Has Crossrail work revealed a long hidden river?
The long-hidden River Wogebourne, or Wickham Valley Waterway, may have been revealed as Crossrail construct new lines between Abbey Wood and Plumstead.
The river begins in Shooters Hill and snakes its way through Plumstead to Abbey Wood before reaching Thamesmead. Most has been progressively covered over the years and there are now few signs of it running above ground.
Passing by on a train a couple of months back I noticed quite a bit of water in a new ditch being built alongside the line. I assumed it was just run-off from rain, and forgot about it. Recently I read this brilliant article by the e-shootershill blog on the history of the river.
I still didn’t put two and two together until passing through again recently and seeing a lot more water for quite a distance alongside the tracks, as shown in the photo above taken by Bexley-is-bonkers. I suddenly remembered the article and that the river led through to the area around the railway line.
Where the stream appears to end is around an area where some Crossrail work was recently being done under the tracks. I assume it enters a pipe at that point.
The river begins around Shooters Hill near Woodlands farm and the We Anchor in Hope pub. The river passes through Bourne Spring Wood and then heads towards Bostall Woods, before heading roughly parallel to Wickham Lane before heading below ground under Bostall Hill heading down towards what were marshes at Abbey Wood and Thamesmead. The e-shootershill article shows photos of the course in the few sections still above ground at Woodlands Farm and Woodbrook Road. The article states in the sixteenth century:
“W.T. Vincent called it the Plumstead River, and also “An Obsolete River” which had disappeared. He said that it flowed “from the Halfway House, near Crossness Point up the Wickham Lane Valley, a short branch diverging eastward to the point where the abbey of Lessness stood (near Abbey Wood Station), and the other stretching past the eastern foot of Shooters Hill through Well-end (Welling) to Eltham.” He also mentions that it was connected to the “Great Breache”.
It was far from obsolete, though often more of a trickle than a river. It was still visible in parts of Abbey Wood until the ’70s. The two aerial images below show its course, now entirely covered. Google satellite images clearly show what appear a straight line and gaps between houses on Manton Road where it runs.
Greenwich Council commissioned a report in 2011 on strategic flood risks, which can be seen by clicking here. This report refers to it as ‘Butts Canal’ and states that the term ‘Wickham Valley Watercourse’ is used informally, but other sources refer to Butts canal as only applying to its final course once it reaches Thamesmead. The report contains a map showing the water course’s flood extent, which may not match its exact course but shows the general route:
The railway line runs across the map at the far top. The path of water revealed by Crossrail is along there. I assumed any stream currently ran to the north of the railway line as there’s features and manholes running along there like this –
Another map in the report does appear to show that the river ran north of the line, instead of south as the new watercourse revealed by Crossrail work.
The red line clearly shows it north of the railway line, where it runs next to the line towards Abbey Wood station (now being rebuilt and where large storm drains appeared to be installed recently) before heading north towards Thamesmead. Crossrail referred to it as a stormwater drain in planning documents –
“Wickham Valley Watercourse is a piped stormwater drain which crosses under the Crossrail route between Plumstead and Abbey Wood Stations from south to north. It runs parallel to the railway for several hundred metres before turning northwards towards its outfall in a lake, which feeds through one of the Marsh Dykes to Tripcock Pumping Station”
A Crossrail planning document of the area also shows ‘relocated culvert 615’ north of the line.
Crossrail also state:
“It is not classed as a Lost River, although similar in form and history, since it is now the responsibility of the Borough Council and not Thames Water Utilities or the Environment Agency.”
Before extensive drainage works at Thamesmead in the 1960s and ’70s when the lake and canal system was constructed, it would have have presumably ran from Abbey Wood into the marshy ground by the Thames, at the site of the ‘Great Breach’. A Bexley Council report on Southmere lake states:
“This whole area, close to the Thames, used to be swampy ground, known as
Plumstead Marshes. The lake was constructed in the late 1960s at the same time as
the first part of Thamesmead. It was only possible to build housing and roads here
on this swampy ground by doing major drainage works. Now the lake is a crucial part
of the drainage system: it is the head feeder for all the canals in Thamesmead. A
constant flow of water comes into the lake from the south, from a little stream which
rises in Abbey Wood (and travels here underground in a pipe). It leaves by a channel
in the north east corner and flows to the Thames.”
So if this stretch of exposed water is the little known River Wogebourne, or Wickham Valley Waterway, it’s the first time it has been seen in Abbey Wood for many a year. Presumably not for long either, as construction work continues apace along this stretch and this section will be covered over once more.
May 2019 update: It was indeed the River Wogebourne. This page details how the contractor managed to adjust its flow as new rail lines were built. It’s now once again covered and unlikely to ever be seen.