Spring in Epping Forest

Leyton Flats, Leytonstone

Sometimes, in the absence of a better plan for a walk, you should alllow yourself to be guided by your feet. That’s what I did last Sunday, leaving home at 2pm, directionless.

Blackthorn, Leytonstone

My trotters led me up Leytonstone High Road to the Green Man Roundabout – gateway to the forest. The gorse (I think) was burning brilliant yellow in full bloom, the white blackthorn flowers waved at the early Spring picnicers nearby on Leyton Flats.

metal post near Birch Well

Metal Post Birch Well

I followed the path that runs behind Snaresbrook Crown Court, the borderlands of Leytonstone and Waltham Forest. Next to the Birch Well I spotted a metal post beside a low standing stone, the embossed text no longer legible. My best guess is that they are boundary markers, perhaps of the old Borough or the Parish.

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Birdsong rang out across Gilbert’s Slade in celebration of the arrival of Spring, and I sat on a pile of logs to savour the scene. This is a tract of land that is forever boggy and swampy, noted by Buxton in his Epping Forest book of the 1880’s and still very much the case. He laments the lack of beech trees here, where hornbeam, holly and oak dominate.

Highams Park Lake

The wildfowl were lively on the waters of Highams Park and I rested again, one of my favourite spots on this Forest walk. This is a route described and mapped by Buxton and one I’ve followed frequently over the years, memories of those previous walks and the churnings of my mind annotated into the footpaths, re-read and added to with each passing.

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From Epping Forest by Edward North Buxton

Although the end point of the walk would be determined by the sunset, the Royal Forest pub beside Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge always looms large in my mind around this point. Would I be able to get past it – or would all paths lead to the pub?

Daffodil Epping Forest P1100566

I picked up the course of the gentle River Ching and followed it along the lower reaches of the forest, downhill from Woodford. London is blessed with these meandering tributaries that often get overlooked in favour of the grand rivers of the city or the celebrated ‘lost rivers’ of London, buried but not forgotten. The Ching is a modest water course, going about its business flowing from the forest to the Lea.

Welcome to Waltham Forest Chingford

On Rangers Road, Chingford I pass a second Waltham Forest boundary marker of the day – on the other side this time is not Redbridge but the County of Essex. Today has not only been a forest wander but a borderland walk.

Royal Forest Chingford

Somehow I contrived to arrive on Chingford Plain as the sun started to set shortly after 6pm meaning the only logical thing was to progress to the bar at the Royal Forest Brewer’s Fayre where I processed the walk over a couple of pints and toasted the arrival of Spring in Epping Forest.

 

 

Iain Sinclair – Living with Buildings

“I use my own ways of digressing and picking up on other stories that you don’t expect to find by walking and wandering over the ground that’s been described by other people.” – Iain Sinclair

July 2018 and I found myself back out walking with Iain Sinclair, this time retracing one of the walks in his latest book, Living with Buildings and walking with ghosts. We met by Canada Water Station and Iain explained how the book was associated with the Wellcome Collection exhibition of the same name, but was its own beast driven by Iain’s narrative.

John Evelyn's Mulberry Tree, Sayes Court

John Evelyn’s Mulberry Tree, Sayes Court

We proceeded past the old Evening Standard printing works, now slated for development, through Greenland Dock bound for the Pepys Estate – once the home of film-maker Andrew Kötting and featured in the book. After paying homage we moved on to the next key location in this particular chapter of Living with Buildings – John Evelyn’s Mulberry tree at Sayes Court Park.

Iain Sinclair Living with Buildings

Walking with Iain is always a magical experience, layers of London history and lore kicked up and chewed over with every step along the way.  The book, in some ways, is Iain Sinclair’s most traditionally psychogeographical work, exploring the very tangible relationship between the built environment and  human health and psyche.

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to further discuss the book and Iain’s work in general at the brilliant Wanstead Tap when Living with Buildings was published in October – as you can see in the video below.

Wanstead Slip

Wanstead Slip

Chatting with a couple of members of the congregation at the beautiful St. Mary’s Wanstead, I wondered whether the parish boundary included the Wanstead Slip, that curious parcel of land on the other side of Wanstead Flats around Cann Hall, Leytonstone. They weren’t sure, and asked for further explanation about what exactly the Wanstead Slip was and how it came to be, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure.

