GES163 - London Bridge Sewer
After polishing off most of the mainline Fleet, The Walbrook was banded around as the next one to check out. The Walbrook is one of the oldest rivers in London, and originally supplied water to the Roman city of Londininum (modern day City of London). After talking to London draining legend GE053 at a recent party, he was reticent to say that the Walbrook ran in the London Bridge Sewer (LBS). Going so far to suggest it ran nearby separate to the LBS, as the course didn't match. Either way, the drain on today's agenda was the LBS, Western side. In order to appease the drain0r community, I should mention that this drain is known as Stoop's Limit and Last Bastion. The LBS system is credited as being laid out in 1840, before being merged into Bazelgette's Main Drainage 20 years later. The Eastern section of the 2 branches explored here, is the Shoreditch Sewer (Mainline). This is somewhat ambiguous, as Shoreditch means 'Sewer ditch.'
It's quite a vast system, with numerous branches that connect and merge with each other, and some that are completely separate, except for small local sewers linking them. Most feed into the 3 interceptors that pass Eastbound through The City to Beckton treatment plants..
The area explored here, is the larger of the tunnels that make up the system,as seen in the dotted area of the above map. Locations are marked with parenthesis in text below.
After not pulling off a decent draining session for awhile due to cancellations, I heard on the grapevine that GE075 had recently turned her hand into draining. Although only Storm Drains, the drains those not liking the poop tend to stick too. So I think it was something of a surprise to do a CSO drain. So much so that they neglected to bring gloves and had to borrow my spare set. And let's just say that GE075 does not have quite the same glove size as me, by a long way!
The only quiet lid i'd found for the system was a utility lid, which meant that I couldn't close it properly behind me. There is nothing to pull or tie the lid down either. So stupidly/irresponsibly, I left it with a 10cms gap, and plodded off down the drain. It started as a square concrete utility style tunnel, but then after a turn, became a proper sewer. GE075 was quickly in the flow and ready to head off. It looked a little low, so I asked if it was walkable. "It's fine" the response. However, as the tale about the gloves might hint at, GE075 is not 6ft+ tall, or even 5'6" tall. So when I got into the tunnel (1), it was very much a crouch affair, the tunnel being about 4ft high max. It was probably around a 50m section, and I had to swing the bag around to my front. and shuffle down. GE075 racing ahead. I was glad they did, as they got into the slightly larger tunnel below. Here we entered into an area with 3 tunnels exiting into one tunnel. There was also a side exit here that worked. Little did I know it would be the last exit point we'd see.
The next section of pipe was shorter, around 30m, and exited on the left in the picture below. into this much larger tunnel(2).
The most impressive bit of this part of the tunnel, was the huge brick dome roof above us. A chapel to Mr.J.Bizzle perhaps?! I was intrigued by a feature that had caught my torch light up the main tunnel, straight ahead in this pic below.
Here a tall thin tunnel merged with a more squat oval tunnel (3), and entered the main chamber. When I came back through here a few months later, a lot of work had taken place, with sensors all along the roof of the tunnel on the right. It's thought they were sensors for crossrail work.
Moving downstream from where we entered the tunnel, we pressed on. While GE075 was checking out a side exit, I took a shot of the main tunnel. The side exits here were more elaborate than I'd seen before. Because we were quite far down, around 10-15m, there were ladders up to smaller tunnels and a few metres up those tunnels were exits. Although as we were to find on several occasions, they led to split lids, which are only used in a proper emergency.
The tunnel was clearly sectioned, into smaller sections. And each one had either one or two small tunnels entering this main tunnel at around 6-8ft up. The ceiling usually rose to the surface and a split lid.You can see one here where the tunnel the camera is in, ends, and there's a 2m gap before the arched brickwork and lower tunnel begins. The water level dropped here, and went up to my knee. On GE075 it went up to their lower thigh. However, props to them for continuing where others might have turned back. GE075 only having flimsy thigh waders.
Again we came to another change in the tunnel structure, this time an RCP (Round Concrete Pipe) was fitted in, replacing the previous sewer structure. A side tunnel on the left again proved fruitless as a way out.
A look up the dark bricked side tunnel, replete with cobwebs. If memory serves correctly, the interceptor (4) was to be found in the RCP seen above. I have seen a fair few interceptors, and this was by far the worst. It had a layer of nasty poop porridge floating on top. It took the flow off to one side, and luckily I was holding onto a support rail above it, as i put my foot down the floor disappeared. It was just a low shelf for the interceptor, so I wouldn't have disappeared into oblivion.
On climbing over a filth covered weir, I stepped down into a fairly dry fully round tunnel below. Dotted with random bits of toiletry, poop and rats. I was rather impressed with GE075's non-squeamishness, either that or she hid it well! The red brick wall at the end, is the wall on the extreme right of the next picture.
This was the junction between the two branches(7). Looking back up the tunnel we'd emerged from on the left, we found ourselves in an oval tunnel again. The LBS is a complete hotchpotch of different size and shaped tunnels, as they were mostly built privately, and joined up in the Bazalgette era. An elaborate set of ladders and platforms went up to the surface just around the corner in the tunnel on the right. We didn't go any further on this trip, as we were both tired, and I was getting pretty badly dehydrated. Behind the camera the tunnel continues most likely down to the outfall at the Thames.
