The Fleet

The Fleet
   A river on the western side of London which entered the City in Farringdon Ward Without to the south of Chick Lane, and flowed thence south into the Thames.
   Stow identifies it with the River of Wells, as he calls the stream mentioned in a Charter of William I. to St. Martin's le Grand. But this stream must have entered the City half a mile further east than the Fleet, and is more probably to be identified with the Walbrook (q.v.).
   In its lower course from Ludgate to the Thames the Fleet formed the western boundary of the City, adjoining the wall at Blackfriars.
   The river seems to have taken rise from the numerous springs in Hampstead and to have taken a south-easterly course through Hockley in the Hole to Saffron Hill and Holborn. In early times it was, in its lower course, a stream of considerable size and importance, and was navigable at least as far north as Holborn Bridge. The low-lying land to the west coming down to the Thames was frequently flooded by the overflow of the river passing through it. In later times its stream became slower and more sluggish, and its course was narrowed and choked by filth and encroachments, so that Orders had to be made from time to time for its cleansing and preservation, as in 1652 (Br. Museum MS. "Sewers," 669 f. 16/88).
   It is shown as a Canal in O. and M. 1677, as after the Fire considerable sums were expended in cleansing and deepening it, so that it might be navigable again to Holborn Bridge, and it was called the New Canal. Sir C. Wren supervised the work (L. and P. Chas. II. 1673-5, pp. 35 and 433). It was commenced 1668 and completed 1673, 2100 feet in length to Holborn Bridge. 40 ft. broad. Wharfs on both sides, 35 ft. broad. Cost £27,777 (Strype, ed. 1720, I. iii. 279-80). Four bridges over it, at Bridewell, Fleet Street, Fleet Lane, and Holborn. Roman coins, etc., found in the river bed.
   This improvement, however, was not of long duration and the canal soon became impeded and unnavigable, so that in 1764 it was finally arched over, although portions of it remained open for some considerable period, and the course can be clearly traced in Rocque's map 1746.
   It is now converted into a sewer and completely enclosed throughout its entire course, Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street having been erected over the site.
   First mention: Land described "ultra Fletam" in description of property belonging to the D. and C. of St. Paul's in 1125-30 (MS. Liber. L. ff. 47-50).
   Other names and forms : "The Fleet," 1227 (Cal. Ch. Rolls, H. III. I. p. 4). "Flete," 1265 (Anc. Deeds, A. 7829). "The Flete ditch," 6 Ed. I. (Ch. I. p.m. 93).
   Commission held 1 Ed. II. to survey the Fleet river, with a view to cleansing it (Cal. P.R. Ed. II. 1307-13, p. 38).
   In 1355 inquiry was made as to the state of the ditch surrounding Flete prison and the filth therein, 29 Ed. III.
   The Jurors said the ditch ought to be 10 ft. broad and have sufficient water to float a vessel freighted with a tun of wine, and it was found that the course of water was so obstructed that it no longer surrounded the prison as formerly (Cal. L. Bk. G. p. 49).
   "Fleet Ditch" (Strype, ed. 1720, I. iii. 221 Leake, 1666). "New Canal" (O. and M. 1677). "Tremel Brook," 1652 (Br. Mus. MS. "Sewers" 669 f. 16/88). "Turnmill Brook," 1642-3 (Vertue's Plan of London as fortified by order of Parl.). The last two names were used to designate the northern portion of the river only, above Holborn Bridge.
   Another early name for this river in its northern course seems to have been the "Holbourne," although Stow mentions them as separate streams, the Holbourne flowing down Holborn Hill, and joining the Fleet at Holborn Bridge.
   This course, however, would seem to be difficult to reconcile with the references to the "Holeburne" which occur in descriptions of the property of the nuns at Clerkenwell in their Register book, Cott. MS. Faust. B., and it is more probable that the stream ran through Clerkenwell and was identical with the Fleet in its northern portion to Holbourn Bridge.
   There does not seem to be any record of the term "Fleet" being applied to this northern portion, but only to the navigable portion below Holborn Bridge.
   A street at South End, Hampstead, has recently been named Fleet Road, on the assumption that the name was applicable to the whole brook from its source downwards, but there does not appear to be any authority for this.
   Stow has erroneously assumed that the Fleet River or Ditch took its name from the Prison on its bank. The reverse was the case. The name Fleet is from the A.S. "Fleot" which is defined by Bosworth and Toller as "a place where vessels float," "an estuary," also "a river or stream." Many place names have "fleet" as a termination, apparently in the restricted sense of "creek" or "estuary," and Skeat says the name was applied to any shallow creek, or stream, or channel of water.

A Dictionary of London. . 1918.

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