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

IMG_5800

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.

 

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.

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’.

Walking in the Snow on Wanstead Flats

The overnight arrival of snow was announced early on Sunday morning by the excited screeching of my youngest son. I was initially less enthusiastic as I’d hope to head out on a long walk – perhaps even venture across the river, but a quick glance at the TfL website confirmed that a mere layer of snow had taken out several tube and train lines.

Snowman on Wanstead Flats

Just after midday, with my GoPro fully charged and the kids thawing out in front of the telly after a vicious backgarden snowball fight, I set out over Wanstead Flats. This has been my default location when it snows – the open expanses shielded by perimeter trees conducive to trapping in the snowfall – unlike the surrounding streets where it quickly turns into a grey sludge.

Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers Leytonstone

The football pitches on the Leytonstone side had the goal posts set out in anticipation of Sunday morning matches but the field was dominated by a squad of snowmen.

Louds squeals and hollers went up from a mound of the Alexandra Lake near Aldersbrook where families sledged down to the waters edge. Flocks of birds swooped in for whole slices of bread. Others took advantage of frozen pontoons to rest on the body of the lake.

Snow on Wanstead Flats

As the light faded towards the 3.50pm sunset the temperature dropped another degree or two so that the cold sought out those gaps around the edge of your clothing. I trudged over more snow cloaked football pitches and eventually to the path leading through Bush Wood from where I watched the twinkling lights of the distant city skyline foregrounded by Leytonstone’s iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers.

Barrage balloon posts Wanstead Flats

WW2 Barrage balloon posts

Last night brought rain instead of snow. The kids didn’t get the hoped for day off school and as we made our way along the road this morning, we looked out for forlorn patches of the icy crystals that were the only remnants of winter wonderland of yesterday.

Alexandra Lake Wanstead Flats snow

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone triumphant rebirth as the Heathcote and Star

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

fantastic food, great local beer … and neon – the Heathcote is back!

I used to love the old Heathcote Arms like a trusted, loyal friend. It was who I could turn to when things were bad and celebrate with in the good times. But mostly it was a place I could slump in a corner with a pint, packet of crisps and a pile of books. Often I was so relaxed I’d be nearly horizontal with a belly elaborately embroidered with a mosaic of crisp fragments. It was where I did most of the research for my book, This Other London, in the corner room which was empty most nights by 10.30 when I’d arrive. You could spread out books and maps across two tables and let the creative juices be lubricated by cheap ale.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Selection of canned & bottled Beer at the Heathcote and Star

But then it closed 3 years ago, bought by property developers to be turned into flats and its fate looked sealed. A valiant and spirited campaign followed, it was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and now finally it is fully back in business (I’m skipping over the bit when the developers put in a manager for a limited time).

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

This isn’t merely a re-boot but a full-scale resurrection with Electric Star Pubs taking out a 20 year lease on the Heathcote and pumping buckets of cash into a total refurb. Last week’s packed and thumping launch party wasn’t the time to make a proper judgement, my first reaction being that it was a bit Nathan Barley, and thinking I’d title this post ‘The New Heathcote – it’s ‘Totally Mexico’. And it is ‘Totally Mexico’ but not in the sense of a Hoxditch boozer selling Dutch wine.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

The Electric Star team are pulling out all the stops to make this a pub for everyone, no easy feat, a true community hub – a place where I could slouch in a corner planning suburban explorations and muttering to myself beside a table full of toddlers chucking mash potato around, while wannabe Instagrammers struggle to get the perfect food-porn shot. Or if you’re really square, a nice place to meet friends and neighbours for a drink.

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

Mini sample burgers

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Buffalo Chicken with strong kick of English Mustard

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

The function room where we were presented with samples of the well-measured menu will be free of charge to community groups – which is a fantastic resource. There’s a games room out the back with pool and table-tennis. Live footy on the telly with big screen events planned. There’s a huge garden. The ale selection is spot on with beers from Leyton breweries Signature Brew and East London Brewery with Camden Hells Pale on keg. And bloody hell the food is great. The burgers by Paul Human are incredible, the Buttermilk Chicken is crispy and well seasoned, in fact the tucker is so tasty that the vegan option of Cowboy Beans even had me scraping the plate clean. And the staff are really friendly and helpful too, they look happy to be there.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Cowboy Beans (vegan)

Signature Brew at Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

I even found myself back in there Saturday night with the place packed again, punters arriving in taxis, bumping into neighbours at the bar, burgers flying out of the kitchen, post-mortem of the Arsenal match on the TV. It might even inspire me to crack on and finish my next book.

Leytonstone on BBC London Robert Elms Show ‘Round Your Manor’

BBC London Robert Elms John Rogers Leytonstone

It was a real pleasure to go on the Robert Elms Show on BBC London yesterday to talk about the wonders of Leytonstone as part of the ‘Round Your Manor’ feature. There was a great response from Leytonstonians online to Robert’s request for information about the area – he was particularly amused to hear that Fanny Craddock had lived in Leytonstone.

You can listen again to the show here on the BBC iPlayer (I come in at about 1hr 38mins)