Wanstead Flats after the fire

Wanstead Flats fire damage

Walked across Wanstead Flats this morning for the first time since the enormous fire on Sunday that engulfed a large section of the grass and scrub land between Lake House Road and Centre Road, with some damage along the edge of the section towards Aldersbrook Road. The BBC reported that more than 220 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, that was still smoldering on Tuesday. Today you can make your way along the paths that seemed to have largely escaped serious fire damage.

Wanstead Flats map showing the burnt area - from OpenStreetMap

map showing the burnt area – from OpenStreetMap

Fire damage on Wanstead Flats

the path running parallel to Centre Road

Wanstead Flats fire damage

note the patch of pink flowers on the right that escaped fire damage

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

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Worringly, there had been further fires overnight by the Empress Avenue allotments in Aldersbrook. One of the fires was started just outside the Aldersbrook Riding School which was being investigated by the Police as a possible act of arson. There were dark burnt patches all around the area. The mound of dung and manure beside the allotments had been set alight and was still smoldering.

Aldersbrook fire

Fires had scorched the dry grass and weeds off the end of the lane near the old sewage works and the pylons. One local suggested that the sporadic nature of the fires indicated they’d been started deliberately. It was interesting to note how some plants in heavily burnt areas had escaped damage – you’ll see it in the thistles here and on Wanstead Flats there was a cluster of tall pink flowers (purple loosestrife?) surrounded by blackened earth at what had been the heart of the inferno.

 

Retreat to Epping Forest

Nearing the end of a boiling Sunday afternoon I had the urge to be under the shade of Forest trees, so headed on the tube to Loughton. My preferred route into the forest from the station for the last few years has been via Ollard’s Grove – a vertiginous street of large Edwardian houses leading off the High Road. The name, Ollard’s Grove, apparently is of medieval origin referencing a tenant who occupied this parcel of land, which before the area was heavily developed, would have commanded fine views over the Roding Valley.

Epping Forest

The path leading past the Nursery is lined with tall stems of scorched thistles. A cluster of rabbits broke and headed for cover as I approached, with one particularly confident bunny sat munching grass beside the path as I passed. I stopped in the wide shade of an oak tree to check the score in the World Cup Final and watched Ivan Perisic fire in Croatia’s equaliser.

Crossing Epping New Road I walk through what must have been the grounds of Fairmead Lodge, which had already been cleared by the time that E.N Buxton was writing his definitive Epping Forest guide in the late 19th Century. The cool shade of the glades on Long Hills is like taking a dip in stream, welcome relief from the relentless heat, that at the far end of the forest, has set Wanstead Flats ablaze.

Eucalyptus Epping Forest

A lone eucalyptus tree stands in a clearing in Hill Wood. A bush ranger in Sydney once explained to me the folly of importing eucalyptus trees as they need bush fires to spread their seeds, dripping oil into the flames to intensify the heat to the temperature required to eject their spores into the surrounding scorched earth.

Epping Forest

The bikers’ tea hut at Cross Roads is doing a brisk trade but I resist the temptation to stop for a drink, bound as I am for Shelleys Hill. I descend through Kate’s Cellar into the part of the forest that I’m probably most familiar with, although more often than not I’m blissfully directionless. Soon I’m on the banks on the Loughton Brook leading me to Staples Pond and the route back out of the forest to the High Road and the news that France had lifted the World Cup.

Pie and Mash on the Leytonstone Arts Trail

Noted Eel and Pie House Leytonstone

Jake Green’s brilliant photographic Pie and Mash project is on display at the Noted Eel and Pie House during the Leytonstone Arts Trail. A couple of years ago, Leytonstoner Jake, set out to photograph all of London’s remaining Pie and Mash shops.

Noted Eel and Pie House Leytonstone

Pie and Mash was once a reliable cheap meal for working Londoners and their children. Wholesome, hot and filling, it took the traditional street food of the wandering pie and eel vendors indoors to tiled and wooden interiored cafes. But over the years the Pie and Mash shops have gradually died away – halving in number in the last 20 years. Jake documented 31 Pie and Mash shops during his project – some of which had closed before it was completed.

