Above: Looking west at low tide towards the Thames along the short remaining section of Battersea Creek. Buildings in the distance are on the Fulham side of the Thames.
Although the River Thames is the main river flowing through London, much of it has been embanked which means that it not as wide as it once was when it flowed through open countryside hundreds of years ago. Without making this article too much of a geography lesson, it should be remembered that the Thames – like all great rivers around the world – derives its water from its source but also from the tributaries that feed into it, draining water from the land at many points along the river’s course. Even today, with all the concrete embanking that the Thames has suffered, nature cannot be totally restricted and small streams feed into the Thames are many points inside and outside the London boundary.
One tributary of the Thames at Battersea is the Falcon Brook, which is responsible for a street name like ‘Falcon Road’ and also for the pub name of ‘The Falcon’ which stands near Clapham Junction Station. The name of the stream derives from St John family, who were local landowners. Their coat of arms depicted a rising falcon.
The Falcon Brook has two parts, both flowing across the area of Streatham before combining into one stream at Battersea and eventually flowing into the Thames some distance south of Battersea Railway Bridge. The mouth of the stream is called Battersea Creek. Because water draining from the land has to be allowed to flow into the Thames, a small part of that creek is still to be seen today.
Above: Map of 1895 showing Battersea Creek. It has been considerably shortened since the days of the map. York Road runs with tram lines in the middle of the road immediately west of the creek.
Much of Battersea Creek was open until the 20th Century when all but the short riverside section was filled in. Battersea Creek was used as a dock for the Price’s Candle Factory built in the early 19th Century in York Road. Price’s were once the largest makers of candles in the world and still supply candles for many Royal State occasions – although their factories were moved to new sites outside London in the late 1990s. The candle factory replaced a late medieval moated house which was built by the Bishop of Durham in 1474 and was later given to the Archbishop of York.
Like many other parts of London, the Battersea riverside has been gentrified with imposing blocks of expensive apartments for the rich. Little remains to reflect the early history of the area or of its more recent industrial past. It is, therefore, this little fragment of the old creek that ‘marks the spot’ for the site of Battersea Creek. It reminds us of the days when this area was flat land, crossed by footpaths which needed small bridges to walk over tiny streams flowing across the land.