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The history of the Effra River | South London’s lost waterway

Discover the story of one of London’s lost rivers, which has been driven underground.

Belair Park Dulwich Effra River © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

There have been debates about whether or not the water in Belair Park in West Dulwich is from one of  the Effra’s tributaries

For centuries, the River Thames wasn’t the only big expansion of water in the capital, with many rivers and streams flowing in all directions across the capital. Before water was piped around the capital, Londoners relied on their local rivers for washing, fishing… and some other less sanitary activities.

One of these London rivers was the Effra, which is now mostly subterranean. It started life as a tributary of the River Thames, and now runs through south London’s Victorian sewers. There has been much debate of the name ‘Effra’, which is believed to been first associated with the river in the late 18th century/early 19th century. English art critic John Ruskin (1819-1900), who grew up in Herne Hill, suggested the name was “doubtless shortened from Effrena, signifying the unbridled river”. Other suggestions include it originating from the Anglo Saxon word “efer” (translates as “bank”) or from the Celtic term “yfrid” (which means “torrent”). Various 18th century maps label the River as “Brixton Creek”, “The Wash” or “Shore”. Another recent suggestion is Effra is a corrupted word of “Heathrow” – the name of a 70 acre estate located south of Coldharbour Lane in Brixton. In the 1790s, the land belonging to Heathrow Manor was called Effra Farm. It’s been suggested the section running through the Brixton farm was called Effra, before being expanded to include the whole river.

River Effra marker © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

A marker in West Norwood showing the course of the Effra

The course of the Effra River and its tributaries ran thorough the centre of south London (don’t take the postcodes of bordering SE and SW neighbourhoods so literally!), through Upper and West Norwood, Brixton, Herne Hill, Dulwich, Vauxhall, and Kennington. There has been much debate whether or not the lake in Belair Park in West Dulwich was made by damning one of the Effra’s tributaries in the 19th century, if so it would be the only part of the River currently visible above ground. However, the lake is just a few minutes walk from the old Croxted Road (formerly Croxted Lane), where the Effra did run through. When the river was open, it had an average width of 12ft and was around 6ft deep.

Over the centuries, the river and its tributaries were diverted. By the 18th century, the Effra was pretty filthy as rivers were commonly used for waste disposal. In the 1840s, the commissioners of Surrey and East Kent Sewers began the process of culverting the Effra. Civil engineer Sir Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891) incorporated what was left of the open Effra into his revolutionary sewer system in the 1860s. Along the way, huge metal stink pipes were erected to safely expel the gases in the sewer. You can still spot the stink pipes dotted around south London, they look like extra tall lampposts with the light missing. While the river is now subterranean, nods to its existence remain in the local streets. For example Brixton is home to Effra Road, Effra Parade and Brixton Water Lane.

Meanwhile, in more recent times, the course of the Effra has been marked by cast iron plaques dotted throughout Lambeth. Design agency Atelier Works teamed up with local artist Faranak to design 14 different illustrations of flowing water for 30cm plaques in 2016. They can be spotted in pavements on various sites along the river’s 6 mile course. The typescript reads: “The hidden River Effra is beneath your feet.” Some of the plaques sightings include outside the Meath Estate on Dulwich Road (Herne Hill), Rosendale Road just south of the junction with the South Circular (West Dulwich), Robson Road (south side opposite No.5/6, West Norwood), the junction of Rattray Road/Mervan Road (Brixton), among others.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

📚 Further reading:

  • London’s Lost River. Paul Talling, 2011.
  • River Effra: South London’s Secret Spine. Jon Newman, 2016.
  • London’s Hidden Rivers: A walker’s guide to the subterranean waterways of London. David Fathers, 2017.

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Lawyers, lakes and lost villas: The story of Richard Shawe and Casino House of Dulwich

A small piece of Humphry Repton’s landscaping survives in a south London park.

Casino Avenue in Dulwich is named after the former Casina House

The leafy, inner London suburb of Dulwich couldn’t be further from the gaudy, neon lights of Las Vegas. However, after seeing the sign for ‘Casino Avenue’ in the district, you may find yourself wondering about the meaning behind the name. Despite the gambling association most of us have with the word ‘casino’, the avenue is named after a former Georgian villa which used to stand in the area, named Casina. Although the house is long gone, its grounds now survive as a small park, while the man who owned it is buried locally in a listed grave.

Before discovering the history of the house, it’s important to know how its building was funded. Lawyer Richard Shawe (1755-1816) was appointed to defend Warren Hastings (1732-1818) in Britain’s longest political trial. Having served as the Governor-General of Bengal following years in India, Hastings was impeached on charges of corruption upon his return to Britain. In 1795, Hastings was acquitted after the seven year trial. He was left financially ruined, with £7,000 in legal fees going to his lawyer. Obviously, Shawe was left quite the opposite from penniless after the trial. He had already married well, to a Miss Esther Croughton (the first of his three wives), with Hastings’ legal bill giving his coffers a huge boost.

