Harpenden’s forgotten River Kin

The dry river course of the lost river Kin, from which Kinsbourne Green takes it's name runs alongsi

The dry river course of the lost river Kin, from which Kinsbourne Green takes it's name runs alongside Luton Road - Credit: Archant

Harpenden residents will be familiar with the name Kinsbourne and the associated area lying to the north of the town.

“Bourne” is an old English word for a river in the chalk lands which flowed in winter time but dried out during summer months.

The word Kinsbourne suggest therefore the existence somewhere of a river Kin.

It does not appear on any Ordnance Survey map but its course, or what remains of it, can be traced quite readily from its source to its junction with the Colne river and thence eventually to the Thames.

The depth and the width of the remnants of the course suggest a river with a very substantial flow, at least during periods of peak rainfaull. We can only surmise that the Kin was an active, healthy river.

What we do know is that in the Kinsbourne Green area the water table was much higher historically than it is today. This level of water table in turn gave rise to a very active spring line which in turn gave rise to the head waters of the river Kin. There are several names whose provenance suggests this is the case.

An access road at Annables is named Spring Road and there exist two large copses – one is named Long Spring and the other Kinsbourne Spring.

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The reason they are wooded is that they were considered by the land owners as too wet to plough. They are situated to the south and east and close to the property of White Walls.

The Kin then sprang to life in this area and followed a course north east for a distance of about half a kilometre until it met what is now the roadway of the A1081. At this junction it turned abruptly south east towards Harpenden.

A well-defined remnant of the course can be seen on the west side of the A1081 close to the access to Thrales End Lane. Here a tree line obscures a dry river course some two metres deep and four metres wide, and about 100 metres long.

The course followed through Harpenden, feeding the ponds at Southdown and thence through Southdown itself to Cross Farm, West Farm and Nomansland.

Parts of the course are clearly defined, running parallel to the road until it reaches the present B651.

It crosses this and deviates to the east and south until it reaches the village of Sandridge and thence to the gravel pits near Beech Farm and onto the river Colne.

There seems little doubt that at one time it was very substantial indeed, so why does it not flow today?

The reason of course is the need for water from an ever-burgeoning population and the increasing demands on the aquifers for its supply, with the consequent lowering of the water table and the demise of the spring lines at Kinsbourne Green.