Secret Landscape of Leytonstone

A walk around part of the border of Leytonstone, London E11 that contains some of its stories embedded in the landscape. From James Lane past Leytonstone School past St. Andrew’s Church to the source of the lost river of the Filley Brook (Philley Brook), on the possible site of an ancient burial ground. Then past the Hollow Ponds, over Leyton Flats to the High Stone on the border with Redbridge.

Filmed during the lockdown on Saturday 2nd May 2020.

Lockdown Pub Crawl around Leytonstone

The Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend was the perfect time for a pub crawl around the pubs of Leytonstone here in East London. Although all the pubs have been closed since the 21st March due to the lockdown, it’s a great time to celebrate the drinking establishments that are such an important part of community life. This walk features: Heathcote & Star (1905), The Northcote (1886), Birkbeck Tavern (1881), Plough and Harrow (1651), Leytonstone Tavern (1865), The Bell (1720), Red Lion (1670), The Crown/Byrds (1720), The Walnut Tree (1997), The North Star (1858), The Green Man (1660), Luna Lounge (2004), Filly Brook (2020).

The fantastic Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop have produced a brilliant history of the Borough’s pubs – Behind the Bar, which can be downloaded from their website.

A note on psychogeography and the dérive

I recently came across an essay on ‘Situationists and Architecture’ by Peter Wollen in The New Left Review from 2001. I thought it was worth sharing these passages on psychogeography  and the dérive as it’s a subject I’m often asked to explain or define, so scholarly sources are always very welcome.

 

psychogeography

from Memoires by Guy Debord & Asgar Jorn 1959

 

Guy Debord wrote the classic text on the ‘Theory of the Dérive’—usually translated as ‘drift’ or ‘drifting’—in December 1958, in the second number of Internationale Situationniste. He defines it as ‘a technique of transient passage through varied ambiences’. Note, again, the taste for transience and spontaneity. Debord’s basic idea is that this project of wandering through the city should be determined not by any preconceived plan, but by the attractions or discouraging counter-attractions of the city itself. It requires a ‘letting go’ of ‘the usual motives for movement and action’—we might almost say, a letting go of everyday identity. Debord seems to have been inspired in part by Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe’s study of Paris et l’agglomération parisienne, published in 1952; and particularly by its maps, which are frequently used as illustrations in the Situationist journal and in Debord’s own art works. He was especially struck by a map detailing all the movements made over a year by a student living in the 16th Arrondissement: ‘her itinerary delineates a small triangle, with no deviations, the three apexes of which are the School of Political Science, her residence and that of her piano teacher.’

Shocked by this rigid repetition of a fixed pattern of mobility, Debord conceived dérive as a way of creating completely new, unpredictable itineraries, dependent on chance and the spontaneous subjective impulses and reactions of the wanderer. The recourse to chance reminds us, unavoidably, of André Breton’s doctrine of ‘objective chance’ and above all of his great book, Nadja, which traces a series of just such aimless journeys through Paris, punctuated by a pattern of attraction and repulsion to certain buildings, or kinds of buildings, rather than others. Debord notes that this technique of dérive is, in a way, only necessary because his larger project of ‘psychogeography’ has not yet been sufficiently far developed. Psychogeography would make possible the creation of maps in which particular locations or regions had already been designated as favouring the arousal of one kind of affective or aesthetic response, so that a certain amount of pre-planning could take place. Meanwhile, chance was the best method. (This text, interestingly enough, was written just as John Cage was conducting his seminars on chance procedures at the School for Social Research in New York. Probably a coincidence.)

A dérive could take place over a few minutes or even a few days. Duration didn’t matter. Taxis could be used for rapid transport outside one’s usual environment. (One Situationist demand was for the abolition of private cars and their replacement by fleets of low-cost taxis.) As in Breton’s book, the dérive also implied the possibility of chance encounters, meetings with strangers. Debord even suggests that the subject of a dérive might be invited to visit a particular place at a particular time, with the expectation of meeting an unknown person, thus being forced to introduce themself to random passers-by in an effort to identify whether this was the person he or she was looking for. This was called the technique of the ‘possible rendezvous’. He also reveals a taste for straying in uncanny locations—‘slipping by night into houses due for demolition . . . wandering in subterranean catacombs forbidden to the public, etc.’ Here we see the dérive as a kind of dream journey, even an invitation to break taboos—or, perhaps, simply to enjoy what we might think of, in the architectural register, as the Gothick picturesque.

