Posted by: Didapper PJ4 DEC 2013
If you follow the River Thames upstream for half a mile from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s Lambeth headquarters and look back over the parapet of Vauxhall Bridge, you may notice a hole in the river wall from which, when it is not obscured by a high tide, a trickle of water emerges. Above the outlet is a sign identifying this as the River Effra.
This dribble is all that remains of one of London’s “lost” rivers — lost because over the years they have been culverted and obscured by roads and buildings, like Lambeth’s Neckinger (PJ, 22 June 2013, p747). Covered for all but a fraction of its length since the mid-19th century, the Effra rises in Norwood and flows below Brixton and the Oval cricket ground to reach the Thames near the MI6 headquarters.
Centuries ago the Effra was a substantial waterway, at least in its lower reaches. Documentary evidence suggests that it was navigable as far as Kennington, and, in 1664, a proposal to extend its navigability was placed before the House of Lords, which was asked for “an Act to enable Henry Lord Loughborough to make the River and Shore navigable, from or near Bristow Causey [Brixton Causeway], in the County of Surrey, into the River of Thames.”
Other tales about its navigability should probably be taken with a pinch of salt. It is said that, in 1016, King Canute sailed down the Effra in a surprise attack on London Bridge (where the Saxons would have expected any Viking assault to come up, not down, the Thames). And more than 500 years later, Elizabeth I is said to have travelled by barge up the Effra for a tryst with Sir Walter Raleigh at a house he supposedly owned in Brixton.
In 1992 there was much excitement in Brixton when a body calling itself the Effra Redevelopment Agency opened a visitor centre displaying detailed plans for bringing the river back to the surface as a local feature. Sadly, the proposals turned out to be a hoax carried out as part of an art project.