Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market

Today was the first Leyton Food Market – in Coronation Gardens. I munched on a Giddy Pig sausage bap and somehow managed to resist a can of Signature Brew’s Backstage IPA. Loads of Leyton favourites had stalls aside from Signature Brew there was Yardarm, Deeney’s, and We Serve Humans. There was also a record stall and some jewellery and plants.

It’s on every Saturday 9am – 5pm. During football season you’ll need to get there early if you want any tomato ketchup on your burger or sausages – today it only took a kids’ football tournament at the Orient to clean out the entire stock.

Trains return to Lea Bridge Station after 31 years

Eastenders had just gone on air for the first time when the last train pulled out of Lea Bridge Station in 1985. The Sinclair C5, a peculiar electric trike, had been launched and pointed the way towards a bold new future of travel. Hover cars were seemingly just around the corner. A local band, Aunt Fortescue’s Bluesrockers played as that last train chugged off down the track.

31 years on and this morning saw the re-opening of Lea Bridge Station. Eastenders is still on the telly but the C5 had ceased production before the weeds had started to grow through the platforms at Lea Bridge. We never got our hover cars, a brand new cycle shed was also opened at the station this morning instead. Aunt Fortescue’s Bluesrockers were there again on the station platform to play as the trains returned to Lea Bridge. People are cockahoop about the return of the trains and the 4 minute commute to Stratford. It turns out that Victorian modes of transport are still the most efficient ways to move around the city.

Lea Bridge Station re-opeing 16th May 2016

Lea Bridge Station

Both the Leader of Waltham Forest and the Under Secretary of State for Transport emphasised the economic boost the reopening of the station would bring to the area. A brass band played, school children sang as the first trains pulled into the Station and people waved to well-wishers as they boarded – it was like the 1860’s all over again.

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It was a wonderful occasion, even if it was marred by the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy sobbing as the celebratory cake was cut (didn’t she vote in favour of bombing Syria – and yet so easily moved to tears). I chatted to a fella called Jamie, who happened to be in Stratford last night when the first train was announced that would be stopping at Lea Bridge Station. He was the only passenger on the train and purchased the very first single ticket from Stratford to Lea Bridge, which he pulled from his wallet to show me, a precious relic, a trainspotters’ Shakespeare first folio.

Lea Bridge Station opening

The people at this end of Leyton are no longer cut off from the transport network and neglected – they can embrace the Council’s Mini Holland scheme with open arms. I noticed that Deputy Council Leader Clyde Loakes arrived on the train from Tottenham Hale pushing his bike – a clear sign that this isn’t just about trains but connecting the new cycle paths to the rail network and beyond. One day people will look back with our odd obsession with the internal combustion engine powered personal car and wonder what ever happened to the Sinclair C5. At least we got the trains back to Lea Bridge Station and a shiny new bike shed.

 

The Pyramids of Essex – Bartlow Hills

Last May I was taken out to Pinehurst near Hertford by Dave Binns and Gary Lammin to look at a Bronze Age burial mound in the middle of a housing estate. Dave made reference to a paper he’d written about ‘The Pyramids of Essex’ (or that was how I remembered it) which sounded astonishing. A couple of weeks ago Dave led an expedition to the Bartlow Hills – ‘pyramids of Essex’ – with Gary and I in tow. I’m delighted to be able to publish Dave’s paper on the burial mounds at Bartlow. A video of the field trip can be found at the end of the article.

BARTLOW HILLS: PICTURES OUT OF TIME

DAVID BINNS

Bartlow Hills
A little known cluster of burial mounds stands to the south of Bartlow village, on the border of Cambridgeshire and Essex.  More conical in shape than their prehistoric antecedents, the structures are believed to date from late first and early second centuries AD.  That chronology locates their construction firmly within a period (in southern England) of Romanised hegemony, more than a century before the recognised beginning of the uneven, long term decline of Roman material culture. (Foulkner, 2000)  In view of the discovery of foundations from a supposed “villa” and other Roman artefacts in the vicinity (Hull, 1963), it is assumed that the mounds were associated with an established residential presence.