Not having found a place to exit, we now had the unenviable task of going all the way back to where we started. This involved going against the flow in the deep section preceding the interceptor. Not fun, and I was pretty damn exhausted when I got out. Being slightly responsible, I went back in urban camo to close properly the utility lid we'd entered by. However as we were walking up to it, a flat bed council lorry was parked up with flashing orange lights on the cab roof. As the guy walked up to the lid, he clocked us looking at the lid, quickly put two and two together and shouted "Oiiiiiii." We quickly legged it, and GE075 an I chose different escape paths around the corner.
I went back to where we'd changed into our urban camo, and tried to quickly get off my chest waders, not an easy job. As I was taking them off two cops slowly walked past. They briefly questioned me about what I was up to, and satisfied with my story, left. As I packed up all my gear, I wanted to get back quickly to my bike, but as I was about to go down to the street I saw the flashing lights of the lorry, still parked up. I then walked back to find another way out. Just as I was approaching the spot where I'd changed and spoken to the two cops. The two cops re-appeared and came towards me. They asked if I'd been with a shorter woman tonight. I denied it and repeated the story I'd given them. They then said that a man fitting my description was seen running away after interfering with a drain cover. I denied it, even though the descriptions the council worker gave were pretty exact. One of the cops then pulled out some blue gloves and began to search my bags, and then my pockets.
This is where things got a bit weird, as I had taken some parsnips into the drain to get some pics for a joke on Facebook. I also couldn't find my screwdriver, so had taken a knife to aid access into the drains. Luckily the cutlery knife and parsnips were in the same pocket. "You eat raw parsnips?" "erm, yes officer!" After they'd finished searching me one of them stood making small talk. Telling me about the Occupy movement who were occupying buildings in the area. He pointed to St. Alphages, a tall tower block nearby, "They've occupied that one as well, full of asbestos." I thought to myself "I know, I've climbed up to the roof!" They were obviously waiting to hear if there'd been a sighting of a short woman. WIth no sign after a quarter of an hour or so, on top of the time spent searching me. The constable said he was happy to let me on my way into the radio. And I walked off with a smug smile when out of sight. Still panicking, I quickly went to my bike, and got the hell out of there.
Thanks to GE075 for being amazing.
This wasn't a proper visit to the drain, but merely passing through. As a couple of other drainors and I went through various drain networks. We entered below point 2 on the map above, and continued past point 3 North and to the East, to meet the North East Storm Relief. I didn't have a camera on this trip, but the tunnels got smaller and smaller until the cavern of the NE Storm Relef!
Some time later, two years later as it happens. I finally got around to getting back here with GE035.
I knew that there was a utility lid entrance to the junction with another branch of the LBS, the point where the two branches merged down to the outfall. However It appeared to be elusive finding it on the surface. I really didn't fancy walking all the way down from the original lid we'd used, so opted to try a lid not far from the junction, but very public and near the Bank of England. It turned out to be a lid into the LBS branch we wanted. However it involved practically crawling down a 60cm croucher for 12m or so, but felt like 120m! Standing up, I turned and found another croucher tunnel, not much larger than the previous one, but shorter. It emerged on some steps, and they led into the main pipe. Can't think how I missed this lid on the first trip! It's almost as if the sewer builders wanted to hide the exits.
We passed the interceptor which was low flowing, and no porridge. Over the weir, and into a dry section. Then across a shallow grey goo filled pit, that was about 5m long, with a grey marshmallow like pattern on the top. It was then to the junction. Up until this point, I wasn't sure I was in the right tunnel. However on reaching the junction, I was sure. This is looking down from the other branch to the junction, and then down to the Thames. The size of the oval matches that expected when two large tunnels meet.
It was no more than 5 minutes, and we were at the outfall(8). Although pushing the lower flap at the end, it was very possible there was another end chamber before the actual outfall. Similar to the Ranelagh sewer, that has an interceptor, outfall flap, and then another chamber before the Thames outfall. I searched around a number of side passages, including one down some steps that was pretty nasty and left me breathless. Access beyond the outfall, I did not find. Or much else of interest, other than a mobile phone from the 00s.
The water flows under the grill, and swirls away into the Low Level Interceptor.
With little else to do, it was back up the drain to the junction. The ladder on the right leads up to a lid that wouldn't budge. It looked like an old L.C.C lid. Just beside the ladder is a side tunnel, similar in size to the one further up on the left. I headed off up here looking for some interesting way into another pipe, an easy exit or the outfall chamber.
Back at the junction, we headed up the eastern branch. It wasn't long before we encountered two smaller tunnels merging (6). These two branches flow down either side of Bishopsgate, basically. I opted for the larger passage. My back and thighs killing me at this point.
A minute or so later, and we were faced with a set of stairs (5). I gingerly climbed up the slipper sods.
At the top, a smaller tunnel led off northbound. I wasn't interested in pursuing it.
Turning around, the unusual high roofed ceiling over the stairs. The London Bridge Sewer holds many features not seen in other drains. One of the reason I, and other well travelled drainors appreciate it.
All done, I headed off back to the junction to add to the flow, while waiting for GE035 to finish up. I was feeling pretty badly dehydrated, as it was a hot day in London town. We headed back to the lid we'd entered in. The smaller croucher seemed even longer going back. Finally I was below the lid, listening out for footsteps above, and popped the manhole. All was good, and GE035 and I slipped off into the night.
Thanks to GE035 for company.