Disappearance in the Olympic Zone

Greenway Hackney

Hopped onto the eastern end of the Greenway in Hackney Wick yesterday morning – the bronze letters beckoned me onwards like the opening titles of Star Wars (remember how we all sat in the old single screen cinema and read that scrolling text).

I jumped onto a granite block to take in a view westwards that had been obscured by mounds of rubble when I passed along this way in the summer of 2013.

You can hear in the video how my mental map has been utterly fried and I omit the fact that Bow sits somewhere on this vista. The erasure is so complete that I didn’t even remember the view from the 2013 walk and how the Bryant and May factory with its famous Match Girls strike seemed much closer.

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Even poring over various maps from 1936 to the present I can’t reliably find what was here before, the only features being a couple of nameless blocks. This is presumably the site of the new Pudding Mill development, taking its name from the lost tributary of the River Lea.

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I had to go back to this map of West Ham in the early 18th Century to get a sense of place – the concrete canvas seems to be on the former Bow Marsh.

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It’s not all about deleting the past in the Olympic Park as a replica sculpture of Newtons Cottage on Carpenter’s Road Lock is being built and will open to the public on 1st October.

street piano greenway

I processed all this with a tinker on the Street Piano by the View Tube on the Greenway.

 

Borderlands – a walk around the boundary of Leytonstone

Leytonstone Council Wards

Leytonstone Council Wards

I’d been wanting to walk around the border of Leytonstone for some time – the major obstacle being working out exactly where Leytonstone ended and Leyton/Stratford/Forest Gate/Walthamstow/Wanstead began. Walking around the E11 postcode district wouldn’t work as a big chunk of it is Wanstead and Snaresbrook in the borough of Redbridge. There’s also the potential anomaly that Leyton tube station is in E11 so did that mean it was Leytonstone? Council ward boundaries weren’t much help as they crossed over into areas that are definitely in other parts of the borough. Andrew Stevens suggested using early administrative boundaries for sewage and water works and although it threw up some interesting nuggets didn’t fully solve the conundrum.  I rang the Council who were helpful but concluded that Leytonstone had no recognized boundary.

In the end I sketched out a route using the E11 postcode where it was in Waltham Forest, the areas containing a borough boundary where it couldn’t be anywhere but Leytonstone (see later for where this occurs and falls apart) and added areas that are commonly agreed to be landmarks of Leytonstone – e.g. Whipps Cross, Hollow Ponds, Thatched House, St. Patrick’s Cemetery. That gave a fairly reliable start point and only left a few grey areas that would have to be tested on foot. Although I’ve lived in Leytonstone over 8 years now and walked most streets in the area I couldn’t feel I truly understood where I lived until I’d stalked the entire perimeter in a single perambulation; sticking doggedly to my turf, looking out beyond as much as in.

Newport Road to Whipps Cross

I met Andrew and his son on the corner of Norlington Road (E10) and Newport Road (my brood bailed early on for Abbots Park, Leyton). One side of Newport is apparently in Leytonstone with the other allegedly in Leyton (Jersey Road being the exception where E11 crosses sides). This is a low point in the ground where the Fillebrook gurgles beneath the tarmac through what would once have been open fields and could have been used as a boundary although unlikely as it seems to have cut through one parcel of farmland or estate. From here we followed the blue postcode line on my Knowledge map taking us round Pretoria Road then surprising goes the length of Norlington Road on the school side then loops round to take in the end of Hainault Road E11 where it meets Leyton High Road.

Turning off Hainault Road we would have needed to leap across garage roofs to stick rigidly to the boundary so we took a 20 yard detour into Leyton to pick up the end of James Lane. It was a straight run along the backs of garages – easily imaginable as an old laneway or cart-track when the area was rural. We then turned along Peterborough Road which I’d always assumed was Leyton but it’s marked E11 and the alternative would be to go through the grounds of Whipps Cross Hospital and miss out a small section of roads on the far side. Skirting round the edge of Whipps looking across at the boarded up nurses accommodation block we kept tight to the Leytonstone border through a tidy nest of streets containing a mysterious abandoned-looking Hansel and Gretel cottage coming out onto the small green at Whipps Cross Roundabout where the trams once stopped. What the people of Leytonstone wouldn’t give to revive the old tramlines from here into Whitechapel.

Whipps Cross to the Birch Well

The border skirts the edge of the Whipps Cross Roundabout in a curious corner where Leytonstone, Leyton and Walthamstow meet and exchange harsh words, sledging each other across the road. This leads up to one of Leytonstone’s oddities – the row of Victorian houses beside the patch of open land with pond known as The Forest. First time I stumbled across this isolated settlement I was sure there had to be a pub to round off the image of the perfect village green but all I found was the expensive Forest private school.
Here we had to rely on the borough boundary separating Waltham Forest from Redbridge that cuts through the forest keeping tight to one edge of the Eagle Pond and behind Snaresbrook Crown Court. Here in the trees Andrew’s son spotted a small pool covered in a mat of luminous green algae. It looked like a well with carved stone edging and water around 2 feet deep. I posted the photo on Facebook and within 30 minutes had been told exactly what it was and its history. Philip and Richard responded with both descriptions and sketch maps confirming that this was The Birch Well – an “important source of water” at during times of drought and water shortages.

