Gives its name to Fleet Street which runs from Ludgate Circus to Temple Bar at The Strand.
Its name comes from the Anglo-Saxon Holburna = "hollow stream", referring to its deep valley, and fl?ot = "tidal inlet".
In Anglo-Saxon times, the Fleet served as a dock for shipping.
In 1854, the river freely flowed at Fleet Road, Hampstead, off Pond Street, by The Royal Free Hospital.
Today, The Fleet can be heard through a grating in Ray Street, Farringdon (EC1)in front of the Coach and Horses pub.
The position of the river can still be seen in the surrounding streetscape with Ray Street and its continuation Warner Street lying in a where the river once flowed.
It can also be heard through a grid in the centre of where it joins Farringdon Road (on the side of the junction).
In one place the River Fleet is now 40 feet below the street level overhead.
The Fleet has two main sources.
The western or Hampstead brook has a source near Vale of Health, flowing through Hampstead Ponds.
The eastern or Highgate brook rises near Kenwood and flows through Highgate Ponds.
The Hampstead-Highgate ridge is a crescent of high ground rising at either end to form the twin crests of Hampstead and Highgate.
The upper part of the ridge consists of Bagshot Sand, and this is surrounded by a belt of sandy clay (The Claygate Beds), which forms the layer below the sand.
Below THIS lies the London Clay.
Rainwater percolates through the sand until it reaches the impermeable clay.
It then oozes out to the surface of the hill at the junction of the sand and clay, forming springs and marshy ground.
These are the sources of many streams on the Heath.
Much of this river has been covered over by the sprawling Capital and it is one of several rivers, including the long lost Westbourne and Tyburn.
As can be seen from the diagram, the two forks of the Fleet ran through Belsize Park and Kentish Town.
They then run as one river from Camden, through Kings Cross/St. Pancras, Clerkenwell and Farringdon.
Finally, joined by other tributaries, it enters a wide tidal basin at the Thames, where Blackfriars Bridge now stands.
Only a few small streams and ponds are visible today, near its source at Hampstead Heath.
THE NORTH EAST (KENWOOD) SOURCE
(Click on a slide to show enlarged image)
Although most areas of the Fleet can prove invisible, due to seasonal changes and thick undergrowth, the Fleet can be seen flowing at the top of Hampstead Heath.
The northernmost source of the River Fleet lies 100m above sea level in the ancient woodland once known as Caen Wood, on a sandy ridge at the very top of Hampstead Heath.
The Highgate branch of the river rises in the grounds of what is now Kenwood House.
You can see some of these sources of the Fleet in the five slides on the left (pictures kindly supplied by "dg", whose article " Reviewing The Fleet - August 2005" narrates a fantastically detailed analysis of ALL aspects of The Fleet in its entirety):-
The course of the Fleet is through what are now the Highgate Ponds ie The Stock Pond, Kenwood Ladies' Bathing Pond, The Bird Sanctuary Pond, The Model Boating Pond, The Highgate Mens' Bathing Pond and, finally, The Highgate No. 1 Pond.
None of the main Heath ponds are natural.
They were formed in the late 17th century when the upper reaches of the river Fleet were dammed, creating reservoirs which supplied drinking water to the St Pancras area further downstream.
The North West Hampstead Source
The groundwaters of the upper Fleet come together beneath the steep slopes to the west of Hampstead Heath.
They used to come to the surface via springs and the Chalybeate Well.
The northwestern source of the river Fleet lies in the Vale of Health.
In the southern corner is a small muddy beach.
'dg' comments "Here I spotted a seemingly insignificant rivulet of water exiting the pond and disappearing into a low hole beneath a metal drain cover. Following the contours downhill I discovered a tiny stream hidden deep in the undergrowth - the Fleet valley in miniature.
For a magical 100 metres I tracked the river beneath a leafy oak canopy, descending through the bracken, tumbling beneath fallen branches.
Here, well away from any well-trodden path, the fledgling river Fleet descends much as it must have done for hundreds of thousands of years, untouched and unspoilt." ( Reviewing The Fleet...August - 2005 )
The northwest branch courses through The Hampstead Ponds.
Like their Highgate counterparts on the opposite side of Parliament Hill, the Hampstead ponds were created in the late 17th century by damming the waters of the upper Fleet.
These Hampstead Ponds consist of The Vale Of Health, The Viaduct, The Mixed Bathing and The Hampstead No. 2 and No. 1 Ponds.
This and the north east branch of The Fleet continue on to Camden.
With thanks to "dg" for useage of extracts and photographs
"dg"'s full article can be found by clicking on :
Reviewing The Fleet...August, 2005