Here’s an excerpt from the talk I did at the essential Housmans Bookshop last September.
You can buy the book from Housmans here – it also has one of the best collections of London writing and psychogeography that you’ll find anywhere.
I find myself at Harringay Green Lanes on a wet Wednesday morning. In such a situation the best option is to slide along the Harringay Ladder down Harringay Passage. With my finger I trace the outline of the date stamped onto the base of the metal bollards – it reads 1884. The slabs are slippery. There is something about the brick confines of the passage that frees the mind. Although I keep returning to thoughts of second breakfast and memories of living up here in 1991-2.
Every 100 yards or so the passage is interrupted by one of the streets that forms the struts of the ladder – Duckett Road, Mattison, Pemberton, Seymour, Fairfax, Falkland, Hampden – a mixed bag of references to local land-owners, military and naval figures, dignitaries of the Hornsey district. It has even been suggested that the names were chosen by the local Masonic lodge
Loud shriek of seagulls whirling round the gasometers on Mary Neuner Road.
Wildfowl line up along the New River by the Hornsey Water Treatment Works. A peculiar Brave New World housing development in the shadow of the Northern Heights. New River Village is built on former Thames Water land and boasts that it’s “a prime example of a brownfield site which called for an innovative and creative design solution to release its full potential and deliver a quality environment with tangible community benefits.” I wander along its deserted central … well I’ll flatter it with the word ‘boulevard’. It’s eerily quiet considering there are 622 residential units, just a solitary Eastern European window cleaner who doesn’t know much about it other than that it’s a ‘new village’.
Stand at the foot of the hill and Alexandra Palace looms above – Temple of the Radio Age. Something about it makes me think of George Orwell, perhaps it’s those images of him sitting at a BBC microphone. It’s also his descriptions in Coming Up For Air of the birth of a new world in the 1920s and 30s – the modern age of artificial food, plastic, and totalitarianism. This merges and is augmented by the sequences from Adam Kossoff’s film, The Anarchist Rabbi, showing how it was used as an internment camp during the First World War. A place built for pleasure, ‘The People’s Palace’, became a place of detention and imprisonment – there is something unnerving about that.
The BBC radio towers have narratives to reveal and I want to hear what they have to say but I’m 60-odd years too late. Something in the weatherworn brickwork, the arches supported by columns facing the city speaks of an internment camp and you can imagine it used for the same purpose under a British Fascist dictatorship that Orwell feared. This would have been Big Brother’s palace. The knowledge that apparently this is a lively dogging spot lightens the vibe a touch.
You can see where the renovation brutally ends near the rear of the building. A lady stops to talk and tells me that there is still some damage from the great fire of 1980. She was here when there was another fire, at the wedding show in the 1990s and all the bridalwear models were so panicked they ran out into the January cold near naked in just their pants. Imagining a crowd of topless models charging across the highest point in Haringey is a suitable counterbalance to the gloomy resonances of grizzly German detainees.
Today is the Knitting and Needlework show. Kossoff used shots of the Palm Court when telling the story of Rudolf Rocker’s imprisonment here. The gentle clamour of the elderly ladies here for the a celebration of home crafts buts up against misery that the men must’ve felt locked up away from their families.
I continue on to Muswell Hill and mooch around the shops, shelter from the rain in the beautiful 1931 library then schlepp down Cranley Gardens forever famous for the gruesome crimes of Denis Nilsen. Regretting not queuing for an overpriced coffee and Danish at Ally Pally for second breakfast, I stop at the Royal Palace Cafe on Park Road for what many people would call an early lunch of sausage baguette and cappuccino. The rain finally stops.
Some images from the court hearing of the Focus E15 Mums who were occupying a house on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford in protest over social housing in Newham – and their statement following the verdict below.
Statement from the Focus E15 Mums:
“We are overwhelmed and grateful for the support and solidarity from both the local and the wider community. Also thank you to Anthony Gold, ITN solicitors and our barrister Lyndsey Johnson. We have decided to leave 80-86 Doran Walk on our own terms by 7th October, as planned. Newham have agreed to this, with no other conditions and have dropped their Interim Possession Order. We have celebrated a year of the E15 campaign, during which we have tried to engage with Newham Council on a number of occasions and they have refused to listen. As a result, our political occupation was the only option to escalate our demands for social housing, not social cleansing. We have reached our goal of highlighting the issue of decent homes left empty on the state and we have built lasing link with the residents and the community. This has be broadcast to millions of people. Ultimately this occupation was never about staying indefinitely, but about our demands to Newham Council. These demands remain and they include: – Repopulating the Carpenter’s Estate with secure council tenancies now – An immediate end to decanting and evictions of existing residents – No demolition of the estate – The management of Carpenters estate by residents and for residents, with no third party or private management involvement We will continue fighting to save council housing and to ensure decent housing for all. This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis.”
Here is the day brilliantly covered by Russell Brand in his Trews youtube series (I pop up at Carpenters highlighting the recent thwarted attempt by UCL to take over the site and the imminent arrival of the Smithsonian and V&A to the Olympic Zone)
The other weekend I needed to head into the forest in these glorious last days of summer.
I’d walked from Theydon Bois to Epping via Amesbury Banks through the forest earlier in the year but the sight of the fields as the tube pulled into Theydon Bois station were too tempting to resist.
We walked over cracked earth towards the distant uplands.
We picnicked at the crest of the hill in this field facing the early evening sun – the rustic delights of the countryside so close to the rumbling tarmac of East London
As much as I love wandering the city streets there is a sense of freedom and abandonment that only comes from walking over open fields.
Through the long tunnel beneath the M25.
The path on the other side of the M25 broke off in various directions – this Hollow Way looked as though no-one had passed beneath its boughs for a while
Epping rises of the far slopes
A last taste of freedom before heading up the steep hill to Epping tube station
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.
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.
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.
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.
I processed all this with a tinker on the Street Piano by the View Tube on the Greenway.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
George Cruchley’s Plan of Early Victorian London (1843) – covering Highgate to Dulwich and Hammersmith to Greenwich.
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.
Christopher and John Greenwood spent three years carrying out the survey for this six sheet map published in 1827
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