Initially the mounds present themselves as entirely distinct from the more common flat roadside cemeteries of Roman Britain.  As such they provoke reflection on the extent to which relatively indigenous cultural practices continued within the political edifice of empire.  The implications of such a line of reasoning are not easy to codify or contain.  Even so, one approach to interpreting apparently Romanised mound-building practices would aim to situate them within the dynamic and decay of empire itself.

But first, what remains to be seen by travellers to Bartlow?  Four of eight (some accounts suggest seven) original barrows have been spared annihilation by the dual assault of agriculture and railway building.  The tallest of the survivors, astonishingly, peaks at more than thirteen metres above ground level.  In addition to the structures themselves, just sufficient is reliably known to make speculation difficult to resist.  Most of the excavated contents were destroyed by accidental fire mid-nineteenth century, but surviving descriptions indicate rich grave goods, pointing to a high status family or group of families. (Dunning and Jessup, 1936)  The presence of such apparently elite goods suggests the expanding power of consolidating classes, but how far was the associated cultural nexus specifically Roman in character?

Bartlow Hills
An insightful early analysis by Cyril Fox suggests close resemblance between the contents of mounds and flat graves during the Roman period.  Discovery of wooden chests and brick tombs in both types of burial implies, for Fox, that mound burial at the time was “…not associated with any particular rite.” (Fox, 1923, p.198)  A mound, nonetheless, is not a flat grave.  The survival of mound building under occupation complicates the widely assumed image of a systematically Romanised social and political elite.  In David Braund’s strong formulation of that conversion model, across lowland Britain in particular, a thoroughly transformed ruling stratum “…competed to display its wealth through imported styles and architectural splendours.” (Braund, 2000)  Against that perception, while acknowledging the less rounded profile of the Bartlow mounds by comparison with earlier equivalents, Fox concludes that the former denote “survival” into Roman times of an older cultural custom (Fox, 1923, p.199).

Circumstantial evidence including that of accepted chronology provides support for Fox’s hypothesis.  Archaeological views converge on the decades around 100AD as the key phase of development at Bartlow.  The mounds, to put that another way, were raised just half a century or so after the final military suppression of both the Druid core on Anglesey and the specific tribal insurrection associated with Boudica.  The builders of the mounds and most of those whose cremated remains were placed within them were probably closer to Boudica in lived memory than today’s humans are to Winston Churchill or Ho Chi Minh.  It is even conceivable that the Bartlow mound builders were directly associated with the Iceni tribe that Boudica had come to head, with its substantial territories in what is now called East Anglia a few miles to the north and east.

For at least some of those directly associated with the mounds, it seems highly likely – almost inevitable – that recollections and interpretations of what the Roman imperial outlook had disparaged as sub-civilised existence and resistance would, one way or another, continue to reverberate.  Over time those memories, like everything else, were subject to change.  As the immediacy of the invader onslaught receded, culturally transmitted associations would be reinterpreted and reassessed.  Each recollection engendered new adjustments and unexpected tensions.  Eventually some multiply reinterpreted memories took on entirely altered significance.  Remembered, but increasingly distant experiences would shift and realign, recombine and reincarnate within difficult-to-recognise manifestations: a battle chant transformed into a children’s rhyme; a curse morphing into a lullaby, or vice versa.

Such echoes of reflections inspired, consoled and tormented human lives over generations through to the turmoil of the close of the fourth century (Laycock, 2006) and far beyond.  It is highly feasible that tribal identities and alliances of some type, as well as inter-tribal tensions, resurfaced within the implosion of empire.  Recent research tends to support the notion of the revenge of disparaged identity.  The tribalism of the late Iron Age, it is increasingly recognised, already had a fluid and in some respects ephemeral character.  Simon James notes the “often-transient” nature of the “‘tribal’ groupings” of the period.  For James the key to their kaleidoscopic quality is that “…these groups did not yet have substantial contacts with other, obviously different groups with whom to contrast themselves…” (James, 1999, p.94)

