Unearthings: On and Off Watling Street with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting

Just under a year after the premiere of our film, London Overground, Iain Sinclair mentioned joining him out on the road again with my camera. This time he was walking a section of  Watling Street, the Roman road said to have much older origins, in the company of the great film-maker Andrew Kötting, from Canterbury to London. I joined them one morning along Shooters Hill Road in South London where they were accompanied by artist Anne Caron-Delion. This first walk followed the road to Westminster (another branch goes across London Bridge to the City) – passing over Blackheath, through Deptford (the ‘deep ford’), New Cross, Peckham, Elephant and Castle, along the way.

Enroute Iain had mentioned a second passage that related to Watling Street but branching off from Shooters Hill to take in the Shrewsbury burial mound and follow cult author Steve Moore’s ‘psychic circuit’ down to Woolwich. This brings Alan Moore into the story and led to a second walk. Steve Moore had been Alan Moore’s mentor, teaching him both the arts of magick and comic book writing. Alan had celebrated Steve’s territory of Shooters Hill in an essay published in London, City of Disappearances, entitled Unearthing. This seemed like the perfect title to appropriate as the title for the film.

 

The film that I made from the two walks ‘on and off’ Watling Street with Iain Sinclair was premiered at an event at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards-on-Sea last October, where Andrew Kötting also premiered his film of the whole walk, A WALK BACK TO THE LAST LONDON BY WAY OF WATLING STREET.

The event was called, Lights Out for the Last London: Down Watling Street with Iain Sinclair, Andrew Kotting and John Rogers.

“To pull away from its gravity, he sets off on a Watling Street pilgrimage with long term collaborators (and filmmakers) Andrew Kötting and John Rogers.
Their adventures, told through differing and contradictory memories, become a live performance, a conversation, a film of record.
The collision at Kino-Teatr in St Leonards is a unique coming together for the three walkers. Anything could happen.”

Kino-Teatr John Rogers Iain Sinclair Andrew Kotting

The video above captures the discussion with Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kötting after the screenings.

The uncanny world of West London

West London for me reeks of uncanniness, a sense of something slightly out of the ordinary that you can feel humming in the brickwork, radiating off the too green parkland grass, and nestling behind the net curtains. The garden suburbs at Hanger Hill Garden Estate and the Brentham Estate almost belong to a suburban version of the Hobbit shire, more than railway fueled urban expansion into the Middlesex countryside. The fairy princess said to be slumbering under the bus stop at Ealing (Ealine’s) Haven adds to the mystery, along with the Saxon Warriors excavated still wearing their cloaks in Hanwell, and the glorious legend of Horsenden Hill and Horsa’s mighty ghostly steed roaming the fields of Greenford at night. All of this and more swirled through my mind as I wandered from West Acton Station through Perivale and Greenford to Northolt on Easter Saturday.

river brent

River Brent

I could basically park hop the whole way – Hanger Hill Park, Pitshanger Park, Perivale Park, Northala Fields, and Belvue Park. The Northala Hills should be added to that list of the uncanny – giant mounds of Wembley and White City rubble, burial mounds of c20th grand spectacle. A magnificient sight – climb to the top and drink in the expansive views.

northala hills

I could have pushed on, but I’d been led out here by the memory of a walk from Easter 2014 along the Grand Union Canal that ended across Belvue Park and into The Crown pub. So that is where my homing instincts dragged each weary foot.

Exploring London on Foot talk at Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society

exploring london on foot john rogers

It was an enormous honour to be invited to give a public talk by the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society last week. I joined the Society shortly after moving to Leytonstone and still have a binder containing editions of their brilliant ‘Understone’ newsletter. It was however pointed out to me on the night that I allowed my membership to lapse some years ago.

John Rogers film screening Leytonstone

We had a full house in St. John’s Church Hall for my talk on ‘Exploring London on Foot’, which I’d deliberately left vague enough to allow me to talk about pretty much anything. So I ranged from The Situationists to Alfred Watkins as an introduction to my walks with Iain Sinclair. And I managed to stray along the A40 to talk about the Remapping High Wycombe project I did with my sister Cathy between 2004-05, where I first applied some of the ideas about walking that I’d been thinking about for a number of years.

Fringe of London Gordon S. Maxwell

It also gave me an opportunity to emphasise the influence of the inter-war topographical writers on my work, Gordon S. Maxwell’s The Fringe of London being one of the most significant in spelling out a credo to which I still adhere:

“The border-line between folk-lore and fairy-tales is not more nebulous than that between topographical research and “nosing about.”
The former, in either case, is but a grander name for practically the same thing. I mean the outdoor part of topography, not the many hunts in the land of books that usually follows later.”

“The way of the topographical rambler is sometimes hard, often muddy, usually interesting; but never dull.”

 – Gordon S. Maxwell – The Fringe of London, 1925

geographia london atlas 1955

It was great to be able to enthuse to an audience about the everyday wonders that await on our doorsteps – whole other worlds just around the street corner. As Pathfinder wrote in 1911, ‘Adventure begins at home’.

