A slice of Moscow hidden on the London Underground

A midweek morning drop the kids off at school then wander. The patch of forest off-cut opposite The Green Man glimmered in the morning sun – it was irresistible. I followed the back roads up to the Redbridge Roundabout then suffered the Eastern Avenue till the chunks of pollution got too big to chew down and I ducked off the main thoroughfares again till emerging at Gants Hill.

Lurking beneath the roundabout at Gants Hill is a network of tunnels more like a space station than a tube station – the eastern cousin of the subterranean complex at Hanger Lane, opened the year before Gants Hill was finally revealed in 1948. Both stations sit upon the Central Line – Gants Hill’s ‘bright empty space’ beneath the roundabout the great tube architect Charles Holden‘s tribute to the Moscow Metro which he had been invited to visit after the builders of the Moscow network had originally been inspired by Holden’s Piccadilly Circus station. (Hanger Lane was completed by a former assistant of Holden – Frederick Curtis).

The golden vaulted ceilings of the concourse between the platforms reverses the pattern of other underground stations which show their wares upfront with decorative ticket halls. At Gants Hill the ticket hall is barely there – a minor node in the tangle of tunnels before the escalators guide you to Valhalla deep below the traffic hell.

Mayesbrook Park, Barking and Dagenham

One sultry Friday morning the other week I jumped on the first bus that swung through Leytonstone Station with the aim of just riding it to the end of the line. But I didn’t make it to the terminus of the 145 at Dagenham Asda as I was so beguiled by the autumnal colours lining Longbridge Road that I spontaneously disembarked without a clue where I was. It was a fortuitous decision because within 10 minutes I wandered through the gates of Mayesbrook Park, where the Mayes Brook gently trundles through the mile long parkland on its way to meet the River Roding at Barking.

Exploring the park left me starving, so I headed for Upney Station to make my way home. I passed Upney Fish Bar that had a sign boasting of being voted best Fish and Chip Shop in London one year. I’m normally skeptical of such claims but was prepared to wait 10 minutes for my fish to be freshly fried. I took the steaming hot parcel back to the park and cracked it open on a bench by the lake surrounded by eager geese. My god, the batter was so crispy each bite scattered the birds from the trees, and the chips were just the right side of perfect. So that boast turned out to be relatively modest.

The old psychogeographical trick of taking random bus journeys delivered in spades.

The incredible shrinking park

The London Olympic Park certainly is ‘No Ordinary Park’ as dubbed in the marketing tag line – it just keeps getting smaller and smaller while sprouting bigger and more impressive cranes. Where once there were international sporting events there are now world class cement mixers, spectators have been replaced by phalanxes of builders in hard hats and fluro vests.  The true London Olympic Legacy appears to be a never ending building scheme.

Twyford Abbey – a deep topographic enquiry

On a wet day in February I headed out with Nick Papadimitriou and Peter Knapp, picking up the threads of the first walk the three of us did together which ended in the dark of an industrial estate somewhere near Stonebridge Park. That walk was almost 10 years ago to the day, 22nd July 2005 – the day after the failed second attack on the tube network; there was a tangible tension on public transport heading out to our rendezvous at Golders Green, the bombers were still on the loose somewhere in northwest London where we were walking.

The journey produced my first videos with Nick that eventually led to The London Perambulator. This walk was tentatively the beginnings of a kind of sequel. The only plan we had was to follow Nick’s beloved Metropolitan Water Main all the way to its terminus at Mogden Purification works. This buried pipe is an unavoidable motif when walking with Nick – it was what guided us on the first walk, it punctuates the traipses in London Perambulator, and appeared again when Nick joined me for one of the expeditions in This Other London. We needed to give it a proper homage after all it had given to us.

In the end, watching it on the screen at the Flatpack Film Festival in the Video Strolls programme I realised that the film was an end in itself – The London Perambulator could have no sequel, if that existed it was Nick’s book Scarp perhaps.

 

Read a full account of the Twyford Abbey walk here

River Roding Ramble

Looking at the lines of cars rammed bumper-to-bumper along the M11 Link Road, glued together by the tube strike, it’s a good day to strike out along one of London’s natural arteries – the glorious River Roding where the only congestion is caused by the dragon flies, herons, and song birds. I even spotted a grass snake slithering across the path into the long grass.

A corner of Redbridge that will forever be East Ham

I set out bound for Ilford, following Thomas Burke’s dictum that “to go to Ilford is a fool’s act”, but in fact ended up trapped in a curious geographical anachronism. I’ve been fascinated by Aldersbrook ever since moving to Leytonstone – it’s like that beautifully mysterious world behind the garden shed when you’re a kid – a place of dreams but with an uncanny tinge. I dedicated a few pages to it in This Other London when I conned my kids into walking to the far side of Ilford by telling them I was taking them to South Park (which is a beautiful park between Ilford and Loxford as well as a brilliant animated TV show).

aldersbrook map
Somehow I had always managed to bypass Brading Crescent and would have done so again if I hadn’t needed some provisions for the push East and noticed the sign for a ‘Convenient’ Store. Must be good to have so confidently deviated from the standard ‘Convenience’ Store.

East Ham Borough
Straight away you are faced with the fine block of flats that at the time I wasn’t sure if they were 80’s mock baronial or part of the original Edwardian Aldersbrook development. It was in fact built as the Aldersbrook Children’s Home in 1910 by West Ham Board of Guardians with each block named after local notables – Lister, Fry, Morris, Hood, and Buxton. It was transferred to East Ham County Borough in 1929 and in the mid-1950’s converted into flats.

The handsome brick community hall in the grounds bears an inscription recording its opening by County Borough of East Ham in 1931 and today it is still confusingly owned by Newham Council despite sitting inside the London Borough of Redbridge.

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Sources:

The Outer Circle – Rambles in Remote London by Thomas Burke (1921)

100 Years of Suburbia by Kathryn Morrison and Ann Robey (1999)

 

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.