Two years after the verdict, Shawe bought 16 acres of land on Dulwich Hill (now Herne Hill) in what was then Surrey. In 1797, he commissioned prominent Regency architect John Nash (1752-1835) to design a villa. Completed by 1800, it was named Casina (later Casino), and was Palladian in style with an Italianate influence (see a London Metropolitan Archives sketch of the house from 1810). The house featured five bedrooms with  ensuite dressing rooms, drawing room, dining room, library, morning room, four servants rooms, as well as nursery apartments. The Casina estate included a coach house, stables for 8 horses, hot house, gardener’s cottage, and detached offices. The 15 acre grounds were laid out by celebrated landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818), who was in partnership with Nash for several years before their relationship soured in 1800. Repton’s features included an ornamental canal and fish pond. He later went on to design or extend Regent Street, Carlton House Terrace, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus (basically half the Monopoly board!).

Humphry Repton pond Sunray Gardens © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2020

Humphry Repton’s pond survives in Sunray Gardens

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Step inside the Colour Palace as the Dulwich Pavilion returns for 2019

Explore Dulwich Village with Metro Girl’s self-guided history walk

Discover the history and sights of Dulwich Village with this special walk.

Dulwich Village Christ Chapel © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2018
Today, there is only a few ‘villages’ left in London. Back in the Georgian era and beyond, London as a city was significantly smaller and surrounded by many country villages. As London expanded during the Industrial Revolution, many of these districts got swallowed up by the growing capital. However, there are a few areas, such as Dulwich, Wimbledon and Highgate, left today which have retained their village charm.

One such place is Dulwich Village in south London, which dates back to at least the 10th century. I’ve lived nearby most of my life and am really fond of the village. Of course, the property prices are ridiculous and unattainable for most of us, but it’s a lovely place to visit, eat and drink in. The Dulwich Society have retained a tight control over planning so the likes of Tesco superstores and flashy developers haven’t ruined the village’s Georgian feel. Located just five miles from the centre of London, it’s surprisingly close to the capital and easy to get to with regular trains from London Bridge and London Victoria.

If you’ve ever fancied exploring Dulwich Village, why not try out my self-guided history walking tour with The company is a free online platform offering walking tours created by members of the travel community. My walking tour covers less than 2 miles and includes 18 stops. It can take a minimum of 90 minutes to up to 5 hours if you choose to stop at the Crown & Greyhound pub for lunch or dinner and visit an exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.

  • Visit for Metro Girl’s Dulwich Village history walking tour. Starting point: North Dulwich station (15 mins from London Bridge). End point: West Dulwich station (13 mins to London Victoria).

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

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Pavilion Lates 2017 review | After hours fun at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The Dulwich Picture Gallery are hosting late night events every Friday at their Pavilion throughout June and July

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public art gallery in the UK. To mark the occasion, the Gallery hosted a competition to rising architects to design a temporary summer pavilion for the grounds. If_Do won the competition with their airy wood and mesh creation, which will remain outside the Gallery all summer. Throughout June and July, the gallery are hosting late night openings every Friday, featuring special themed events both in and outside the gallery.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The alternative tour of the gallery gives you interesting stories behind some of the art

Earlier this month, I visited the Gallery for their late night opening, entitled ‘Baroque Mash Up’. The DPG is renowned for its collection of French, Spanish and Italian Baroque paintings, so the night took inspiration from this particular genre of art. Entering the gallery grounds, our eyes were immediately drawn to the main attraction – the Pavilion. Within the structure was a pop-up bar from the Camberwell Arms serving cocktails, wine and snacks, so our first priority was to order a drink and soak up the atmosphere. There was plenty of seating both around the Pavilion and the manicured lawns so a lovely space to relax on a warm summer evening. The gallery’s café is also open late serving food if you’re in the mood for something more substantial. While sipping our cocktails, we were entertained by musicians Benjamin Tassie and Liam Byrne playing their original, experimental music, which really complemented the history of the gallery and the social setting. Also in the Pavilion were guests taking part in a cross-stitch workshop, using patterns from some of the Gallery’s works.

During Pavilion Lates, there is free access to the Gallery, which normally costs to enter. We joined one of the hourly tours of the gallery, billed as an ‘alternative tour’. Our guide showed us some popular paintings in the gallery and gave us a list of facts about the subject or the painter – but added an untrue ‘fact’ which we had to guess. As well as injecting a bit of fun into a typically straight-laced activity, it also showcased some surprising facts about artists and the art world I had never heard before. Following the tour, you were free to explore the collection or take part in the collage making workshop.

