What inspired you to create this exhibition?
Tom: In recent years there has been a growing interest in London’s ‘lost rivers’, with books outlining their histories, walking tours tracing their hidden paths through the city, and countless newspaper, magazine and blog articles providing curious facts. Contemporary artists and writers, drawn to the mysteries of these hidden rivers, have sought to reinscribe them into our mental map of the city and create new watery mythologies for London.
Kate: Recent archaeological excavations and research have provided new interpretations for the wealth of material and artefacts that has been found in the river valleys. Cross-referencing the archaeological evidence with contemporary accounts, artistic representations and literature have provided new insights into the relationships Londoners had with their waterways.
Environmental concerns about pollution in the seas and rivers are growing and there is an increasing awareness about how we deal with our rubbish and sewage. It was a good time to take a long view through history and also highlight some of the many local efforts to improve the health of the rivers.
Tom: We realised that the time was right to mount the first major exhibition about London’s secret rivers. We wanted to do something that no other museum could do. Our aim was to use the full range of our collections, along with some loans and new commissions, to really bring the stories to life.
In order to encompass the many roles played by rivers in London’s history, we settled on a thematic approach, taking individual rivers or pairs of rivers as case studies.