If you want to go on a unique London adventure, David Fathers is your man. Since he is the author and illustrator of three fantastic guides to London’s waterways, we certainly had fun filming a short piece about the unique and inspiring way in which he works.
Part of Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s great Victorian sewerage network, and almost entirely covered over, the River Fleet runs from Hampstead Heath to the Thames where its outfall lies beneath Blackfriars Bridge. David has visited the underground sewer a few times as part of his research and so we couldn’t pass up the chance to go with him again as part of the filming.
Having mentally prepared ourselves for a full whack of sewer stench we were amazed to discover that there was no smell at all. Instead the air was just damp and musty and it was awesome to see that there was even some evidence of underground life; huge rat paws left trails of prints through the sludge. On the low brick ceilings tiny spider webs glinted in the light of our head torches. I’ll never look at a spider in the shower the same way again! We were however shocked to discover that where the Fleet Sewer meets the Thames, raw sewage overflows into the Thames up to 21 times a year. Thankfully the new Thames Tideway Tunnel aims to prevent this from happening by diverting millions of tonnes of sewage overflow from the river and into a tunnel which will lead to a sewage treatment works. Once the project is complete the Thames should have 90% less sewage entering it each year.
Above ground David took us to a beautiful spot in Little Venice where he sat and sketched scenes for inspiration as paddle boarders and boats full of people picnicking in the summer sun drifted past. It was easy to forget that we were in central London and clear to see where David’s passion for creating his illustrated walking guides comes from.
Watch our film below to discover more about David and his beautiful work.
P.S Thanks to Tideway for allowing us to tag along with David on a fantastic and very educational trip down the Fleet Sewer.