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.

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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.

A Leyton Peculiar

The assassination of the great avant-garde composer, Cornelius Cardew by the Stasi, the course of the Philly Brook, King Harold in Leyton and the pilgrimage route to Waltham Abbey along the High Road, a near collision with a cyclist on the pavement, the Knights Templar, echoes of midwest America, and a glorious sunset – all in a long walk round the block the other evening.

Walk along the Philly Brook (Fillebrook) with the Leytonstone WI

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The WI standing over the Philly Brook, Chelmsford Road, Leytonstone

Sunday morning I led the newly-formed Leytonstone Women’s Institute (WI) on a walk along the course of Leyton and Leytonstone’s buried stream The Philly Brook (or Fillebrook or indeed Fille Brook – in fact spell it however you like).

I last did this walk in almost 4 years ago to the day with Nick Papadimitriou and David Boote for an episode of Ventures and Adventures in Topography.

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Me and the WI on the course of the Philly Brook at the end of Newport Road

It was great to revisit the route in its entirety rather than my homages over the street iron in Southwest Road where the brook flows fast and loud all year round but is precariously placed on a bend in the road that seems to encourage wreckless driving.

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From The Story of Leyton and Leytonstone by W.H Weston (1921)

In the morning sunshine the brook was just visible some 20 feet down beneath the road – rushing on its way to meet the Lead Mill Stream beneath the mini-rounabout on Orient Way.

There we leant over to peer through the allotment fence to spy our precious watercourse briefly appearing above ground in a concrete culvert before disappearing once more beneath the tarmac.

Tour de France in Leyton

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The Tour de France coming to Leyton – a momentous event surely. The kids were even allowed a day off school – giving the Tour the same weight as the recent Royal Wedding.

I scanned the route for the best vantage point which by coincidence happened to be the closest part of the stage to home – the corner out of Orient Way into Ruckholt Road. The tour scooting over land owned by the Knights Templar and across the old manor of Ruckholts.

We sat by the roadside for 2 hours being pelted with cheap merchandise. My son was hit in the throat with a bag and my head was narrowly missed by an aggressively hurled box of Yorkshire Tea.

We’d been promised a good show. Somebody I knew even said the caravan was the best bit. A flotilla of 8 foot tall Fruit Shoot bottles hurtled by at breakneck speed.
There were some white rabbits – stares fixed straight ahead.

One van blared out Gangnam Style – “Still!!” exclaimed my 8 year-old son.

The leaders zipped past in a blink of an eye. Impressive.

Then the peloton was upon us like a swarm of angry hornets – a blur upon the retina, an optical illusion, we couldn’t even turn our heads to see them round the bend into Ruckholt Road. We didn’t get the hoped for pile up – darn it. There’d been a grape rolling around in the road moments before that we’d hoped would slide under the tyres.

“Well that wasn’t worth it”, my 8 year old declared.

“Oh well, it’ll be something to tell your grandchildren”, I attempted to console them, “the day the Tour de France came to Leyton”.

A field in England

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As bucolic as anything you would find in the ‘traditional’ countryside – our precious Leyton Marshes, a step away from Lea Bridge Road. Once part of the ancient Lammas Lands (open access grazing pasture for the people of the parish between August and March).

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Through the trees and down across a ditch and you are across the Parish boundary on the Walthamstow Marshes – again former Lammas Land. I couldn’t help noticing that there was more signage than on the Leyton side and which also looked in generally better nick – or am I succumbing to local rivalries and insecurities.

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What they don’t have in Walthamstow is this seductive pumping house near the Essex Filter Beds. You have to love the use of glass bricks and its overall symmetry. You expect it to house more than a pump, which is merely a front for what is actually an imaginarium.

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You suspect that whoever attempted to break through the wooden door wasn’t attempting to gain access to this glorious pump. They may have thought it would open a Stargate … or perhaps provide a place to kip for the night. I hope they weren’t too disappointed – I certainly appreciated being able to have a sneaky peak inside.

(There’s more on the marshes in This Other London)

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.