Noted Eel and Pie House Leytonstone

When putting together the photos for a limited edition publication, Jake asked me to contribute some text. Not being any kind of authority on Pie and Mash, I instead wrote an account of a walk I devised linking together the sites of former Pie and Mash shops – now variously Fried Chicken joints, a chinese restaurant, a housing estate etc. You can read, The Dead Pie Shop Trail at the exhibition.

Here’s a short extract:

The Dead Pie Shop Trail

It was stood outside A. Cook’s Pie and Mash on Goldhawk Road, boarded up along with an entire strip of small shops, that I decided to pay homage to London’s dead Pie and Mash Shops in the form of a walk—a Dead Pie Shop Trail.

Cook’s played a proud part in the impressive pop cultural history of Shepherd’s Bush. Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols ate there. Viv Albertine of The Slits and Mick Jones of The Clash studied at Chelsea College of Art around the corner in Lime Grove and could well have frequented Cook’s. Phil Daniels whizzed past on his Lambretta with Leslie Ash on the back in the cult mod movie Quadrophenia, in a scene shot directly outside the shop.

The red, drop-shadowed font on the hard white background of the shop front is starting to peel away. ‘Traditional’ in lower-case italics above PIE, MASH, LIQUOR & EELS in elegantly sign-painted capital letters. Like many Pie and Mash Shops it is a work of art in itself. The windows are now boarded up, plastered with bill posters for gigs and clubs.

Instead of a tour of some of the living Pie and Mash Shops captured in this book, I find myself on late winter’s day in West Ham Lane, Stratford, at the site of Lediard’s Pie and Mash shop. Steak Republic now occupies the site. The menu still boasts ‘World Range Pies’, along with milkshakes, gourmet burgers and traditional fish and chips. A fragment of carved stonework from the old building pokes through the gap between the plastic shop signage and First Impression Hair and Beauty Salon next door. The neighbouring stretch of West Ham Lane features numerous food outlets; Mummy Yum Chicken Ribs and Pizza, Top Chef Chinese Cuisine, a Polish Delicatessen, and Burj Chicken and Pizza. There is clearly still a market for cheap and simple food in the area despite Lediard’s demise.

The view West from here towards the next part of the Dead Pie Shop Trail is one of emergent skyscrapers, cranes looming over skeletal towers on the outskirts of Mega City Stratford. The grand old civic buildings of the County Borough of West Ham dating from the early 1900s are boarded up, abandoned. Change is sweeping not only through post-Olympic Stratford but London as a whole. What can we learn from the dead pie shops about the London that’s been lost and the city to come?

Pie and Mash Jake Green

Jake Green’s Pie and Mash runs at the Noted Eel and Pie House, 481A High Rd Leytonstone,  E11 4JU – until early August.

 

Looking for Leytonstone’s Lost Lido at Whipps Cross

One boiling hot morning last week I returned to an overgrown patch of land on the far side of the Hollow Ponds in search of remnants of Leytonstone’s lost Lido. The Whipps Cross Lido was built in 1905 and closed in 1982. It was demolished the following year and the land left to be reclaimed by the forest. I’d gone looking for remains originally with my friend Andrew Stevens, a few years ago on a muddy winter afternoon. That day we mostly found thick undergrowth festooned with used condoms like a plantation of perverted Christmas trees. The location of the Lido had evidently found a new use.

What we hadn’t realised at the time was that the site is quite clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey map, and on this occasion I was able to properly scope the site out. Initially all I found were half lumps of concrete buried in the banks of bushes. Not conclusive enough. But soon I unearthed broken sections of clay pipes, and then large pieces of wire-mesh reinforced glass. Finally the smoking gun of a long length of metal pipe running along a high bank overlooking a large hollowed out area matching the size of the footprint of the pool.

Leytonstone Lido

Stood in the deep end being feasted upon by mosquitos I tried to imagine the scene on a boiling hot summer’s day such as this. The kids racing around the poolside and dive-bombing into the water to the rebukes of the life guards. People have told me of the odour of TCP that pervaded one corner, and of entire days spent here at the Whipps Cross Lido, the queue to get in stretching back to Snaresbrook Road.

The London Lidos that have survived are now treasured assets, with some such as Tooting, drawing in swimmers all year round. Brockwell and London Fields Lidos are ‘places to be seen’. If only Leytonstone’s Whipps Cross Lido could have weathered those dark recession years of the early 80’s – you can imagine how popular it would be today.