Twyford Abbey – a deep topographic enquiry

Twyford Abbey - a topographic enquiry from fugueur on Vimeo.

On a wet day in February I headed out with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp, picking up the threads of the first walk the three of us did together which ended in the dark of an industrial estate somewhere near Stonebridge Park. That walk was almost 10 years ago to the day, 22nd July 2005 – the day after the failed second attack on the tube network; there was a tangible tension on public transport heading out to our rendezvous at Golders Green, the bombers were still on the loose somewhere in northwest London where we were walking.

The journey produced my first videos with Nick that eventually led to The London Perambulator. This walk was tentatively the beginnings of a kind of sequel. The only plan we had was to follow Nick’s beloved Metropolitan Water Main all the way to its terminus at Mogden Purification works. This buried pipe is an unavoidable motif when walking with Nick – it was what guided us on the first walk, it punctuates the traipses in London Perambulator, and appeared again when Nick joined me for one of the expeditions in This Other London. We needed to give it a proper homage after all it had given to us.

In the end, watching it on the screen at the Flatpack Film Festival in the Video Strolls programme I realised that the film was an end in itself – The London Perambulator could have no sequel, if that existed it was Nick’s book Scarp perhaps.

 

Read a full account of the Twyford Abbey walk here

Preview clip of my interview with Iain Sinclair

Preview clip from my interview with Iain Sinclair

Posted by This Other London - adventures in the overlooked city on Wednesday, 22 July 2015

The Cyclist and the City: Cyclogeography interview in the saddle with Jon Day

When I opened the envelope containing Jon Day’s Cyclogeography (a beautiful object – pink cloth cover with embossed white and electric blue text) I wondered whether it was a provocation. I’d been sent the book on the basis of my writing about London walking and here was a text penned from the point of view of the one of the natural enemies of the urban rambler. With cycle couriers able to obtain speeds around the tight grid of Soho streets that even Jeremy Clarkson could only dream about you are more likely to be mown down by a bike in some parts of London than a motor vehicle. Puce-faced commuting cyclists shrink-wrapped in lycra and riding the Tour de France in their imagination have now rendered the towpaths of the Regent Canal and the Lee Navigation unwalkable. But I was intrigued by the occluded world of the bike couriers – you see them flash by like sprites but rarely is their society penetrated.

Jon Day makes the solid case for this book up front. After starting to learn London from the saddle during stints working as a cycle courier he began to read the city too and soon noticed that London had been claimed as a walker’s city with precious little from the perspective of the cyclist. As militant a pedestrian as I am, Day soon convinced me that whereas a walker will seek out London’s buried rivers by reading the runes of old maps, for the cyclist the contours of the river valleys are unavoidable, detected not by a dowsing rod but by tightening calves at the end of 80-mile day on the pedal. Not only does the Courier’s livelihood depend on an intimate knowledge of every street and alleyway between the Elephant and Camden and the East End to Hammersmith, but also their very physical survival. They are compelled to live in harmony with the city.

Cyclogeography portrays an intense relationship between the cyclist and the city – nearly elevating the courier to the status of the great hoarders of London lore – the Black Cab driver. Day makes such a beguiling case for the city of the cyclist that I asked him to take me for a ride, at my insistence away from traffic through the Olympic Park and beside the River Lea. It was one of the more challenging interviews I’ve filmed, but that was the point.
This is an important and unique London book – you should read it.

This article originally appeared in 3:AM Magazine

The Remains of Leyton FC

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The gate just off Lea Bridge Road was open so I wandered into the old ground of Leyton Football Club. The pitch now a make-shift parking lot, weed-fringed with bare dusty patches, rubbish and building supplies littered all around. The stands and floodlights lie waiting for the Saturday crowds to return.

The original Leyton F.C. was formed in 1868 although the club that played here was a more recent incarnation. The club disbanded in 2011 halfway through the Isthmian League Division One North season.

River Roding Ramble

Looking at the lines of cars rammed bumper-to-bumper along the M11 Link Road, glued together by the tube strike, it’s a good day to strike out along one of London’s natural arteries – the glorious River Roding where the only congestion is caused by the dragon flies, herons, and song birds. I even spotted a grass snake slithering across the path into the long grass.

Modernist wonder of Hermitage Court, South Woodford

It’s a place I’d only glimpsed from the W14 bus on the way back from South Woodford Odeon, one of the other great art deco wonders of Redbridge. But following my nose out to the forest the other week I finally took a closer look at Hermitage Court.

This suburban modernist marvel was built in 1935-6. It sits back off the Woodford Road, emitting a low hum of high architectural class and a sense of mystery brooding behind the net curtains. Lawyer to the Greater Train Robbers George Stanley rented a flat here for his mistress. In his book The Secret Train Robber, Lee Sturley recounts how George introduced Hermitage Court to fellow solicitor Maurice Lesser who apparently fell in love with the place and used it to for liaisons with various boyfriends at a time when homosexuality was illegal.

What other stories does Hermitage Court have to tell? This must just be the tip of the iceberg.

A corner of Redbridge that will forever be East Ham

I set out bound for Ilford, following Thomas Burke’s dictum that “to go to Ilford is a fool’s act”, but in fact ended up trapped in a curious geographical anachronism. I’ve been fascinated by Aldersbrook ever since moving to Leytonstone – it’s like that beautifully mysterious world behind the garden shed when you’re a kid – a place of dreams but with an uncanny tinge. I dedicated a few pages to it in This Other London when I conned my kids into walking to the far side of Ilford by telling them I was taking them to South Park (which is a beautiful park between Ilford and Loxford as well as a brilliant animated TV show).

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Somehow I had always managed to bypass Brading Crescent and would have done so again if I hadn’t needed some provisions for the push East and noticed the sign for a ‘Convenient’ Store. Must be good to have so confidently deviated from the standard ‘Convenience’ Store.

East Ham Borough
Straight away you are faced with the fine block of flats that at the time I wasn’t sure if they were 80’s mock baronial or part of the original Edwardian Aldersbrook development. It was in fact built as the Aldersbrook Children’s Home in 1910 by West Ham Board of Guardians as (with each block named after local notables – Lister, Fry, Morris, Hood, and Buxton). It was transferred to East Ham County Borough in 1929 and in the mid-1950’s converted into flats.

The handsome brick community hall in the grounds bears an inscription recording its opening by County Borough of East Ham in 1931 and today it is still confusingly owned by Newham Council despite sitting inside the London Borough of Redbridge.

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Sources:

The Outer Circle – Rambles in Remote London by Thomas Burke (1921)

100 Years of Suburbia by Kathryn Morrison and Ann Robey (1999)