The Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend was the perfect time for a pub crawl around the pubs of Leytonstone here in East London. Although all the pubs have been closed since the 21st March due to the lockdown, it’s a great time to celebrate the drinking establishments that are such an important part of community life. This walk features: Heathcote & Star (1905), The Northcote (1886), Birkbeck Tavern (1881), Plough and Harrow (1651), Leytonstone Tavern (1865), The Bell (1720), Red Lion (1670), The Crown/Byrds (1720), The Walnut Tree (1997), The North Star (1858), The Green Man (1660), Luna Lounge (2004), Filly Brook (2020).
On Friday 8th May I decided to take a walk around the London Olympic Park (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) to see what it was like during lockdown. The park is just a 15-minute walk from my home, but crossing the junction of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way felt like breaching a major boundary. Temple Mills Lane, a rare survivor of the old pre-Olympic streetplan, was quiet. Two people hit balls against the wall of the Lea Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre. The Velodrome was closed but a dribble of cyclists were taking advantage of the outdoor track. The ghosts of the Eton Manor Sports Club and Eastway Cycle Track wafted in the air. Groups of people had socially distant kickarounds and some bold souls threw frisbees. A solitary security guard/park ranger went up to speak to clusters of people blatantly flouting the government restrictions which, were relaxed slightly 3 days later. The walk then continued beside the River Lea and pass back towards Hackney Marsh via East Wick and Here East.
You can also watch my most recent lockdown walk here.
The lockdown inspired me to make a video that’s been on my list since reading a report in the Spring 2016 edition of London Archaeologist. The excavation report by Gary Brown covered a dig that was carried out in 2004 on the Beaumont Road Estate in Leyton. An intriguing section of Roman Road was unearthed that has slightly baffled archaeologists as its size, location and alignment do not seem to be consistent with the general understanding of the established Roman Roads that pass through Leyton and Leytonstone. A number of theories have been proposed, which I talk through in the video, but as far as I’m aware it’s still a bit of a mystery. Also because this appears to be no mere side-road, but is equal in width to some of the main Roman Roads of southern England such as Watling Street and Stane Street.
What I was keen to test on the ground as well as on the map was how this Roman Road might align with the Bronze Age trackway that was excavated near the bus garage at Leyton Green. It was a fascinating lockdown walk that also took in Jack Cornwell Park, and some of the old streets of Leyton.
Here’s a blog post from 2017 documenting some of my other walks along Roman Roads near London.
I’m really enjoying the challenge of digging deeper into my local area for my lockdown walks. For this video I only cover a short section of Leytonstone High Road and yet it was so rich in resonances and associations. It starts with the ghosts of the M11 Link Road protests in Dyers Hall Road in the early 1990’s. Then passes the rubble of the much-loved 491 Gallery, now being very slowly transformed into a block of flats with a beautiful view of the A12/M11 Link Road. Passing on to Leytonstone High we face another development of flats built on the site of Lincolns Pub, but which YouTube comments have informed me was better known to locals in its previous incarnation as The Elms.
We acknowledge Marnie Court, named in honour of Leytonstone’s famous son Alfred Hitchcock, born further down the High Road. The turning point in the walk is the former State Cinema on Leytonstone High Road, now a banqueting venue. From here we turn back along the High Road then into Trinity Close which once would have led us to the ground of Leytonstone FC at Granleigh Road. Leytonstone were a very successful non-league football club, multiple winners of the Isthmian League and the FA Trophy. The ground is now a housing estate.
The traffic on Leytonstone High Road was still a relatively busy. Scooters buzz away from Yard Sale Pizza. There were more pedestrians at points on this particular day, Friday 17th April around 5pm, than I anticipated, despite very few shops being open (only food shops and chemists).
It was sad to the see the Red Lion closed, chairs on tables, and the shutters down on the Luna Lounge. When will we be back supping a pint of ale and listening to live music at Luna?
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I wanted to give my lockdown walks around the local area a bit of added interested and remembered a couple of great digital resources that reveal layers of information about the streets of London.