Leyton Flats to Bushwood

We clambered over an ivy-covered wall so Andrew could show me the ruin of the Chaplainry from the time when the law courts were an orphanage (Andrew wrote a piece on it for 3:AM). Following a dried up ditch that I speculated could be the course of the River Holt we emerged on Holy Bush Hill and walked down to the holiest of holy Leytonstone relics – the High Stone. Although it’s been moved a couple of times over the years this marks one corner of the area – everything around it is Redbridge.
Under the Green Man roundabout and rest-bite in the North Star which is blissfully close to the Bushwood border. There’d been a Leytonstone Jumble Trail that day and a few houses on Bushwood still had scattered items in their front gardens. Across the road from here is neither Redbridge nor Newham but the Corporation of London (get your head round that – although nowhere near as confusing as when you run into the Corporation livery when going for a stroll in Burnham Beaches, Bucks).

Wanstead Flats to Thatched House

We skirted the edge of Wanstead Flats by the iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers and payed homage to the fine Metropolitan Cattle Trough, coming out through the trees onto Harrow Road. As we passed the end of Cann Hall Road headed for the E7 section of Waltham Forest Andrew refused to go further on the solid grounds that ‘no one in their right mind would say that this was Leytonstone’. Fair point. But there is a block of streets from Cann Hall (recognized Leytonstone E11) to Vansittart Road round the edge of West Ham cemetery onto Leytonstone High Road via Janson Road that sit within the boundary of Waltham Forest and surely couldn’t be in Leyton. Andrew argued that simply part of Forest Gate must be in both Newham and Waltham Forest. I did wonder whether he was just tired and fancied cutting a chunk off the walk,  however Cann Hall Road did make more sense.
I’m still raw from the closure of my precious local The Heathcote Arms so walking past the boarded up Lord Rookwood and The Colegrave Arms converted to a mosque, both on Cann Hall Road, topped off by the Thatched House invaded by a bookies, opposite the junction with the High Road, was like a macabre exhibition of the fate that befalls pubs once sold. Let’s hope not eh.

Crownfield Road to the Link Road

While Crownfield Road, E15 seems like a natural border a few small streets to the south appear to be in Waltham Forest. We couldn’t decide at which point Crownfield Road became Leyton and the idea that Leyton High Road was on the border seemed mad so we made an arbitrary turning off Crownfield up Ellingham Road into Downsell Road (the school here is listed as Leytonstone) heading for Langthorne Road – undeniably Leytonstone and taking us past the old Infirmary, St Patrick’s Cemetery (which has Leytonstone on the plaque by the entrance), and the legendary Birkbeck Tavern – a pub saved from being zombied into flats.
There are a series of streets leading down to Leyton High Road here that are in E11 and could be claimed for Leytonstone but it’s unlikely anyone living there, so close to Leyton tube would refer to this as Leytonstone (Leslie Rd, Millais, Frith, Calderon, Webster, Goodall) – but we could well be wrong. After writing off the E7 parts of the borough we were becoming gung ho with our judgments and had no problem dispatching a block of E11. On reflection I think this might have been a mistake.

Grove Green Road back to Newport via Twickenham Road

From here it was fairly straightforward to cross the Link Road via the foot-tunnel, up Grove Green Road, along Francis Road, into Twickenham, St. Anne’s (half of which is Leyton) and up Newport on the eastern side with a detour round Jersey Road E11, to close the loop by Dennis’s shop. In total took us around 4 hours to cover approximately 8 miles.

 

Old maps of London

There’s an exhibition of a great collection of rare old maps of London at the Oxo Tower this weekend as part of the Thames Festival. Here are a few of the highlights

Cruchley

George Cruchley’s Plan of Early Victorian London (1843) – covering Highgate to Dulwich and Hammersmith to Greenwich.

Ogilby

Titled “The First Accurate and Detailed Map of London” by John Ogilby and William Morgan, “all the Streets, Lanes, Alleys, Courts, Yards, Churches, Halls, Houses” at a scale of 100 foot/inch from 1676.

Greenwood

Christopher and John Greenwood spent three years carrying out the survey for this six sheet map published in 1827

Rocque_16sheets

Sixteen sheet map by Rocque published in 1768.


More information about the maps from Daniel Crouch Rare books with prices for any visiting Oligarchs and deposed dictators

Leytonstone artist community in the 1980′s

Great description of Leytonstone in the 1980′s from City Racing – the life and times of an artist run gallery written by Matt Hale, John Burgess, Paul Noble, Keith Coventry, and Peter Owen, which I exchanged with Matt one night in The Heathcote for a copy of This Other London. It sets the scene for the infamous M11 Link Road protests that ran from the late 1980′s to 1994.