Walk from Cockfosters to Borehamwood

After walking the London Loop section 17 from Enfield Town to Cockfosters, I became enchanted by Camlet Moat and went out and bought Christopher Street’s London’s Camelot and the Secrets of the Grail. In the book, Street posits a number of sacred alignments cris-crossing London and one in particular linking Camlet Moat to the church in High Barnet along a Ley Line. This also bisects the site of the Battle of Barnet. So that became the principle aim of my walk – heading out from the glories of Cockfosters Station, across Hadley Common then through Barnet onwards to Borehamwood.

Barnet Church

New Council Homes for Waltham Forest

Great to see new Council Homes being built in Waltham Forest. The Council recently posted an update on a scheme in Wood Street, Walthamstow where a semi-derelict Victorian building is being replaced with 17 Council flats due for completion by the end of the year. It’s part of a plan to build a 1000 new council homes in the borough by 2022. The scheme is a partnership with Engie and NPS architects, who are also working on the regeneraton of the Marlowe Road Estate.

Marlowe Road Estate regeneration

The Marlowe Road Estate scheme will deliver 430 new homes for social rent and private sale, although the BBC reported that it will see an overall reduction of Council homes on the site where only 30% of the total new units will be for social rent. Waltham Forest Council has set itself a target of 50% ‘affordable’ housing on new schemes, which at up to 80% of market rates, ‘afforable’ homes are far more expensive than socially rented homes and not to be confused.

We’ve seen ‘estate regeneration’ used across London as a means to privatise public land and forcibly move residents out of the city. Waltham Forest Council state that all Marlow Road Estate Council tenants “affected by the regeneration have been given right to return. They will be given ‘decant status’ meaning they’ll get priority bidding if they want to move out of the estate. Leaseholders can now negotiate with the council to sell their properties back at the current market value.”

The Architects’ Journal has recently written about the move away from the developer-led model of estate regeneration previously favoured by some London boroughs which has seen enormous community backlash. The move by Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham Councils to call for a community-led approach to the hugely controversial Earls Court scheme, along with the pressure on Haringey Council to review its HDV project, and the Mayor’s initiatives to give residents a ballot on regeneration schemes, they say, “have the potential to fundamentally change how London’s housing estates are redeveloped.” It’s worth noting though that Green Party London Assembly Member Sian Berry, reported that Sadiq Khan quietly signed off 34 new estate regeneration schemes to avoid them being caught by the new rules. “At Mayor’s Question Time this week, the Mayor gave me a firm promise not to sign off any new funding for estate demolition while his new policy to require a ballot of residents was out for consultation. But he was concealing the fact he has recently rushed through funding for dozens of controversial schemes, allowing councils and housing associations to dodge his new policy.”

walthamstow town square development

So there are some positive moves in London on the housing front, but also many many challenges still to face. Waltham Forest’s plan to build more council houses is welcome news, while their inability to enforce the 50% ‘affordable’ housing target on new developments is lamentable – as evidenced recently with the council’s support for the Walthamstow Town Square development which contains a mere 20% ‘affordable’ housing and no socially rented homes.

London Loop Section 20 in the snow – Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (then to Romford)

This time a week ago London was covered in snow – the ‘Beast from the East’ returned and plunged us back into the Ice Age (or so it felt, the hyperbole is justified). Looking out at my snow-drenched garden I had a strong urge to hit the high ground, walk head-long into a blizard, confront this beast face-to-face. So I got the tube to Grange Hill bound for Havering-atte-Bower.

Hainault Forest snow

I’d done a portion of this walk with Rick Pearson for his podcast, London’s Peaks, and at the time vowed to return, partly to capture this majestic route on video but also to see how the walk could be extended.

London Loop section 20

From the top of Grange Hill to Havering-atte-Bower (the highest point in the London Borough of Havering) follows most of Section 20 of the London Loop, which starts at Chigwell. I’d covered the Chigwell end with Rick and also about a decade ago for my radio show, so I cut that part out in favour of extending the walk at the other end.

Redwood Trees Havering

As you would expect with the temperature below freezing there were very few people about, Hainault Forest virtually deserted. The climb into the foothills of Havering Country Park, wading through deep muddy puddles was tough but the reward more than adequate compensation. There’s an avenue of majestic Californian Redwood trees that runs though the top end of the wooded park that takes the breath away – it was an honour to be in their presence, these huge benign gods of the glade.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

The snow started coming in horizontal when away from the cover of the Redwoods, the wind whipping it up off the Havering Hills. Edward the Confessor had his hunting lodge here, some say this is where the pious king died. Havering-atte-Bower feels like an ‘out-of-place artefact’, a hill village in London that would be more at home in the Chilterns.

Havering-atte-Bower snow

I push on through the intensifying flurry, to Bedfords Park, losing my bearings in Bower Wood before crossing into Rise Park and out onto the A12 to catch a Route 66 bus home.