Overall, it was a lovely, interesting evening – particularly when the weather is good so you can really make the most of the Pavilion and its setting. I’ll definitely be returning to another Pavilion Lates this summer.

  • Pavilion Lates take place every Friday in June and July (except 7 July) 2017 from 6-10pm. In the grounds of Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich Village, SE21 7AD. Nearest station: West Dulwich or North Dulwich. Tickets: Free, but you must register for a ticket on the Dulwich Picture Gallery website.

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Dulwich Festival 2017: Feel like ‘Home’ as the celebration of arts and culture returns

© Helen Jermyn

A celebration of arts and culture returns at the Dulwich Festival this May
© Helen Jermyn

Returning for its 24th year is the Dulwich Festival, a 10 day celebration of arts and culture in the leafy south London suburb. A host of concerts, talks, fairs, walks and more will be taking place across SE21, SE22 and the surrounding areas over 12 – 21 May 2017. The theme of this year’s festival is ‘Home’ and what that means to people.

Kicking off the festival on 12 May will be the Festival Of Choirs featuring performances from three very different choirs – Note-Orious, The Barberfellas and Gospel Essence. Meanwhile, Jazz fans will enjoy the Harlem Meer Cats, bringing the sounds of icon Duke Ellington to Dulwich, while indie-folk quintet Patch And The Giant will be rousing the crowd at Belair House. Classical aficionados are catered for too at a performance of ‘Façade’, William Walton’s setting of Edith Sitwell’s poem sequence.

© Barberfellas

The Barberfellas will be performing during the Festival Of Choirs

Among the talks on offer will be broadcaster and journalist Robin Lustig in conversation with BBC Deputy Political Editor, John Pienaar and new Dulwich Picture Gallery director Jennifer Scott. For those looking to get some exercise and education at the same time, there will be several walks on offer, including history walks and the Street Art Walk; and for nature fans the Bat Walk or Dawn Chorus Walk.

There will be plenty to keep the children entertained, including the charity Clown Without Borders, which encourages homeless child victims of displacement to laugh and play. Meanwhile, acclaimed Tangram Theatre Company will be performing ‘The Element in the Room: A Radioactive Musical Comedy about the Death and Life of Marie Curie’ for children aged 8-10 years.

During the festival there will be three fairs, representing each area of Dulwich – East, West and the Village. The Festival Fair on Goose Green on 14 May, Love West Dulwich Fair on 20 May and Dulwich Park Fair on 21 May.

In addition, over 250 artists will be opening their doors to their homes and studios during the two weekends of the festival. Visitors will have the chance to view their artwork and talk to the artists.

  • The Dulwich Festival is on from 12 – 21 May 2017 at various locations across Dulwich Village, West Dulwich and East Dulwich, SE21 and SE22. Nearest stations: West Dulwich (12 mins from Victoria), East Dulwich and North Dulwich (15-17 mins from London Bridge). For more information and booking, visit the Dulwich Festival website.

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Exploring Dulwich’s street art with the Dulwich Festival

Dulwich Festival 2013: Gallery of Dulwich Park Fair

15 Minutes of Fame – Andy Warhol comes to Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The permanent collection at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Andy Warhol is usually associated with New York City – having spent nearly two-thirds of his life in the Big Apple after being raised in Pittsburgh. His art work is scattered through some of the world’s biggest art galleries and homes of the rich and famous. So to find some of the iconic artist’s works in a leafy London suburb is quite a surprise.

For three months, an exhibition of Andy Warhol Portfolios is on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery in Dulwich Village, South London. Located just 11 minutes train journey from central London, the Gallery is the main attraction which draws outsiders to the historic village, which still has its original 18th and 19th century houses and shops.

Warhol sign © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The exhibition runs until 16 September 2012

Dulwich Picture Gallery is England’s first purpose-built gallery and was designed by Regency architect Sir John Soane. It contains mostly European old masters from the 17th and 18th century as well as an ever-changing exhibition rooms.

Andy Warhol: The Portfolios is on show from now until 16 September 2012. The exhibition includes some of Warhol’s most iconic prints – including the Campbell Soup cans and one of the Marilyn Monroe silkscreens in salmon – and lesser known creations from the latter years of his life. While many of his celebrity-orientated images focus on just the face and the identical print in different colours, Warhol’s 1978 prints of boxer Muhammad Ali feature different angles of his face and his powerful fists.

While many associate Warhol with his prints of celebrities, the exhibition features some of his still lifes. I particularly liked the shaded colours of his Grapes (1979), which saw Warhol using diamond dust in his prints for the first time. His Vesuvius (1985) prints were striking – the different coloured prints depicting very different depictions to Southern Italy’s famous volcano.

Spring Autumn © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Philip Haas’ Four Seasons sculptures of Autumn (left) and Spring (right)

Winter © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

No wonder he’s miserable… he is Winter after all!

