Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Pirate day – explore London’s hidden treasures, old and new

This Sunday, August 5th sees a brilliant Pirate day and exploration into the lost rivers and tunnels of London's past. This event is organised by the Bee Keepers in conjunction with the very cool and free events, arts and musicology London public project - The Tree House gallery.

For further information:
The Bee Keepers - Pirate Day


There are other rivers of London which lie concealed, encased in tunnels or in pipes, occasionally to be heard but generally running silently and invisibly beneath the surface of the city. To name them in order, west to east – Stamford Brook, the Wandle, Counter’s Creek, the Falcoln, the Westbourne, the Tyburn, the Effra, the Fleet, the Walbrook, Neckinger and the Earl’s Sluice, the Peck and the Ravensbourne.

It has always been said that enchantment is bought in the burying alive of great waters, yet the purchase may be a perilous one.
Peter Ackroyd, ‘London’ p 555


The City of London is built on burial sites, on entombed rivers and buried treasure.

In the ‘Golden Age’ – from about 1650 – 1720 – pirates operated from London, many licensed by the State. Pirates were lodged in Deptford – right next to Greenwich and the Royal Navy who often pursued them on the High Seas – and on the other side of the Thames, at Wappingside.

The Neckinger – a stream that ran from Bermondsey Abbey to the Thames, part of which is now St Saviour’s Dock – took its named from Neckinger Wharf where pirates were executed, according to folklore. The rope used to hang them became known as the Devil’s neck-cloth or ‘neckinger’.


Pirate loot was carefully reinvested. Many of London’s great institutions built their foundations on pirate plunder: the silver of the Incans and the gold of the Aztecs. Stolen from civilisations of the New World, seized again from foreign ships of the Old World by British privateers, and brought back to London. This money paid for the growth of the City.

The history has been paved over, buried beneath the streets and the every day by bricks and mortar. Dark subterranean veins – associated with crime, alcohol, deformity, disorder, stench and agues – run through London’s financial heart.

The lost rivers have become repositories for discarded and forgotten objects. An anchor was recovered from the Fleet as far North as Kentish Town. Their silted arteries yield coins, daggers, brooches, medals, keys and pins. Things dropped between grates, by accident. Sentimental keepsakes washed into the underworld by the wind and the rain.

  • Discover the lost rivers connecting London: we will be processing along the routes of the Fleet, Tyburn and Walbrook, looking for clues revealing their progress through the City and finding buried treasure along the way.
  • Unearth the City’s past: we will visit the sites of City institutions that did very well out of piracy. Bring a spade and an open mind.
  • Spin a yarn: there will be readings at the Treehouse Gallery from Robert Louis Stevenson, Daniel Defoe and other writers inspired by the piratical past.
  • Recover the loot: make your own treasure. The Beekeepers will run workshops to make precious things – rings, bracelets, bookmarks, you name it – from recycled materials, ingenuity and pluck.
  • Hunt for treasure: the treeHouse Gallery is a treasure-trove of knowledge and ideas. We’ve buried some clues around the place.
  • ‘X’ marks the spot: Pirates operated a kind of anarchist democracy. We’ll be staging a debate: should piracy be renationalised? Join in and cast your vote.

Phone Tim on 07905 277719 for more details, or email

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