 

It was the blighted, front and back gardened, Victorian houses that had become home and workplace to another large East End artist community. The DoT leased the properties they owned to various short-life housing organisations, one of which was ACME. ACME’s rents were super cheap. Houses became live/work spaces. Rooms were knocked together to make bigger studios. Leytonstone was like a weird suburb full of Sunday painters, but where every day was Sunday”

 

The ‘Remembering the M11′ event is tonight at The Wanstead Tap

Long live The Heathcote Arms!

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

It’s at this time of night when everyone in the house is asleep that I usually cross the road to my beloved local pub The Heathcote Arms. But not tonight or any night soon because at 11.30pm on Sunday 7th September the Heathcote served its last pint for the foreseeable future. I only heard 2 weeks ago that the PubCo who own the Heathcote, Stonegate (incorporated in the Cayman Islands), had sold it to a developer. They weren’t saying who, or what would happen to the pub only that it was due to close on 7th September.

I know to some this might seem melodramatic but it feels like losing a friend, a staunch ally, a refuge. A place I can go with a book sit at a table in the corner with a pint of ale and a packet of crisps read and a reflect, relax and have a laugh. I’m still too raw to properly digest my feelings and write the eulogy the pub deserves but felt the need to mark the occasion. I’d be able to write much better sat over there in the Heathcote with a pint of IPA.

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Pubs are closing all over London at an alarming rate – we’ve lost several in Waltham Forest in recent years (The Bakers Arms, Waltham Oak, and The Antelope off the top of my head). But pubs are not mere businesses – they are valuable social and community spaces. There are people I met in the Heathcote who I casually share a few words with at the bar who I may never see again due to the erratic routines of London life. The pub has always represented a constant – we all know the opening hours, can drop in for a quick pint on the way home from work, cheap dinner with the family on a Friday evening, watch the football at the weekend.

I did much of the research for my book This Other London in the Heathcote, sat there with pints and piles of books and maps, hearing stories from Ian Bourn about the pre-M11 link road artist community that flourished in Leytonstone. Last night I got over there at 10 o’clock to find a group of Leytonstone stalwarts round a table. One of them, John Smith has just made a new ident for BBC4 that was on the TV tonight. These unplanned encounters won’t happen anymore.

Now we await to see what happens to the building, geared up for a fight to save it being turned into yet more fucking flats. The local MP is determined to see a pub reopen on the site and was involved in a successful campaign to save the Birkbeck Tavern. So there is hope yet.

The Heathcote will never die!

London beers #2: Partizan Pale, Clarkshaws, and Pressure Drop

Three more cracking Capital ales from The Wanstead Tap

pressure drop strictly roots

How could I resist the invitation to try a bottle of Pressure Drop Brewery’s Strictly Roots Dandelion and Burdock Porter brewed in collaboration with the legendary wild man of the marshes John the Poacher, when plonked on the bar of the Tap by Dan. I’d picked up a copy of John’s book in Leyton Library and stupidly only skimmed it in the Leyton Tech but it appeared to be full of stories of catching rabbits on Hackney Marshes. I’m making the assumption that he foraged the Dandelion and Burdock on the marshes for Hackney based Pressure Drop. Like one of John’s gamey marsh rabbits Strictly Roots can best be described as an acquired taste (I grew up on wild rabbit for the record) with strong hints of alluvial deposits from the river Lea and an intense muddy aftertaste kicking in after a liquoricey opening salvo. Best consumed sat on the banks of the Lea with a copy of Marshland by Gareth Rees.

Clarkshaws Strange Brew

There seemed little strange about this  ebullient bottle of sparkling amber ale from Clarkshaws after the Strictly Roots. Cooked up in East Dulwich, Strange Brew No.1 went down beautifully in the evening sun. I was drawn to this beer amongst the 100 on offer at the Tap by the modesty of its label amongst a veritable gallery of vivid branding lining the shelves. Surely this indicated that the beer would speak for itself. To be honest I was also sucked in by the individual bottle numbering (this one was Batch No. 1, Bottle No.54) giving it the feel of a limited edition. Not only did the beer speak for itself it sat there on the table reciting poetry before breaking into arias and sea shanties. Apparently it’s vegetarian as well.

Partizan Pale Ale

Partizan Brewing from Bermondsey have a distinctly different attitude to beer labeling on their seductive range of ales that even include a Saison Iced Tea. This zesty, citrus-tinged Pale Ale had my taste buds dancing round my gullet in the kind of kooky oompah-band hanky-waving gyrations that the figures on the bottle look like they are about to burst into. It then made me want to get up and do a few laps of the table to Half Man Half Biscuit’s All I Want For Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Sign of a good beer.

 

These are dozens more are all available from The Wanstead Tap or direct from the breweries.