The mysterious allure of the backs of buildings

 

491-recrop

Why did this vista grab me by the elastic hood straps of my rain jacket this morning? I walk past it every day – sometimes twice but today I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was compelled to take out my camera in the rain and grab a couple of snaps. A tube train a-clunk-a-clunked past and ruined the first photo and to be honest even this one that I’ve cropped doesn’t do the magnificence and mysteriousness of the view proper justice. It’s the back and side of the 491 Gallery – the front of which must be one of the most photographed buildings in Leytonstone with its glowering Alfred Hitchcock mural. The other rear corner is pretty interesting too, offering a peek into the gallery’s sculpture garden. But this aspect almost appeared to me this morning across the tube tracks as a Tuscan hill town bathed in the Leytonstone rain. The moisture from the grey pellets showered down from the cinder block sky saturated the colours of the pollution marinated brickwork. The doors shone brilliant azure, the white walls gleamed dazzling the drivers on the M11 Link Road. I’ve done life drawing classes in one of those rooms and never saw anything as remarkable – not even the display of Japanese Rope Bondage that proved to be a sketch too far.

A Lea Valley Odyssey – Leytonstone to Rye House

Here are a few images from a research trip I took on Sunday for my new book (as yet untitled). I wanted to start at Leytonstone House, the home of Edward North Buxton – author of Epping Forest (1884) the book that informs most of my forest walks. There was more to the Buxton link but you’ll have to wait for the book to find out (and also till I’ve untangled the complicated web cast by the fact the Buxtons seemed to use about two names throughout the family and all marry members of the Gurney banking dynasty).

It wasn’t my intention to morbidly gawp at the crime scene at the Hollow Ponds where a body was recently discovered but it was en-route to the W16 bus stop on Shernall Street. I then walked from Sewardstone to Rye House near Hoddesdon.

The trip just happened to fall on the second anniversary of the publication of This Other London. Work on the follow up is slower than I would have liked but you know, there it is, you can’t rush these things unless you’ve got a publisher breathing down your neck which I currently don’t have. As my friend Nick Papadimitriou pointed out, ‘you’re gathering lots of material’, and he’s not wrong, there’s stacks of the stuff, and I intend to gather a lot more.

Midsummer in Epping Forest

Walks sometimes lead themselves. I left home around 4.30pm on Saturday with no destination in mind. Stopping to grab a Percy Ingle pasty I felt drawn along Kirkdale Road then pushed past Tesco and beneath the Green Man Roundabout.

Leyton Stone

There are roads that seem to contain a mystery even though you know where they lead. They speak of other times and places and suck hard on your imagination. Hollybush Hill from the Leyton Stone has that quality for me so I followed its lead to South Woodford (passing Hermitage Court which will have its own blog post).

I nearly got sidetracked into a musical performance celebrating Magna Carta at the Church near the cinema at South Woodford but decided to stay true to the walk still not sure where to go. Then the forest called me – and that is where the video above begins.

Medieval Leytonstone – Langthorne Park and Hospital

It wasn’t till I entered Langthorne Park just off Leytonstone High Road that I realised I’d only ever been here once – and that was in my early Leytonstone years. The park occupies part of the site of the old Langthorne Hospital which started life as the West Ham Union Workhouse before becoming a geriatric hospital.

The land was originally owned by Langthorne Abbey in Stratford, established in the 12th Century by Cistercian monks. The name Langthorne apparently derives from the hedges of ‘long thorns’ that were grown around the abbey.

 

Leytonstone’s Lost Lido

In this meditation on the Hollow Ponds there are two mysteries left unresolved. Firstly the sign on the boathouse that reads, “Have You Seen the Hollow Pond Bear”. I assumed at the time that it was a reference to the area’s long heritage as a gay cruising spot but on reflection wonder if it might actually refer to a Grizzly. Over at the Welsh Harp Reservoir between Barnet and Brent an actual bear escaped from a menagerie there in 1871. So there is precedent for this kind of thing.

Whipps Cross Lido

Opening of Whipps Cross Lido in 1932 From the Waltham Forest Guardian – credit Vestry House Museum

Absent from the video is the Whipps Cross Lido created in 1905 and returned to the forest in 1983. Wikipedia mentions that it was known locally as “the Batho”. I had half a mind to find the footprint of the site but had spent so long filming the geese in slow-motion that I’d used up my time – the sojourn was over. But somewhere beneath the grass north of the Hollow Pond between Lea Bridge and Snaresbrook Roads there lurks the lost lagoon of Leytonstone.

 

Here’s an interesting article about the creation of the Hollow Ponds from the local paper