Over Marsh Lane Fields & Across Hackney Marshes

The roadside wildflowers near the nest Nest E10 apartments made me think of Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside. This was apt because I remember reading Iain Sinclair’s wonderful article about this hugely influential book in the Guardian Review then heading for a walk to our own patch of unofficial countryside at Marsh Lane Fields expecting to find hordes of Guardian reading foragers only to find this glorious open space largely devoid of people and the elderflower trees laden with fruit. So this lockdown walk on the 15th May was a welcome return to one of my favourite places in London, a precious tract of land preserved for the enjoyment of local people.

From Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) I crossed the metal footbridge over the railway sidings to Leyton Waterworks. The threat of the music festival has now passed, the campaign to stop the festival successful and the organisers graciously accepting defeat. I do miss the old Pitch and Put over here. I used to come over in the hour before sunset in summer for a quick round with my eldest son in tow munching on vending machine crisps. I was curious to see if the hot weather had made people take to swimming in the River Lea at the spot that some have come to call Hackney Beach. But on this weekend three weeks ago there was only a solitary hammocker snoozing suspended over the gently flowing waters of our sacred river. Two weeks later scenes of swimmers cavorting in the river caused social media outrage.

Leyton Waterworks - Marsh Lane walk River Lea Marsh Lane walk

Crossing the Friends Bridge I passed into the London Borough of Hackney, breaching the old Middlesex – Essex border and once the frontier between the Danelaw and English Law. Here there was a liberal sprinkling of picnicers and people playing sport. You could sense the lockdown dissolving on this side of the river, too soon for my liking. A great plume of smoke billowed into the sky from a warehouse fire in Barking, fire engines cut through traffic on the Eastway. I crossed the river back into Waltham Forest and took the backstreets through Leyton home.

The ghost horses of Marsh Lane Fields

The most poignant moment in making this elegy for a London meadow – Marsh Lane Fields, came when I couldn’t recall where exactly the horses had been tethered beneath the pylons. It was the memory of that image – so striking when I’d first seen it on my personal discovery of Marsh Lane Fields, new to the area Beating the Bounds in the driving rain with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee – that made me realise not only had the horses been erased from the landscape but the pylons as well. How was it possible that I hadn’t noticed before. I’d surveyed the changes to the site when passing through on one of the walks for This Other London and the fact I was running late for the wassailing in Clapton made me hurry through.

marsh lane fields horses

Sunday night I dug out my old camcorder from the top of the wardrobe and spooled through a miniDV tape I shot in December 2006 when the NLLDC returned to Marsh Lane to lead a protest against the proposed enclosure of one end of the ancient Lammas Lands by the London Olympic Authorities for the relocation of Manor Garden Allotments from Hackney. One protest had begotten another. First time this was attempted, in 1892, the people of Leyton marched onto the fields led by their councillors and tore the fences down. A plaque on the Eton Manor Athletics Club commemorates the event. It’s said the land was drained by Alfred the Great and bequeathed to the people of Leyton as common pasture based on the old Lammas grazing system. This mattered little to the Olympic people and their fences went up.

I fast-forwarded through the footage of the protest, the singing of an old marching Song sung during he footpath protests of the early 20th Century. Were the horses a misplaced memory of the stables on the site of the Lea Valley Pitch and Putt (was that a figment of my imagination as well?). But eventually there were the horses munching the grass in Standard Definition, today closely mown and rebranded Leyton Jubilee Park, grazing where now allotment holders cultivate rhubarb.

Marsh Lane Fields Celebration

Marsh Lane Fields has again been saved, and this time without a riot.
I got an email announcing the victory this afternoon:

“Last night the Borough of Waltham Forest’s planning committee turned down an application by the LondonDevelopment Agency to fence off about a fifth of Marsh Lane Fields in Leyton to relocate allotment-holders(who don’t want ot move!) from a lovely 85 year oldsite at Bully Point in Newham.
The campaign against this was led by the Lammas Lands Defence Committee,with a lot of help from other interested groups in the borough. We had already planned a rally on the marshes on Sunday before the announcement that lastnight’s planning cttee meeting would be deciding the application, and we therefore propose to hold a PARTYon the fields. So bring party stuff – champers,ribbons, etc. – if there’s any snow we can build asnowman or have a snowball fight! And please bringpolo mints, carrots or apples for the horses thatgraze there – they’ll appreciate it immensely this time of the year when it’s muddy and the grass doesn’tgrow very fast.”

It nice for a change to celebrate a victory against rapaciuos development.
I was worried that my video about the campaign would become an obituary piece.
There’s a good piece on Indymedia about the victory too

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Save Marsh Lane Fields – video

I’ve cut together some footage of the demonstration on Marsh Lane Fields in December. The video hopefully explains the issues, but in short the Olympic Destruction/Development Agency are planning re-locate the Manor Gardens Allotments in Hackney to one corner of Marsh Lane Fields.

