Poole River at Lower Sydenham

Above: The Poole River, sparkling in the sunshine, flowing beside newly laid out bank, with wild plants establishing themselves.

We always talk about the River Thames as ‘London’s River’ – mainly because it flows through the centre of the capital. What many people fail to realise is that the large conurbation that we call London is actually the land from which the Thames derives a large amount of its water. That water drains off the land via smaller streams which are tributaries of the Thames. Over the centuries many of those streams have been culverted and now flow underground through sewers.

One of the tributaries of the Thames – flowing through parts of SE London is the River Ravensbourne. Nearly the entire length of the river flows at ground level and can easily be seen on a map or, better still, by walking beside it. The Ravensbourne meets the Thames at Deptford Creek whose mouth is just west of the ‘Cutty Sark’ at Greenwich. As is often the case, tributaries of the Thames also have their own even small tributaries. One of the streams flowing into the Ravensbourne is the River Quaggy – an incredibly long tiny stream that meets the Ravensbourne near Lewisham Station. Further south is another tiny stream called the Poole River which meets the Ravensbourne just south of Catford and Catford Bridge stations. The Poole derives its source from even smaller streams and rivulets in the West Wickham and Beckenham areas (in the London Borough of Bromley). One stream that feeds into the Poole River is The Beck which is why Beckenham is so-called.

Above: A heron wading in the cold stream on an autumn morning.

The Poole River flows via Penge and Lower Sydenham. It crosses Southend Lane under a bridge near the large Sainbury’s supermarket. That site had been covered by a very large gas works until the 1980s. When a new commercial estate was laid out, including Sainsbury’s, the course of the Poole River was cleaned up and new reed-beds were planted to encourage wild life. The project, which also included a new linear park extending from Southend Lane all the way to Catford, was very successful. Kingfishers are often to be seen on the banks of the stream and herons can be seen wading in the water.

East of the old gas works site, much of the land through which the Poole flowed had been used as a dumping ground for waste materials. It was cleaned up in the 1980s and became a place of recreation as well as a useful footpath linking Lower Sydenham with Catford and Bellingham. Many local people can now enjoy the pleasant rural environment – free from the noise of busy traffic and the associated air pollution – on land that nobody would have ever walked across a few decades ago.


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