…from the start, psychogeography was bound up with the creation of situations; and the concept of situations was expanded, in time, to cover not just the city, but the whole of society, the totality of possibilities open in an unalienated community.”

PETER WOLLEN, New Left Review 8, March-April 2001

Walk around the London Olympic Park during Lockdown

On Friday 8th May I decided to take a walk around the London Olympic Park (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) to see what it was like during lockdown. The park is just a 15-minute walk from my home, but crossing the junction of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way felt like breaching a major boundary. Temple Mills Lane, a rare survivor of the old pre-Olympic streetplan, was quiet. Two people hit balls against the wall of the Lea Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre.  The Velodrome was closed but a dribble of cyclists were taking advantage of the outdoor track. The ghosts of the Eton Manor Sports Club and Eastway Cycle Track wafted in the air. Groups of people had socially distant kickarounds and some bold souls threw frisbees. A solitary security guard/park ranger went up to speak to clusters of people blatantly flouting the government restrictions which, were relaxed slightly 3 days later.  The walk then continued beside the River Lea and pass back towards Hackney Marsh via East Wick and Here East.

Olympic Park lockdown

You can also watch my most recent lockdown walk here.

A lost Roman Road in Leyton

The lockdown inspired me to make a video that’s been on my list since reading a report in the Spring 2016 edition of London Archaeologist. The excavation report by Gary Brown covered a dig that was carried out in 2004 on the Beaumont Road Estate in Leyton. An intriguing section of Roman Road was unearthed that has slightly baffled archaeologists as its size, location and alignment do not seem to be consistent with the general understanding of the established Roman Roads that pass through Leyton and Leytonstone. A number of theories have been proposed, which I talk through in the video, but as far as I’m aware it’s still a bit of a mystery. Also because this appears to be no mere side-road, but is equal in width to some of the main Roman Roads of southern England such as Watling Street and Stane Street.

Roman Road

What I was keen to test on the ground as well as on the map was how this Roman Road might align with the Bronze Age trackway that was excavated near the bus garage at Leyton Green. It was a fascinating lockdown walk that also took in Jack Cornwell Park, and some of the old streets of Leyton.

 


Here’s a blog post from 2017 documenting some of my other walks along Roman Roads near London.

Leytonstone Lockdown Walk

I’m really enjoying the challenge of digging deeper into my local area for my lockdown walks. For this video I only cover a short section of Leytonstone High Road and yet it was so rich in resonances and associations. It starts with the ghosts of the M11 Link Road protests in Dyers Hall Road in the early 1990’s. Then passes the rubble of the much-loved 491 Gallery, now being very slowly transformed into a block of flats with a beautiful view of the A12/M11 Link Road. Passing on to Leytonstone High we face another development of flats built on the site of Lincolns Pub, but which YouTube comments have informed me was better known to locals in its previous incarnation as The Elms.

We acknowledge Marnie Court, named in honour of Leytonstone’s famous son Alfred Hitchcock, born further down the High Road. The turning point in the walk is the former State Cinema on Leytonstone High Road, now a banqueting venue. From here we turn back along the High Road then into Trinity Close which once would have led us to the ground of Leytonstone FC at Granleigh Road. Leytonstone were a very successful non-league football club, multiple winners of the Isthmian League and the FA Trophy. The ground is now a housing estate.

Leytonstone lockdown walk

The traffic on Leytonstone High Road was still a relatively busy. Scooters buzz away from Yard Sale Pizza. There were more pedestrians at points on this particular day, Friday 17th April around 5pm, than I anticipated, despite very few shops being open (only food shops and chemists).

It was sad to the see the Red Lion closed, chairs on tables, and the shutters down on the Luna Lounge. When will we be back supping a pint of ale and listening to live music at Luna?


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Walking the Shortlands Stream across Leyton Marshes

Back at the end of February I joined local historian Claire Weiss for a walk following the Shortlands Stream across a corner of Leyton Marshes. Claire has been researching the history of Lea Bridge Farm. This stream, or in reality a sewer, ran across the farmland and has since been culverted, although traces above ground can be found.

We met at Marsh Lane Fields and started our walk at the bridge over the Dagenham Brook, finding the point where the Shortlands Stream makes its journey beneath the ground.

More information about Claire’s Lea Bridge Farm project can be found here