The indeterminacy in relation to ethnic identity that James describes has implications for the decades and centuries that followed. Who were the “Romano-Britons” of Bartlow?  How “Romano” as distinct from “British ” or “tribal” were they within the universe of their own self-conceptions?  From their descendents’ point of view, how, if at all, did Rome’s loss of control in the far west of southern Britain by early fifth century (Jones, 1996) impact upon identity in the south east?  Perhaps both most important and most elusive, to what extent did imperial consolidation of the social hierarchy already intensifying before Roman involvement encourage complex, many-sided identities to emerge and in their turn change?   Far from assuming some common early or proto-British identity, such questions permit an approach to ethnicity as fluid, shifting and more likely than not at odds with itself.  They also raise the potential of people, then as much as now, to be underwhelmed by resistible invitations to hide behind a flag – however often such behaviour is mendaciously theorised as a hallmark of being human.

Bartlow Hills
In connection with what is known of Bartlow, artistic and apparently wealth-expressive grave goods are also associated with mound burial in the pre-Roman “Iron Age”.  Typical grave artefacts from that earlier period are in addition commonly taken to signify what James Dyer has called “…a strong preoccupation with the after life.” (Dyer, 1997, p.157)   However that interpretation is interpreted, there is no doubt that on excavation the Bartlow mounds were found to hold remarkable, even poignant depositions.  Archaeologist Alison Taylor writes: “Lamps of iron or bronze had been left burning when each burial was sealed, and when excavated they still contained a ‘fatty substance’ and a partially burned wick.” (Taylor, 1998, p.18)  Such an arrangement strongly suggests intentionally prolonged internal illumination after the tombs were sealed.  Was the contrivance a means to enact some conception of conscious continuity across the transition to another world?  Was there, perhaps in addition, some recognition of the tendency of light – literal or metaphorical – toward eventual extinction?  What precisely did that aspect of entombment signify to the people who witnessed it with anguish, relief, indifference, even curiosity?

The poverty of available facts is an unavoidable element of the situation.  Imagination, it follows, must play a part in any attempt to account for the meaning – or meanings – of the flames of the Bartlow lamps to those who placed and observed them alongside the human remains that they illuminated briefly.  Ambiguity pervades all possible theorisations of those perishing flames which could even, in the end, be the most relevant metaphor for the changefulness and multi-potentiality of identity and ethnicity.

Certainly the presence of Bartlow’s towering “fairy hills” – as ancient and prehistoric barrows have been popularly visualised and imagined (Harte, 1997) – lends an otherwordly quality to the landscape of which they remain a part.  Much as with the mounds of Neolithic and Bronze Age centuries, it seems unlikely the creation of that experience of “otherness” is an unintended consequence of landscape transformation.  Go among them and to this day you enter another kind of space.


Selected sources:

Braund, D. (2000) “”Britain AD”, “History Today”, Jan. 2000.

Collingridge, V. (2006) “Boudica”, Ebury Press/Random House, London.

Dunning, G.C. and Jessup, R.F. (1936) “Roman Barrows”, “Antiquity”, 10.

Dyer, J. (1973) “Southern England: An Archaeological Guide”, Faber and Faber, London.

Dyer, J. (1997) “Ancient Britain”, Routledge, London.

Faulkner, N. (2000) “Decline and fall”, “British Archaeology”, 55, Oct 2000.

Fox, C. (1923) “The Archaeology of the Cambridge Region”, University Press, Cambridge.

Harte, J. (1997) “Hollow Hills”, “At the Edge”, 5.

Hingley, R. (2005) “Freedom Fighter – or Tale for Romans?”, “British Archaeology”, 83, July/Aug 2005.

Hull, M.R. (1963) “The Bartlow Hills” in “Victoria History of the Counties of England”, ed. R.B.Pugh “A history of Essex” vol. 3, University of London Institute of Historical Research/Oxford University Press.

James, S. (1999), “The Atlantic Celts: Ancient People or Modern Invention?”, British Museum Press, London.

Jones, M. (1996) “Rebellion remains the decisive factor”, “British Archaeology”, 20, Dec. 1996.

Laycock, S. (2006) “Britannia: the threat within”, “British Archaeology”, 87, March/April 2006.

Taylor, A. (1998) “Archaeology of Cambridgeshire Vol 2: South East Cambridgeshire and the Fen Edge”, Cambridgeshire County Council.

