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.

A lost Roman Road in Leyton

The lockdown inspired me to make a video that’s been on my list since reading a report in the Spring 2016 edition of London Archaeologist. The excavation report by Gary Brown covered a dig that was carried out in 2004 on the Beaumont Road Estate in Leyton. An intriguing section of Roman Road was unearthed that has slightly baffled archaeologists as its size, location and alignment do not seem to be consistent with the general understanding of the established Roman Roads that pass through Leyton and Leytonstone. A number of theories have been proposed, which I talk through in the video, but as far as I’m aware it’s still a bit of a mystery. Also because this appears to be no mere side-road, but is equal in width to some of the main Roman Roads of southern England such as Watling Street and Stane Street.

Roman Road

What I was keen to test on the ground as well as on the map was how this Roman Road might align with the Bronze Age trackway that was excavated near the bus garage at Leyton Green. It was a fascinating lockdown walk that also took in Jack Cornwell Park, and some of the old streets of Leyton.

 


Here’s a blog post from 2017 documenting some of my other walks along Roman Roads near London.

Forest Uprising at Leyton Cricket Ground

Forest Uprising

Forest Uprising

Sunday saw the closing event of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Forest Uprising transformed Leyton Cricket Ground (once used by Essex County Cricket Club) into a steel sound installation plantation, dense thickets of illuminated scaffold poles giving forth the voices of the people of the borough. An alloy People’s Forest.

Forest Uprising Forest Uprising

East 17’s Tony Mortimer joined Waltham Forest Youth Choir in a rousing rendition of the boyband’s hit, Stay Another Day.

Forest Uprising IMG_1774 IMG_1785 IMG_1789

The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse was an odd beast, but bizarrely compelling. A greenhouse full of broad bean shoots staffed by bio-suited technicians studying the public as much as the plants. What I found peculiar was that it was a less dramatic version of a real underground urban farm in the tunnels beneath Clapham Common that I visited last year. A great way to introduce the next generation to the future of farming.

Forest Uprising

It was a fittingly dreamlike conclusion to Waltham Forest’s year as London Borough of Culture.

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Here’s a playlist of the walks I produced for Borough of Culture 2019

Along the Pilgrim Trail from Leyton to Stratford City

After popping down to photographer Jake Green’s studio in Leyton to pick up the new and expanded edition of his fantastic book, Pie and Mash (containing my essay The Dead Pie Shop Trail), I went on a wander down to Stratford that I’ve done periodically ever since I moving to the area.

Somehow this route from Coronation Gardens Leyton, along Leyton High Road, past Drapers Fields, Temple Mills Lane, Leyton Road and Angel Lane to Theatre Royal Stratford East, has been a way of taking the temperature of change in the area from just after the time of the announcement that London would be hosting the 2012 Olympics.

Walk from Marsh Lane Leyton, along the Lea to the Wetlands Centre

Marsh Lane, Leyton

Marsh Lane, Leyton

A bright cold Thursday morning, letting my feet guide me.

Marsh Lane, Leyton is full of resonances of my arrival in the area, beating the bounds of the Lammas Lands, a discovery of Country London that I never knew existed.

Marsh Lane Leyton

Marsh Lane Leyton

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WaterWorks Centre Leyton

WaterWorks Centre Leyton

The WaterWorks Centre was shutters down closed. The looming towers rising around Lea Bridge Station now frame the view. I miss the old pitch and put, playing on Saturday evenings with my son following me round, sitting on the tee with a bottle of Strawberry Milk and packet of crisps.

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes

Frost glimmered on the Lea Bridge Cycle Lane as I headed for the marshes contemplating coffee in the old stately home in Springfield Park.

Lea Navigation Hackney

Lea Navigation Hackney

I didn’t want to leave the Lea Navigation to climb through Springfield for coffee and survey the valley, so kept on the towpath.

A friend knowledgeable in these matters, says that the plants in the water at the beginning of this clip are called Frogbit, which apparently hibernates in winter.

Lea Navigation Tottenham

I sat on a bench beside the Navigation as I approached Ferry Lane enjoying the sun pitching on my face. A smattering of cyclists and joggers passed. All the action was on the water with birds skidding in to land, squawking, wings flapping, heads disappearing beneath the surface, a multitude of voices, songs and calls.

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

The viewing platform at Walthamstow Wetlands affords a majestic vista back down the Lea and over reservoirs towards Hackney and Leyton. It was almost balmy there, face to the sun.

Forest Road Walthamstow

Forest Road Walthamstow

The view of the building works on Forest Road, Walthamstow from the platform at Blackhorse Road Station was like looking at a gigantic sculpture with the arrangement of green, red and purple structures perfectly aligned. The breeze blocks in the foreground were a bit of a letdown though, I think yellow would work well.

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’.

Midwinter on Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes

With clear midwinter morning sky, rooftops and hedgrows swaddled in frost, I headed down Lea Bridge Road bound for Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes. I’d been meaning to make a video of this magical zone for a while, but somethings are too precious to capture on camera it seems – perhaps that’s why the resultant video was shot on 3 of them.

Walthamstow Marshes

The best entrance to the marshes isn’t via Lea Bridge Road, or the path across from the Filter Beds, but over the old iron footbridge from the Argall Avenue Trading Estate that carries you across the railway tracks and the River Lea Flood Relief Channel. Muddy puddles were frozen solid revealing nature’s pattern in the whorls and curls embedded in the ice. The jacketted horses in the Riding Centre blew out big plumes of breath. Dogs scarpered across Leyton Marsh to the river bank. Vapour trails embroidered the sky. It was glorious.

The A.V. Roe railway arch, Walthamstow Marshes

The A.V. Roe railway arch

I marked the line of trees demarcating the parish boundary between Leyton and Walthamstow that I’d been shown on a Beating of the Bounds organised by the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee when I’d first moved to the area. Then on to another memory stored in A.V Roe’s railway arch, not of that first triplane flight in 1909, but of singing the wassail song here with the Hackney Tree Muskateers.

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes is decorated with the droppings left behind by the Belted Galloway cattle reintroduced to the marshland to help restore the ‘natural’ order created by thousands of years of human interaction with this landscape. The cattle themselves were curiously elusive.

Mural Underpass Walthamstow Marshes

The circuit was completed by turning across Coppermill Fields and through the Mural Underpass to the Lammas Meadow. A horse trotted around the field edge. The horizon on all sides was marked by cranes and other signs of construction as the Lea Valley undergoes another period of change. This stip of marshland, preserved through previous struggles, has never felt so precious.

Leyton marshes pylons