The Effra is a lost river, gone but not forgotten, hidden below the streets of south London. Its identity is still entwined with the neighbourhoods under which it flows.
The Effra drains a wide basin of land surrounded by a ring of high ground linking Streatham, Norwood and Dulwich, fed by smaller tributaries along most of its course.
Speculation over the origins and meaning of its evocative name has led to plenty of stories, but no real evidence. The name could be derived from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘efre’, meaning ‘bank’. Others have traced the name to the lost Hethra Farm in Brixton, pronounced with a south London accent. In fact, the earliest recorded usage is only in 1810, when the Effra Road was built. Between Brixton and Kennington the Effra was also known as The Shore, The Washway or, when it had became less picturesque, The Sewer.
The diversion of the Effra into London’s new sewer system began in the early 19th century at the northern end of the river, in Vauxhall and Kennington. Later, sewers were built along the full length of the Effra, from its Upper Norwood source to the Thames, and the character of the neighbourhoods along its course changed quickly from rural to suburban. Today, walking the course of the Effra through Brixton reminds us of what was here long before anyone lived in SW2.
The River Effra Walk is taken from Tom Bolton’s book: London’s Lost Rivers: A Walker’s Guide