Common Ground

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Sat in the armchair in my shed the other day enjoying the first spring sunshine pitching through the open door, I lazily picked up a copy of The Countryman from Winter 1986 sat on the old school desk and randomly flicked through the pages stopping on this passage:

“… tree preservation orders may well miss trees with important local associations – perhaps where village courting traditions took place, or the first chestnut burst into leaf in spring. Sites of special scientific interest can overlook the bluebell wood or primrose bank remembered since childhood. And what legislation would protect the brackenfield so important to a community within living memory as a source for bedding animals, reed-bed cut for thatching, or the quarry waste-tip symbolic of labour that gave character to the place we now enjoy?”Tom Greeves, The Countryman, 1986

Tom Greeves’ article goes on to describe the launch of The Common Ground Parish Maps Project – an initiative to get each parish to create maps representing the values, interests and heritage from the point of view of the people who live there.

In the cities, the primrose banks and bluebell woods can just as easily be bus-shelters where local ‘courting traditions’ took place, and nissen huts now used as garden sheds – we need to make sure they too are mapped and save them from being cruelly swept away like the brackenfields bricked over with Wimpy Homes.

Common Ground seem to still be going strong nearly 30 years later, mapping out the corners of communities often overlooked and neglected. Have a listen to this recent programme on Radio 4

 

 

 

Olympic Park Pedestrian Peril

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The mistake was to assume that there was a shortcut through the Olympic Park from the Eastway – a magic byway from the proud new Leyton logo sign that captures the Lea Valley sunset through to the Westfield behemoth (a PS4 game goldmine for my sons). I mean a shortcut on foot that is.

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Firstly we were turned away from the road beside the new bus depot that I had assumed led down to where Chobham Academy now stands – apparently it just ends up at the Velodrome, which like most of the venues sits in darkness. The view from the Eastway has changed little since I moved out this way in 2006-07 – the same metal fencing, the piles of sand move around a bit and there was that moment in the summer of 2012 they tarted it up for the TV show but soon after they put it back as it had been – a building site.

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I started to wonder if it will always be a building site – given that large chunks of the Olympic Park have been set aside for development, much of which has yet to start – thousands of new homes are supposed to arrive at some point. We thought we found the through road – the old Quarter Mile Lane leading into Temple Mills Lane, but the signage screamed at the unwary pedestrian not to enter.

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There was so many signs prohibiting travel on foot it was difficult to know if it was safe to even stand still – and if so where, following the signage to the letter would have meant finding a tree to climb then radio in for an airlift free from this autogeddon.

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Just as I started to prepare my two young sons and pug puppy for the likelihood of having to walk along the Hackney Cut then hop on the Greenway we came upon Waterden Road that seemed to have a serviceable pavement. Then the fences dissolved into sodden newly laid grassland.

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The pug gamboled down the path, the boys rolled down the grassy banks beside the river. A few joggers puffed past, but otherwise there were few people around. We took refuge by the calming waters of the Lea – spitting out clods of pollution inhaled from the death roads of the east.

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I’m sure they’ll get the footbridge over from Hackney Marsh into the park open at some point, just like they’ll have to start using the Velodrome soon and the stadium – but for now the priority has clearly been to get the motors motoring to the real destination – the consumer cathedral at Stratford – which is where we headed once we’d recharged our souls for the horrors ahead.

 

 

Leyton under the waters of the River Lea

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This is a sobering image, in light of the current floods, from W.H. Weston’s The Story of Leyton and Leytonstone (1921) showing the ‘probable’ scale of the east bank of the River Lea around the time of the Late Stone Age.
I keep looking at it as it appears to show my home under a watery finger that laps over Francis Road up to Fairlop Road.

This map on Wanstead Meteo shows the extent of the flooding in the area when the Lea broke its banks in 1809 – although I find this vision more encouraging as it would submerge Westfield.

The nearby Philly Brook which was famously prone to flooding until it was culverted seems to still be gurgling soundly beneath the streets although I’m going to pop round to check on Dennis’ corner shop in a minute as it sits right in a gulley beside the brook in Norlington Road which was so sodden that it was dubbed ‘the valley of Doom’.
You can’t hold mother nature back forever.

The sound of: Plumstead covered market

This is a short field recording I made whilst wandering around Plumstead covered market on the walk from Woolwich around Crayford Ness for chapter 3 of This Other London

Here’s a snippet from the book:

Moving up along Plumstead Road my momentum is broken by the covered market. There’s been a market on the site since the 1600s – the poor forgotten cousin of the more famous Covent Garden. Thursday is early closing, which probably accounts for the lack of activity. It must be a hard life grinding a living out of the stalls here. The Gurkha Café has a few punters sup- ping tea on its outside tables. I do circuits, soaking in the atmos- phere: the narrow ways between units, the coloured lettering all around, pulsing reggae music bouncing back off the glass ceiling. There are echoes of Grand Central Market in Los Angeles that provided the inspiration for scenes in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Blade Runner. A mash-up of ethnic influences coming together into a hybrid street culture, a Himalayan- Afro-Caribbean-Indian-Jutish cocktail.”This Other London – adventures in the overlooked city

Brandon Estate Cine Club

Diving into the goldmine of the London Screen Archives Youtube channel the other day turned up this precious nugget – the archives of the Brandon Estate Cine Club.

The Brandon Estate was built in the late 50’s in Kennington, South London. The Club made Super 8 films of events on the estate organised by the social club – using a camera bought by 17-year old Brian Waterman with his first pay-packet from his job on the Underground. There’s more about the Cine Club on the Film London website and how the members of the club were recently reunited for a special screening of the films.

The first thing that struck me when I watched the footage of the estate in 1961 with the concrete still fresh was the opening credits of Sean Lock’s classic sitcom 15 Storeys High which used the Brandon Estate for the exterior locations.

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The episode where Vince has to return a plough that he drunkenly stole from a pub is a great example of how the estate was used in the series. The Brandon Estate Cine Club footage and 15 Storeys High complement each other beautifully, positive views of life on a south London estate – summer fetes, kids Christmas parties, day trips to Canvey Island, trying to get a sofa up in the lift. I can imagine Vince going along to the screening that was organised on the estate and getting into some sort of light-hearted bother.