London held there certain plays yearly, played of Holy Scripture, etc. In place whereof the wrestlings have of later years been kept, and is in part continued at Bartholomew tide.

Then there was Fagges well, near unto Smithfield by the Charterhouse, now lately damned up, Todwell, Loder’s well,[17] and Radwell, all decayed, and so filled up, that their places are hardly now discerned.

Somewhat north from Holywell is one other well curved square with stone, and is called Dame Annis the clear, and not far from it, but somewhat west, is also one other clear water called Perillous pond, because divers youths, by swimming therein, have been drowned; and thus much be said for fountains and wells.

Horsepoole, in West Smithfield, was some time a great water; and because the inhabitants in that part of the city did there water their horses, the same was in old records called Horsepoole; it is now much decayed, the springs being stopped up, and the land water falling into the small bottom, remaining inclosed with brick, is called Smithfield pond.[25]

By St. Giles’ churchyard was a large water called a Pool. I read in the year 1244 that Anne of Lodburie was drowned therein; this pool is now for the most part stopped up, but the spring is preserved, and was coped about with stone by the executors of Richard Whittington.

The said river of the Wells, the running water of Walbrooke, the bourns aforenamed, and other the fresh waters that were in and about this city, being in process of time, by incroachment for buildings and heightenings of grounds, utterly decayed, and the number of citizens mightily increased, they were forced to seek sweet waters abroad; whereof some, at the request of King Henry III., in the twenty-first year of his reign,[26] were, for the profit of the city, and good of the whole realm, thither repairing, to wit, for the poor to drink, and the rich to dress their meat, granted to the citizens and their successors, by one Gilbert Sanforde, with liberty to convey water from the town of Teyborne by pipes of lead into their city.

The first cistern of lead, castellated with stone in the city of London, was called the great Conduit in West Cheape, which was begun to be built in the year 1285, Henry Wales being then mayor. The water-course from Paddington to James head hath 510 rods; from James head on the hill to the Mewsgate, 102 rods; from the Mewsgate to the Cross in Cheape, 484 rods.

The tun upon Cornhill was cisterned in the year 1401; John Shadworth then being mayor.

Bosses of water at Belinsgate, by Powle’s wharf, and by St. Giles’ church without Cripplegate, made about the year 1423.


Water conveyed to the gaols of Newgate and Ludgate, 1432.

Water was first procured to the Standard in West Cheape about the year 1285, which Standard was again new built by the executors of John Welles, as shall be shown in another place. King Henry VI., in the year 1442, granted to John Hatherley, mayor, license to take up two hundred fodders of lead for the building of conduits, of a common garnery, and of a new cross in West Cheape, for the honour of the city.

The Conduit in West Cheape, by Powle’s gate, was built about the year 1442; one thousand marks were granted by common council for the building thereof, and repairing of the other conduits.

The Conduit in Aldermanbury, and the Standard in Fleet street, were made and finished by the executors of Sir William Eastfield in the year 1471; a cistern was added to the Standard in Fleete street, and a cistern was made at Fleetbridge, and one other without Cripplegate, in the year 1478.

Conduit in Gra street, in the year 1491.

Conduit at Oldbourne cross about 1498; again new made by William Lambe 1577.

Little conduit by the Stockes market, about 1500.

Conduit at Bishopsgate, about 1513.

Conduit at London wall, about 1528.

Conduit at Aldgate without, about 1535.

Conduit in Lothbury, and in Coleman street, 1546.

Conduit of Thames water at Dowgate, 1568.

Thames water, conveyed into men’s houses by pipes of lead from a most artificial forcier standing near unto London bridge, and made by Peter Moris, Dutchman, in the year 1582, for service of the city, on the east part thereof.

Conduits of Thames water, by the parish churches of St. Mary Magdalen, and St. Nicolas Colde Abbey near unto old Fish street, in the year 1583.

One other new forcier was made near to Broken wharfe, to convey Thames water into men’s houses of West Cheape, about Powle’s, Fleete street, etc., by an English gentleman named Bevis Bulmer, in the year 1594. Thus much for waters serving this city; first by rivers, brooks, bourns, fountains, pools, etc.; and since by conduits, partly made by good and charitable citizens, and otherwise by charges of the commonalty, as shall be shown in description of wards wherein they be placed. And now some benefactors to these conduits shall be remembered.

In the year 1236 certain merchant strangers of cities beyond[19] the seas, to wit, Amiens, Corby, and Nele, for privileges which they enjoyed in this city, gave one hundred pounds towards the charges of conveying water from the town of Teyborne. Robert Large, mayor, 1439, gave to the new water conduits then in hand forty marks, and towards the vaulting over of Walbrooke near to the parish church of St. Margaret in Lothbery, two hundred marks.

Sir William Eastfield, mayor, 1438, conveyed water from Teyborne to Fleete street, to Aldermanbury, and from Highbury to Cripplegate.

William Combes, sheriff, 1441, gave to the work of the conduits ten pounds.

Richard Rawson, one of the sheriffs, 1476, gave twenty pounds.

Robert Revell, one of the sheriffs, 1490, gave ten pounds.

John Mathew, mayor, 1490, gave twenty pounds.

William Bucke, tailor, in the year 1494, towards repairing of conduits, gave one hundred marks.

Dame Thomason, widow, late wife to John Percivall Taylor, mayor, in the year 1498 gave toward the conduit in Oldbourne twenty marks.

Richard Shore, one of the sheriffs, 1505, gave to the conduit in Oldbourne ten pounds.

The Lady Ascue, widow of Sir Christopher Ascue, 1543, gave towards the conduits one hundred pounds.

David Wodrooffe, sheriff, 1554, gave towards the conduit at Bishopsgate twenty pounds.

Edward Jackman, one of the sheriffs, 1564, gave towards the conduits one hundred pounds.

Barnard Randulph, common sergeant of the city, 1583, gave to the water conduits nine hundred pounds.[27]

Thus much for the conduits of fresh water to this city.