Thankfully,  A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, published by Victoria County History in 1973 has this note on the Wanstead Slip:

“Wanstead lies about 7 miles north-east of the City of London. (fn. 1) It is a dormitory suburb straddling the arterial road to Southend and Colchester and forming part of the London borough of Redbridge. The ancient parish extended from Wanstead Flats north for about 4 miles to the boundary with Woodford. The western boundary marched with Leyton and Walthamstow, and the river Roding formed the eastern boundary. The south-west of the parish comprised a spur called the Wanstead Slip which ran south of Leyton down to the marshes near Temple Mills, and included a small detached part locally situated in West Ham. This was more or less coterminous with the manor of Cann Hall, which was originally in Leyton but appears to have become part of Wanstead by the early 13th century. (fn. 2) The main body of the Wanstead Slip (207 a.) was merged in Leyton sanitary district in 1875 and was constituted a separate civil parish (Cann Hall) in 1894. (fn. 3) The detached part of the Slip (38 a.) was merged in West Ham local government district in 1875. (fn. 4) In the same area a small adjustment of the boundary between Wanstead and West Ham had been made in 1790. (fn. 5) In the south-east corner of the parish Aldersbrook appears to have been transferred from Wanstead to Little Ilford early in the 16th century. (fn. 6) That substantial change evidently took place without legal formalities and caused boundary disputes at later periods. (fn. 7) Later boundary changes included the transfer of 96 a. of Wanstead Flats to East Ham in 1901.”

And there is a further reference in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, in an article on the Hundred of Becontree:

“Domesday Book lists some 19 estates in Becontree hundred, containing 104 hides in 10 villages distinguished by separate names. (fn. 1) Most of these villages later gave their names to the parishes of the hundred, but there were some exceptions. Ham was subsequently split into the two parishes of East Ham and West Ham. Higham later became part of Walthamstow parish. One of the estates in Leyton later became Cann Hall in the neighbouring parish of Wanstead, forming the anomalous ‘Wanstead slip’. Dagenham, which certainly existed in 1086, and which became a separate parish, is not named in Domesday, no doubt because it was then, as later, part of the manor of Barking.”

 

Save St. Luke’s Gardens

  
A lunchtime diversion round Ironmonger Row Baths took me past Burnhill House, Islington where the residents have draped banners on the balconies in protest against Islington Council’s redevelopment plans for the St. Luke’s area. Early proposals threaten to cast St. Luke’s Gardens and Burnhill House into permanent shadow it seems. London is annotated with hundreds of such conflicts. 

You can read more here

And there’s a petition on Change.org 

  

Walk along the Walbrook – the City of London’s Lost River

I first did a version of this walk along the Walbrook back in November 2011, but was keen to return starting nearer to one of the supposed sources and also visit the recently opened London Mithraeum that sits upon the banks for this ancient stream. The route I followed in early December, drew from two principle sources – Nicholas Barton’s classic book, The Lost Rivers of London, and a sketch map of London Under Henry II by Marjourie B. Honeybourne from Norman London – An Essay by Professor F.M Stenton (pub. 1934). Stenton’s essay and the map is informed by a contemporary Norman description of London by William Fitz Stephen.

London Mithraeum

The route starts at St. Leonard’s Church Shoreditch, and goes past the Shoreditch Holy Well in Bateman’s Row. From here it follows the course of the river down Curtain Road to Blomfield Street where it was partially excavated during Crossrail works. Then we cross London Wall and go through Angel Court where another part of the river was uncovered in the 1970’s. We go behind the Bank of England at Lothbury then follow the buried river down Walbrook to the Temple of Mithras. From here we go down Dowgate Hill to where the Walbrook makes it’s confluence with the Thames near Canon Street Station.

 

Click here to see my video of another walk along one of the ‘Lost rivers of London’ – the Tyburn

 

Welcome to the (Waltham) Forest

Welcome to the Forest

Waltham Forest’s year as London’s first Borough of Culture got off to a spectacular start on Friday night. The launch event ‘Welcome to the Forest’, struck exactly the right tone, illuminating the Walthamstow sky, creating magic among the trees of Lloyd Park, and turning the modernist facade of the Town Hall into a kaleidascope of sound and image merging the urban with the sylvan in a glorious pulsing palimpsest. It was spine-tingling evocation of the Borough we love.

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Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow

Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow Town Hall

Welcome to the Forest, Lloyd Park, Walthamstow,

Welcome to the Forest John Rogers

I had some films showing in the brilliant Stow Film Lounge’s Silent Cinema, a special experience to mingle with the other viewers on the Lloyd Park tennis court listening to the soundtrack via headphones. John Smith’s Blight has never sounded so good.

Welcome to the Forest, Walthamstow, Borough of Culture, Friday 11th March 2019

Families meandered through the night garden of Lloyd Park marvelling at the light show, and interacted with the steampunk animals snorting out plumes of fire on Forest Road. An all ages crowd boogied on down at the Disco Shed.

2019 is going to be a special year – the forest is coming home.

 

Welcome to the Forest runs until Sunday 13th January 2019, 6.30-9.30pm