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Hidden secrets of London's rivers exposed by Museum of London Docklands

PUBLISHED: 17:18 22 May 2019 | UPDATED: 17:31 22 May 2019

Old River Lea where it's joined by Pudding Mill River. Picture: Mike Seaborne/Museum of London.

Old River Lea where it's joined by Pudding Mill River. Picture: Mike Seaborne/Museum of London.

© Museum of London

The secrets of London's rivers are being uncovered with archaeology from the tributaries including those now buried beneath our feet.

Limmo Peninsula on the Lea between Poplar and Canning Town where excavations for Crossrail began in 2009. Picture: Richard Stroud/Museum of LondonLimmo Peninsula on the Lea between Poplar and Canning Town where excavations for Crossrail began in 2009. Picture: Richard Stroud/Museum of London

A public exhibition opening Friday at the Museum of London Docklands shows how London has been shaped by the Thames and its tributaries.

It explores how rivers like the Lea have been exploited for transport and industry which have also influenced artists and writers.

The Lea is by far the largest tributary of the Thames, winding its way from Hertfordshire down to Hackney Wick, passing Bow and Poplar on its west bank and the Olympic Park, Stratford and Canning Town on its east bank.

It has a long industrial heritage down to Bow Creek where it joins the Thames, with a pivotal role in 18th century canal development when the Hertford Cut was opened from Bow Bridge to the Limehouse Basin.

Swords found in the Thames feature in 'Secret Rivers' exhibition at Museum of London Docklands, including a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age weapon. Picture: John Chase/Museum of London DocklandsSwords found in the Thames feature in 'Secret Rivers' exhibition at Museum of London Docklands, including a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age weapon. Picture: John Chase/Museum of London Docklands

This cut a day off the journey for barges bringing wheat from Hertfordshire to the City no longer having to take the long way round the Isle of Dogs when they reached the Thames.

The Lea is now undergoing regeneration with riverbank walks being opened up.

Another tributary perhaps even more famous than the Lea is the Fleet now lost beneath the streets which flows from Hampstead Heath through Clerkenwell and the City that used to flow into the Thames at Blackfriars.

It is now covered by urban expansion down the centuries, but its long history is told through archaeological artefacts including a medieval fish trap used before the river silted up with bones from Smithfield meat market and other factory waste.

River Lea near Olympic Park's London Stadium. Picture: Richard Stroud/Museum of London.River Lea near Olympic Park's London Stadium. Picture: Richard Stroud/Museum of London.

The Museum of London Docklands exhibition at Canary Wharf's historic East India Dock warehouse venue that opens on Friday runs till October 27.

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