The issues/objections are:
– the re-location of the allotments onto land that was used as a tip after the war will involve the removal of vast amounts of earth which will cause enormous disruption to this tranquil corner of Leyton (think of the diggers, trucks etc.). It’ll turn this quiet lane into a rat-run.

– it will involve the enclosure of Lammas Land that has been open, common grazing land since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the C9th. This is both a disaster locally but also on a larger scale it represents yet more common land being enclosed.

It’s instructive to note the two historical precedents of the 19th Century when the authorities intervened, both here on the Leyton Lammas Lands and in nearby Epping Forest, to fend of the advances of land grabbers and keep this vital open space in common ownership. But both these landmark rulings were triggered by the actions of a few.

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Save Marsh Lane Fields

There is a spirited campaign to save Marsh Lane Fields which is under threat of development by the LDA for the dreaded 2012 Olympics.
I received this message the other day on the excellent Games Monitor email list:

“the (planning) application has been readvertised in WF Guardian of 30/11,with closing date for objections (etc) of 20th December. Presumablysomething has changed….. NLLDC are attempting to find out what; if anyone knows, please advise.-
NLLDC will be putting in a formal objection asap with more details to follow – and probably questions asking for more info on the proposals.- we hope lots of other people will put in objections too.
Further, we hope there will be other people and/or groups with interest in ML fields who will be willing to get together to coordinate the planning law type objections –
LDA (or EDAW on their behalf seem to be insistently refering to the areaas “ML playing fields”, despite the fact the area is “Open SPace” and has not been marked out with football pitches for several years (and even then was never supplied with goalposts etc). This is clearly another weaselwords attempt to give a misleading impression of the area – given that”playing fields” have a lower level of protection under planning law than”open space”.
Incidentally, does anyone know exactly how long it was since the area they want to steal was marked with footy pitch white lines??- detailed onjections under planning law are being drawn up with help of expert advice (!) and we are likely to call a get-together of parties interested in coordinating objections very soon. Please get in touch on Monday, or by email, asap if that is you/your group.- There will also be work in leafletting local area – how many don’t know there is a threat? – lobbying, press/publicity for what is going on , etc.
All help welcomed!- we even have a theme song! – ayone with musical talents who’d like to join us singing this, either on fields or outside meetings, etc??”
Here’s the details of the planning application for anyone wishing to place an objection. I’ll certainly be adding my voice to the campaign to save what is one of the most special parts of London.
Anyone wanting to get involved should email: marshlane@umbilical.demon.co.uk
These applications have been received by the Council. You may view any of the applications at our reception at Chingford Municipal Offices, 16 The Ridgeway, London E4 6PS between 9 am and 5pm Monday to Friday. A Duty Planning Officer will be available between 10.00am and 4.00pm to explain the plans to you and answer general enquiries. Outside of these times staff may not be available without an appointment. Any comments you wish to make about any of the applications should be submitted within 21 days of the above “End Date”. Please write to the above address quoting the application number. Please note that all files, including correspondence, will be open to the public when a decision has been made. Due to the number of letters received regarding planning applications, it will not be possible to acknowledge your letter. We will inform you of the final decision.

Click to access plan-apps12nov06.pdf


End Date 16 November 2006
Application number 2006/1627
Development Description
Provision of an allotment site on the lower plateau at the Western end of Marsh Lane playing fields and to the South
of Marsh Lane. Development to comprise:
a) 81 individual plots, communal plot and ancillary sheds/buildings, storage and drop off area.
b) Associated earth works raising the level of the land with perimeter planting and fencing to a height of 2meters.
c) Associated environmental improvements outside the curtilage of the allotment site comprising improvements to cycle
and footways and landscaping.
Full planning
Development Address
Marsh Lane Playing Fields
Marsh Lane
Leyton
London
E11 3PA
Applicant Address
The London Development Agency, One Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 5LN
Agent Details
Matt Sharp The Johnson Building, 77 Hatton Gardens, EC1N 8JS
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Walking the Shortlands Stream across Leyton Marshes

Back at the end of February I joined local historian Claire Weiss for a walk following the Shortlands Stream across a corner of Leyton Marshes. Claire has been researching the history of Lea Bridge Farm. This stream, or in reality a sewer, ran across the farmland and has since been culverted, although traces above ground can be found.

We met at Marsh Lane Fields and started our walk at the bridge over the Dagenham Brook, finding the point where the Shortlands Stream makes its journey beneath the ground.

More information about Claire’s Lea Bridge Farm project can be found here