One of my favourite bits of the collection was Myths (1981) in the fourth and final room of the exhibition. Between Myths and Endangered Species, they were two of the most popular series produced by the artist. He used a combination of stock images, his own photographs and also got actress Margaret Hamilton to reprise her costume as the Wicked Witch of The West in Wizard Of Oz.

Aside from Warhol’s exhibition, there is also the permanent collection, a great cafe and gift shop and an outdoor exhibition of Philip Haas’ Four Seasons sculpture. Or perhaps meander into Dulwich Village or Park across the road.

Haas’ amazing Four Seasons collection depicts Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter in 15ft high sculptures in the garden, which is free entry unlike the Warhol exhibition. The American artist was inspired by Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Renaissance paintings of the four seasons. While Winter looked understandably miserable – who likes the cold – the Spring was full of hope and joy for warm weather.

  • Andy Warhol : The Portfolios runs from 20 June until 16 September 2012 at Dulwich Picture Gallery, Gallery Road, Dulwich, London SE21 7AD. Nearest rail: West Dulwich (from Victoria) or North Dulwich (from London Bridge).

Due to copyright issues, I am unable to post images of the Warhol exhibition, but the YouTube video below will give you a sneak peek at what to expect.

Spring © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Full of the joys of… Spring

A walk in olde Dulwich | History walk for the Dulwich Festival 2012

Review: Exploring the story of Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The 18th century Dulwich Village… in the 21st century

Anyone who has happened to pass through Dulwich Village in south London will know by the Georgian buildings that it’s pretty old. However, with the annual Dulwich Festival on at the moment, visitors and locals alike were given the chance to find out exactly how old the village really was, how Edward Alleyn transformed Dulwich into what we know today, and the origins of the popular Crown & Greyhound pub.

Dulwich Festival history walk © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Ancient Dulwich tour in the grounds of the Picture Gallery

On Sunday 13 May 2012, local historian Brian Green hosted the ‘Ancient Dulwich Walk’ – starting from the C&G, aka ‘The Dog’ to the locals – at part of this year’s Festival. I have to admit I was stunned by how popular it was – there was an overwhelmingly large group – but fortunately Brian was prepared with a portable loudspeaker.The talk started off with an introduction to the origins of Dulwich, which dates back to the 10th century when the area was referred to as ‘Dilwihs’ – meaning a meadow where the dill grew. While a lot of inner London suburbs only sprung up during the advent of the railway lines during Victorian times, Dulwich has long been a hub for the surrounding areas for centuries.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Dulwich Old Burial Ground

Aside from the obvious landmarks in the village, Brian was able to point out which current houses were various shops during the Victorian times and how to tell the difference between early and late Georgian architecture, of which there are two impressive examples at the end of the High Street next to the Old Burial Ground.

One of the main attractions of the tour was getting the rare chance to go inside the Old Burial Ground, which was in use from 1616 until 1858. The small cemetery has a Grade II-listed gate and is generally off-limits and locked. Once inside, we were given a talk about the various locals laid to rest, including the lawyer Richard Shawe (1755-1816), who represented Governor General of India, Warren Hastings (1732-1818) during the longest trial in British legal history. Shawe used some of his legal earnings to build Casino House on nearby Dulwich Hill, with the house’s name living on today in Casino Avenue.

Moving on, we were given the history of the two separate pubs The Crown and The Greyhound, which were demolished in late 19th century to make way for the current ‘Dog’. It was funny to hear that the 19th century residents of Dulwich have similar issues with traffic, noise pollution from nearby pubs, etc, that we have today, and how they dealt with them. No ASBOs in those days obviously…

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Wood carving in Christ’s Chapel

Of course, no tour to Dulwich would be complete without a stop by the Dulwich Picture Gallery – recently the focus of the media after a certain Duchess of Cambridge’s visit with her in-laws Prince Charles and Camilla. The interesting back story as to how the gallery came about, regarding a rather complicated friendship between a married couple and another man, was very entertaining.

The tour ended at the stunning Christ’s Chapel, located in between the Dulwich Almshouses – another addition to Dulwich by Alleyn. Although it looks small from the outside, I was surprised by how large it was inside, with lots of seating for a large congregation. The chapel is full of stunning wood carvings, from everything from angels, to dragons, dogs and cattle. It is open on Sundays for worship so well worth checking out… while ‘checking in’ with the man’s upstairs of course!

Overall, Brian Green was an informative and funny host who kept everyone entertained and focused during the two-hour tour. If this is repeated at next year’s festival, I would highly recommend it.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

The carved seats of the Christ’s Chapel are a big attraction


© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2012

Gates leading out of the grounds from Dulwich almshouses and Christ’s Chapel

For a self-guided history tour of Dulwich, click here.

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