London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?

IMG 3827 - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?

Stephen Fry’s recent ITV programme “Key to the City” – (6 August 2013 + itvPlayer) looked at many unusual aspects of the City of London, including the Old Bailey. One of the surprises was The High Bailiff of Southwark Charles Henty, & Fry himself, opening a hatch in the cellars to show the ‘River Fleet’ gurgling around 15 feet below.
This was amazing – at first – since such fact was totally unknown to me. I soon realised this ‘fact’ was completely wrong. It is all the more galling coming from a major British institution which prides itself on facts, truth, evidence.
The Old Bailey is sited quite a distance above the valley of the River Fleet. As water cannot run uphill, quite clearly neither the Fleet – nor it’s successor the Fleet sewer – goes under the Old Bailey!
Not just Stephen Fry’s programme made this glaring assumption, but quite a number of other media sources did too. These include Court News (link no longer works – Court News apparently scrapped their blog) Daily Mail; Telegraph; Independent.
courtnews - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
From Court News (link no longer works – Court News apparently scrapped their blog)
Telegraph - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
From the Telegraph
For those who are not certain there’s a valid argument the Fleet doesnt go anywhere near the Old Bailey, here are some hard facts:
IMG 3815 - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
Some elevation facts – the Old Bailey is about at the height where Holborn Viaduct is…
This picture looking north along Farringdon Road (the present course of the Fleet Sewer at around 30 feet below roadway) shows the elevation of the same road as far as Farringdon Station. Since the Fleet sewer is quite deep under the entire length of this road, it is absolutely clear the Fleet cannot be at a high enough level to pass under the Old Bailey. The Old Bailey itself is off site to the east (right of picture) at an elevation of perhaps 30 feet higher. Farringdon Road is 24ft elevation at this point and the Od Bailey at an elevation of about 55ft.
If one looks at the maps its clear the Fleet would have to climb up from near Farringdon station and underneath Smithfield from a level of 10-15ft in elevation in order to reach an elevation of about 30-35ft so as to pass under the Old Bailey!
The next set of pictures show the Old Bailey in relation to Farringdon Road….
DSCF0034 - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
View from Fleet Court up to the new part of the Old Bailey
This view looks from a somewhat lower elevation by Fleet Court, a new development sandwiched between the Old Bailey and Farringdon Road. This elevation is important as it is taken at roughly near the level at which the mystery sewer should be sited  – the old part of Old Bailey is still further up hill to the left.
If the elevation this photograph is taken from represents the basement of the Old Bailey where this mystery ‘Fleet River’ can allegedly be seen, then it is absolutely clear that the watercourse the Old Bailey claims to be the Fleet runs at an elevation far above the surface of Farringdon Road and what we see in the picture shown of a sewer underneath the Old Bailey would be so deep it couldnt be seen just by looking down a ladder (See pic below.)
DSCF0036 - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
View from Fleet Court down to Farringdon Road
This view looks in the opposite direction from Fleet Court, still at the same elevation. The substantial difference in elevation is clear. As I have pointed out before, there is just no way the Fleet can climb up from its current elevation at somewhere of 10-15 feet below Farringdon Road and then up to a level where it is then found perhaps 15 feet below the basement of the Old Bailey!
For proof of the actual watercourse (which clearly doesnt go anywhere near the Old Bailey) one needs to perhaps take a long, hard, look at this feature from 2010 by Londonist – especially those who work at the Old Bailey!
The drain under the Old Bailey – according to data, is at a much higher level than the Fleet itself, so a different watercourse altogether. It may well be a descendant of one of the many conduits built within the City of London during the 15 & 16th Centuries. The issue then is that the Old Bailey was built on the site of the former Newgate Prison and there’s no mention of a watercourse beneath that prison.
IMG 3827 - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
Junction at Ludgate Hill – vent shows possible alignment of drain/sewer from Old Bailey
Clearly the Old Bailey watercourse is a 19th Century build. Its one that drains from the Charterhouse Square and the Barbican/Moorgate areas. The line of this sewer is clear at street level, for example along Giltspur Street north of the Old Bailey where air vents can be seen, and it remains roughly along the 58 ft contour before dropping more rapidly as it passes underneath the Old Bailey to join a major sewer beneath Ludgate Hill. That in turn joins the Fleet sewer beneath Ludgate Circus.
atlasobscura - London's Old Bailey: Does the Fleet River run beneath?
The access point underneath the Old Bailey is possibly for the servicing of a secondary sewer system that led downhill before splitting into two along Old Fleet and Old Seacoal Lanes to join the Fleet Sewer. The above uncredited image (which is from Atlas Obscura) appears to show one of the above mentioned outfalls from the downhill secondary sewer system beneath the Old Bailey – into one of the twin branches of the Fleet beneath Blackfriars Bridge Road. Again we have visual evidence the Fleet doesnt climb uphill to run underneath the Old Bailey and then back downhill!

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