Paul’s Pasta Steamer

We’d wanted to check out a few City sewer anomalies for a while and the increasingly rare celestial alignment of st00p not working and JD not being otherwise engaged had been forecast for an evening later one week, so plans were formulated. We hadn’t specifically set out to investigate the Paul’s Wharf Sewer (dubbed Paul’s Pasta Steamer), it was supposed merely to be the pathway to more interesting fare but winded up being said fare.

There is a very direct route to reach the point I’d marked for initial investigation, unfortunately the cover at that point was pretty messed up and unable to be closed from beneath. I wasn’t happy to leave things open and unattended topside, still being a stickler for maintaining some pretence of credibility, and so we took a more leisurely route in. Jumping into the Fleet Sewer some quarter of a mile away a convoluted trek up a side pipe eventually hooks up with the Ludgate Hill Sewer which, heading north, leads to the point beneath our knackered cover. I’ll have to go back to the Ludgate Hill Sewer as I didn’t get any pictures, it’s really quite unique. It’s not large, but has a real hodgepodge of shapes over a very short length; I’m not entirely sure why this as it’s circumstance isn’t such that it would have been slowly covered over a long period, in fact it was built fairly swiftly following the 1666 fire. It might be that the post fire re-build was more of a refurb than replacement and retained sections of older conduit, whatever the case it’s worth a return visit. It’s also note worthy as one of the nastiest smelling sewers we’ve ever been in. The usual H2S stink barely flares a nostril these days but this was so much worse, a real sweaty unwashed masses type of aroma, think limburger cheese matured in the collective armpit of a college rugby team.

At the top of the hill we reached a junction that resides a front the west doorway of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Two 4ft pipes head left and right, each mirroring the other and encircling the cathedral, while a 3ft pipe continues on ahead directly beneath the most celebrated of Wren’s local works. We head right, following the line of St. Paul’s Church Yard. This short section of sewer set a new president for rodent populations, I’ve never seen quite so many rats springing from wall to wall, screeching and scrambling to escape our approach. I counted twenty four of the blighters caught up in a frantic sub city stampede, though many had darted from sight before I’d thought to attempt a tally. Mid count I had the timely fortune of avoiding a steaming mass of projectile spaghetti that rocketed from a knee high side pipe onto the opposite wall, then slinked down into a heap amongst the slow moving clogged accumulation of food matter and blackwater. There was an unusually large volume of accumulated food waste, which likely explains the rats. The topside walk back later in the evening revealed the entire street section above here to be a continuous row of restaurants and eateries. The steaming pasta cascade was swiftly followed by a turd so large you could have whittled it out and rowed the Thames in it. There was a time when such a sequence of events might have triggered a self analysis of my chosen recreational activity, I can’t remember when last that happened. As we reached our problematic cover, via a laddered drop down some twenty feet from the smaller sewer, we finally had some space and I took the opportunity to sort out the camera.

Pic. 1

The ladder in the back of pic.1 leads up to the dodgy cover, but isn’t the same ladder descending from the smaller sewer, which is out of shot on the right of the pic. The pic is taken from an adjoining east – west running sewer that once ran beneath the eastern continuation of Carter Lane, formerly Little Carter Lane (no longer a roadway). I love this junction, it’s a pleasing mix of forms, space and installed elements; it really felt like a network you could get lost in, much less uniform and precise than it’s Victorian neighbours. This was the upstream start point of the Paul’s Wharf Sewer proper and dates to c.1690/1700. From here we headed downstream ducking in and out of side pipes in the hope of turning up some suspected oddities.

Pic.2 – Looking up the steps of pic.1

By the time we were a little way downstream we had ruled out the most promising of our leads. An older section of significantly larger sewer, accessed via a side pipe, had been replaced within the last 30 years and was now a mediocre stoopy rcp 🙁 Boo! That said, investigating the side pipes alone was a lot of fun. Pic.3 below is a Victorian era sewer routed to connect with Paul’s Wharf.


Continuing further downstream, what was once a ramped incline had been retro-fitted with steps and a handrail, pic.4 below. I couldn’t really say when this work was done, it’s all too easy to just say Victorian, chances are it was earlier. I love the shape of the main tunnel at this point, it has much more of a river culvert feel to it than a London sewer.


By the time we reached the point where the sewer had been modified (definitely Victorian era works) to pass beneath the District & Circle line we had ruled out all our avenues of investigation and so were content to enjoy the unexpectedly spacious Paul’s Wharf Sewer. The parallel twin pipes that take the sewer beneath the lines can be seen in the background of pic.5 below. Immediately downstream of the twin tunnels the main line changes shape and period, a 10ft egg shaped pipe of c.1834 yellow brick continues on for approx 35yds.

Pic.5 – Looking upstream to the Victorian mods that pass beneath the District & Circle line

The sewer’s official name is derived from the original outfall at St. Paul’s Wharf. Today the sewer terminates about 120 yards short of the Thames. All its content is dropped down into the Low Level #1 interceptor via the portal that can be seen right foreground in pic.7 below. The final 20 yds is now a 4ft rcp that runs to a welded steel plate (not a flap or outfall) with no continuation. This severing of the outfall was likely undertaken when the Blackfriars underpass was constructed in the mid 1960s.


With the outfall sealed and a rather limited capacity pipe to channel flow to the interceptor it’s apparent that this whole stretch has doubled as a storage tunnel, whether intentional or not. In pic.7 sanitary debris can be seen on the upper guard rail which is well above my head height, you can also see the level gauge in the back of the shot which rather implies that there’s need to be aware of what’s going on down here!


Not quite the evening we’d planned it to be, but a thoroughly enjoyable outing non the less.


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