Text copyright David Binns_(c)2009

 

Talking about London Overground film on Soho Radio

Went in to the wonderful Soho Radio on Wednesday morning to talk about my London Overground film with Ben Ramble and Holly Horne on their show Free Seed on Soho.

It was a suitably rambling chat (you can listen to the entire episode above) where I went on about YouTube for too long, but then it is integral to my development as a film-maker and also as a writer. I’d also recently realised that I’ve been on YouTube for 10 years now which is a bit of a landmark when you consider that the platform is just over 10 years old itself. We touched on the work-in-progress screening at Close-Up the week before where we screened 20 minutes of footage and discussed the film and book with Iain Sinclair.

Iain Sinclair John Rogers

The morning after the Close-Up screening I went out to do one of the final shoots with Iain picking up the Overground trail at St. Mary’s Church Battersea where William Blake got married Catherine Boucher in 1782.

The finished film will premiere in the East End Film Festival which runs from 23rd June – 3rd July.

Looking for Gaudi (Barcelona)

Barcelona 1993

I last visited Barcelona in 1993. There I am in my Ride t-shirt on the hill just above Park Guell. It was a peculiar trip for reasons to banal for a blog but I was staying with a Historian who showed us around some of the Civil War sites. I’d recently studied Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia so that was the my main interest in the city – that and visiting the Nou Camp.

Park Guell

23 years later here’s my eldest son in more or less the same spot (the roof of the house just above the white van can be seen to my left in the photo from 1993). After the trip in ’93 I was due to start an MA at Birkbeck. Upon return to London I deferred my place on the course and in the end used the money I’d saved to pay for my fees to buy a round-the-world plane ticket. I met my wife in Sydney about 18 months later. Our first son was born about 10 years after that trip to Barcelona.

El Carmel

It was my son’s idea to go to Barcelona during the Easter holiday – I just needed to get out of the country somewhere and wanted to take one of the kids with me. He asked for a hotel by the beach with wifi in the room. I didn’t hold out great hopes for extensive sightseeing so was glad when he suggested going to look for the ‘Gaudi Park’ – Park Guell.

El Carmel Hill

We had to wait 6 hours to get into the Gaudi bit of the park so my son suggested climbing to the top of El Carmel Hill. As we got higher and higher with each view surpassing the previous one it occurred to me that I hadn’t been this high up when I’d visited all those years ago – I wonder why not. But back then you just strolled into Park Guell, no queues and very few people inside the park.

Park Guell

Despite his astonishing achievements as an architect it’s sad that Gaudi’s most prominent biographical note is that when he was run over and killed outside his great work of the Sagrada Familia none of the passers-by recognised the iconic shaper of their city. That’s a bit rough on Gaudi – how many architects today would get recognised lying dead in the street?

Bogatell Beach

Watching the surfers at Bogatell Beach reminded me of Sydney – a real urban beach where people step out from their daily life to catch a wave or two or lie and soak up some rays.

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Towards the end of our short stay I coaxed my son into a look at the Gothic Quarter – but he was knackered and wasn’t buying it. ‘This is just like London’, he said. I was stumped, this couldn’t be less like London I replied. We were sitting in a small square on a bench. ‘It’s buildings and people walking past, it’s basically the same’. Like Bloomsbury I asked. ‘Yes, just not as big’. And you could see his point. It wasn’t as distinct as the rocky trail up El Carmel Hill or the clear blue water at Bogatell Beach. We went back to the hotel and ordered room service.

Leytonstone byways to Old Leyton

Be guided by your feet – or a river, road or canal. With the rain lashing down crossing the footbridge over the Link Road the prospects for a stroll did not look good so I fell upon old territory, some of the first streets I walked when I arrived in London as a callow 18-year.

Then the sun broke out over Upper Leytonstone and I followed the old byways along the Leytonstone/Leyton border to Abbotts Park, past the new Exchange development to Leyton Cricket Ground where I imagined I was watching Essex play Australia in 1905. Squinting you can see back to the workers excavating the remains of a Roman villa in the grounds of Leyton Grange back in the 18th Century, until of course the cars come hooning round Church Road.

 

Download the audiobook of This Other London here (excerpt in the video above)