This is a sponsored article on behalf of the Museum of London Docklands.

Secret Rivers promo image

Fleet, Effra, Walbrook, Neckinger… the lost rivers of London still cast a spell on the city, centuries after they were buried. Now, the Secret Rivers exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands lifts the lid (or sewer cover) on these enigmatic waterways.

This free exhibition uses archaeological artefacts, art, photography and film to bring the story of the rivers to life. It also explores why many of them were lost over time, and how some forgotten rivers may yet rise again. Paddle in the River Effra, Fleet, Neckinger, Lea, Wandle, Tyburn, Walbrook and Westbourne…

A medieval toilet seat and a lost dog called Tom

London’s rivers have given up many curious treasures over the years. Few can beat this 12th century toilet seat, uncovered from a lost island in the River Fleet. It’s one of the star exhibits at Secret Rivers.

Three holes, and no sign of partitions. Notions of toilet privacy were clearly very different in medieval times.

It’s wonderful to see such an everyday object from so long ago. Can you imagine your own toilet seat hanging in a museum 900 years from now? Visitors to the exhibition can sit on a recreation of the historic latrine, though you’re kindly asked not to leave a deposit.

Curator Kate Sumnall holds a Bronze Age sword

Other objects on show include a Bronze Age sword recovered from the Thames mud, and axes from medieval Putney. These ceremonial weapons would have been very expensive, but evidence shows that they were placed deliberately in the river, perhaps as a sacred offering.

Another evocative piece is this copper alloy dog collar from the Thames. Its owner, ‘Tom at the Gray Hound, Bucklersbury’ padded around the streets of Georgian London, perhaps sniffing the coat tails of Dr Johnson or chasing the Gordon Rioters. How did the collar end up in the Thames? Was poor Tom still attached?

The dog collar and skulls found in London’s rivers

Elsewhere, we learn how some ‘lost rivers’ are enjoying a new lease of life thanks to community efforts — like the Wandle in south London, which has improved immeasurably in recent years. Other waterways, like the Fleet and Tyburn, once flowed freely through London’s suburbs, but have long since been converted to sewers. Yet even these live on above ground, visible in the contours of the land and the names of our streets.

The fields of Bayswater by the River Westbourne, by Paul Sandby, 1793.

Get discounted tickets for a Liquid Late party

To celebrate the opening of Secret Rivers, the museum will hold an after-hours party on 30 May. Enjoy film screenings and hands-on workshops. See objects scavenged from the Thames, and hear immersive (and submersive) soundscapes. Ben Aaronovitch discusses his highly acclaimed ‘Lost Rivers’ novels, in a ticketed event. And indulge in some riverside oysters washed down with ale (from the Lost Rivers Brewery, naturally).

Jacob's Island, Rotherhithe
Jacob’s Island, Rotherhithe, by James Lawson Stewart, 1887.

Tickets to the Liquid Late are normally £12, but Londonist readers can enjoy a discounted price of £10. To book, follow this link and enter promotion code Londonist10 when prompted at the checkout page.

Secret Rivers is at the Museum of London Docklands from 24 May until 27 October 2019. Entrance to the exhibition is free, while the Liquid Late event requires a ticket.

All images courtesy of the Museum of London.

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