Public Responses

I loved the walk, Amy – it made a real layering of the city for me – gaps to slip into and view different perspectives both in time and space – a real visionary sense of where we journeyed through and a shift of viewpoints that will stay with me not only with intently studying names for clues of heritage but another awareness of parallel existences. – Anne Bean

Some of our drivers were in Islington on the 10th July and saw Amy Sharrocks’ work. They were really taken aback. They’d not seen anything like it before so I read up on the event in the Independent. I wanted to let you know how impressed our drivers were. I’m not putting the fellas down when I say that modern art is not normally the focus of their conversation. Thought I’d let you know I’ve written a blog article about the piece on our website. I hope you don’t mind but we try to keep it updated with what different drivers are doing around London. If you’re interested the blog article is Man and Van Islington art work. – Man and Van Islington

Oh my god I had the most unquenchable thirst! I literally drank about 4 litres of water and wasn’t satisfied. My body was crying out for lost water! It was a spectacular evening, which seems more floatily dreamlike and surreal and I think back on it now. Thanks so much. Truly memorable, and what a lovely bunch of people. – Laura McDermott

Thank you for organizing amazing walk yesterday. It was one of the most memorable experiences I had in London. I still can’t imagine we walked through London by following the underground river. It was very inspirational walk and I enjoyed talking with other walkers as well. I also remember some of the street, especially around Farringdon-City area, shapes exactly like wandering river. So some of the road must be built exactly on top of the old river right? I don’t know how accurately you can draw the river map, but it would be interesting if we can see the overlap btw past and present. Thank you again for the great evening and good luck with your work. – Take Iseki

Thank you so much for a thrilling and unusual experience. – Agnieszka Gratza

I wanted to thank you for the Walbrook experience as I wasn’t able to chat to you afterwards . Time passed, I couldn’t work out how to write to you, and it seemed an opportunity missed. Then I had this strange dream last night. You were standing in an urban market with an African feel to it (although I think it was in London), very bright light and ochre earth. Your were making amazing things out of cloth for individual people. The strongest image I have is of you holding up a brightly coloured long frock and cutting it to fit a random passer by (who was thrilled); this process changed both the dress (it lost that representational element and became ‘cloth’) and the person. It was like alchemy; the ‘dress’ in being reshaped transformed the wearer. It was a very positive moment. Strange and maybe a metaphor for how I felt about Walbrook. It was magic in a way. I loved the experience especially the silent half but more than anything I was struck by your extraordinary courage and generosity. You give life to an idea, nurture it, and then hand it over to a random group in a collaborative gesture that is life-enhancing in its trust. You let us flow like the river without any exhortations and (there’s the alchemy again) that random bunch become something else,something better. The sum of the whole was more important that the parts, a rare thing in today’s egocentric world especially that of the City we passed through. Thank you for the experience and good luck with future projects. – Clarissa Palmer

Thank you for the walk yesterday: it was most interesting and enjoyable. I didn’t know what to expect nor what I made of it afterwards, so consequently the experience is still very much with me, meandering river-like around my head. I’m glad that the walk resists categorization: neither a historical tour nor a curated piece of art to look at. You made it a very human occasion by welcoming us all so warmly which in turn encouraged us to talk to others and share the experience, enriching it. And it becomes something special by the act of people giving up a Friday afternoon, perhaps having to arrange time off work, to participate and agree to be tied together. Using the Walbrook as a premise leaves me wanting to know more about the River itself but also to connect, by re-tracing a well-worn path, to the earth, my city, and the past where humans have been for hundreds of years just getting on with life. I know searching for ‘facts’ can be an attempt to fill the void of not-knowing, but snippets of information also offer up new possibilities and trigger one’s interest in new paths to follow. I often wander around places, in London especially, not really knowing what I’m looking for, sometimes able to appreciate the moment just as it is but more often vaguely hoping to get closer to some kind of ‘meaning’ to life: not a literal ‘meaning’ but something less tangible, some sort of fulfilment or connection or wholeness or perhaps a sense of just not wasting life. Meandering with others is quite different from wandering alone and even though we followed a set path, unexpected links and limitations talking to others were created by the varying pace and pulls of the blue elastic – several times I found myself ‘towed along’ by the tide of elastically-joined people!
I misunderstood about the River Walbrook, thinking it had dried up but I understand now that it is still there, deep underground. This must be what the dowsers picked up, although, if I’ve understood it correctly, they can pick up even dried-up paths.
Out of curiosity I had a quick nose around the web, but there’s not a lot of information there about the Walbrook. It would seem that the name ‘Walbrook’ derives simply from a brook or stream that ran underneath the City of London wall. The Romans built a series of baths on it, and in medieval times skinners (the Skinners are one of the ‘great twelve’ ancient livery companies or trade associations of the City) used to wash animal furs in it. Walbrook Stair, where we finished the walk, was a river taxi rank where people could get a ferry across to Bankside for entertainment venues not allowed within the City: theatres, brothels and bear-baiting dens. Apparently the River can’t have been too far underground for the last few hundred years as its presence caused problems for the rebuilding of St Stephen Walbrook after the Great Fire in the 1670s and it made a brief re-appearance in the 1800s when the foundations of the Bank of England were being built. Another source mentions the huge number of humans bones that have been found along the River’s path over the years, dating from the late Iron Age, making them a particular feature of the area. So no wonder we saw so many bones on the bank of the Thames at the River’s mouth!
By the way, you might be interested in a poem about London’s underground rivers called Rising Damp by the late-lamented UA Fanthorpe. Forgive me if you already know it. It was partly the memory of it triggered by the name ‘Walbrook’ that made me interested enough to follow up the mention of your project and come on the walk. – Madeleine Ladell

by U. A. Fanthorpe

‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’
(J.G. Head: paper read to the Auctioneers’ Institute in 1907)

At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.

There are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.

They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.

They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They inflitrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.

Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
Will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.

Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet

It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface. We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below

Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.

From Standing To (Peterloo Poets, 1982) and in her Collected Poems (Peterloo, 2005)