Firstly I explored Museum of London Archaeology’s Archaeology of Greater London interactive map which allows you to see the locations of archaeological finds from the prehistoric through to the medieaval period. Leyton and Leytonstone are relatively rich in prehistoric artefacts – mostly stone axes and flint shards, but there was also a Lower Paleolithic Floor at Walnut Tree House at the end of Francis Road, and a socketed Bronze Age Axe found on Murchison Road near the junction with Francis Road. I wondered if this had any relation to the Bronze Age settlement excavated at Oliver Close, Leyton not for away from Francis Road on the other side of the High Road.
There was surprisingly little from later eras, however a decorared Saxon Tombstone was found on Leyton High Road near the junction with Lindley Road. This places it in the zone of what W.H Weston believes was the Saxon settlement, or ‘Tun’ that gives Leyton its name ‘Lea-Tun’. This is also close to the site of the Roman settlement found by estate workers in the grounds of Leyton Grange on the opposite side of the High Road.
The other layer to my lockdown walk was provided by the morbidly fascinating Bomb Sight interactive map that translates the London bomb census from October 1940 to June 1941 onto a navigable map, allowing you to identify individual buildings hit by World War Two bombs.
This walk on Saturday 21st March feels like a very long time ago now. The pubs had been ordered to close the night before. Supermarket shelves were emptied in a frenzy of panic buying. Social distancing measures had recently been introduced. People had been urged to only use public transport for essential journeys. We knew the lockdown was imminent and that this was likely to be my last decent walk for a while.
I wanted a route that took me out into nature and kept me clear of the crowds. It also needed to deliver me home without the need for public transport. My feet knew the way and trod a path through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Highams Park then down through Woodford to the River Roding.
On the way out I passed Leytonstone House, which had been home to members of the Buxton Family from the late 18th Century until 1868. It’s where Edward North Buxton lived for a time before he moved to Buckhurst Hill and authored his definitive guide to Epping Forest in 1884. There’s a mulberry tree in the grounds of Leytonstone House that’d been adorned with brightly coloured tree dressings, I imagine to mark the Spring Equinox the day before.
There were an alarming number of people on Leyton Flats heading towards the Hollow Ponds drawn by the arrival of Spring. The Gorse bushes and Blackthorn trees were in full blossom. I paid homage to the Birch Well and headed for Gilbert’s Slade, giving the crowds the slip in the process.
Crossing the North Circular I picked up a footpath I hadn’t used before running parallel to the road and followed it to new sections of the forest for me. The white noise of the road was oddly cleansing. Turning back through the thick trees of the forest, all was calm. The trees seemed to be murmuring that everything would be ok.
After skirting Humphrey Repton’s Highams Park Lake it was time to make the turn over the ridge occupied by Woodford Green and cross into the Roding Valley. The streets slumbered like a deep Sunday afternoon in the 1950’s. Views over rooftops stretched to the far side of the river valley. The water tower at Claybury Hospital stood proud on its hill. Passing through the streets of Buckhurst Hill I found myself on Forest Edge, crossing tracks once more with E.N Buxton. Knighton Wood contains the remnants of the landscaped garden of his house.
I eventually picked up the River Roding on the other side of Ray Park. Of all the many times I’ve walked the Roding between Wanstead and Buckhurst Hill I’ve only once walked it in a southerly direction, and that was 13 years ago. Today it was blissfully free of people. I stopped to pause just after passing Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. An Egret swooped low to the water and elegantly landed in the shade of an overhanging tree. For a moment it was as if everything was how it should be. All the troubles of the world were far away from that riverbank.
I really enjoyed delivering the first Zoom talk to the Wanstead Social Distance Club on Monday lunchtime, via Giles Wilson of the brilliant Wanstead Fringe Festival and Wansteadium blog. I talked through some of the walks I led for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 and answered some good questions at the end including the classic, ‘Exactly what is a psychogeographer?’.
In other news, I’ve just launched a Patreon page – where you can support my work and receive exclusive content.