Second World War Buildings on Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

I’ve long been intrigued by the concrete foundations of a World War 2 building in Long Wood on Wanstead Flats. I first stumbled over them in the dusk some years ago, wondering what could have been buried in this small patch of woodland.

Wanstead Flats IMG_2340 IMG_2341

There was a small lump of concrete in the scrubby grass in front of the wood that was probably a remnant of the World War Two buildings that stood here.

Wanstead Flats IMG_2349 IMG_2355

At first I thought this was the concrete base of an Second World War anti-aircraft gun, but sebsequent reading appears to point to this being some sort of auxiliary building associated with the war effort.

Wanstead Flats IMG_2358

There are a number of Second World War relics on Wanstead Flats, most obvious are the barrage balloon posts. But there are also some white panelled buildings used by the ground staff and a squat brick building by the petrol station that was apparently a decontamination block. In the central section of the flats, where there was an Italian POW camp my son found a rusty metal box buried in the ground that may have been associated with the camp.

 

Here’s a great walk around the Second World War history of Wanstead Flats from the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society

2019 – A Great Year of Walking

A review of my walks in 2019 on my YouTube channel – a fantastic year of hiking.

From river walks along the Tyburn, Roding, Thames, Philley Brook, Ching, Dagenham Brook, Hogsmill, Crouch, and Lea to the woodlands of Epping Forest and the wide open spaces of Wimbledon Common and Wanstead Park. The London Loop featured large as I covered the sections from Moor Park to Ewell. I walked the first stage of the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar. I strolled the East London streets of Old East and West Ham, the beautiful porticos in Modena, Italy. And every step of the way you were there – Thank you so much for joining an amazing year of walking in 2019.

There’s more to come in 2020!

 

Music used in this video: Fern by ann annie / Fresh Fallen Snow by Chris Haugen / Tupelo Train by Chris Haugen / Pachabelly by Huma-Huma / Ambiment – The Ambient by Kevin MacLeod / Nevada City by Huma-Huma / Breathing Planet by Doug Maxwell / Little Drunk, Quiet Floats by Puddle of Infinity / Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt

Psychogeographer-in-residence walk No.5

This glorious walk over Pole Hill and along what J.A Brimble called the ‘western escarpment’, is the final video in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We begin at Chingford Station, an early staging post for forays into Epping Forest when it was declared ‘The People’s Forest’ by Queen Victoria when she came to Chingford in 1882 in celebration of the passing of the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which preserved the forest for the citizens of London. Queen Victoria’s 7th son, the Duke of Connaught, became the first Ranger of Epping Forest, and our walk heads along Connaught Avenue.

At the end of Connaught Avenue we start our ascent of Pole Hill, the highest point in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. At the summit is a trig point and an obelisk bearing two plaques. The first notes that the “pillar was erected in 1824 under the direction of the Reverend John Pound M.A. Astronomer Royal. It was placed on the Greenwich Meridian and its purpose was to indicate the direction of true north from the transit telescope of the Royal Observatory.” The second commemorates the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) who owned this land until 1922 when it was incorporated into Epping Forest.

Often overlooked though is the concrete base of a Second World War Anti-Aircraft Gun which would have scanned the skies above the Lea Valley as German bombers made their way to wreak destruction on the London Docks.

psychogeographer

We follow the footpath through woodland and descend into the valley of the Hawksmouth, before climbing once more, this time across Yates’ Meadow and Yardley Hill. From here are some of the finest views of London as we stand perched on its northeastern border, with Essex behind us. The towers of the City shimmer in the distance calling to mind PJS Perecval’s description of London’s orgins as a “stockade in the woods – the Llyndin of the ancient Britons.” (London’s Forest, 1909).

We retrace our steps back down the edge of Yardley Hill, and into Hawk Wood. One of the participants in the guided walks I led with artist Rachel Lillie, emailed me with this note on the possible origins of the name of Hawk Wood, “In 1498 William Jacson of Chingford Halke (Hawkwood) was a member of the Swainmote Court. Halke in Middle English meant a refuge, retreat or hiding place. It also has been said that Hawk means a nook of land in the corner of a Parish.”

psychogeographer

Crossing Bury Road we enter Bury Wood till we reach the point where the Cuckoo Brook crosses the footpath. From here we turn across Chingford Plain, a place I end many forest walks bathed in glorious sunset. Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge stands proudly on the hill from where Henry VIII would watch the hunt on the plain below. A Brewer’s Fayre sits invitingly next to the Hunting Lodge or you can continue across the grasslands where cattle graze back to Chingford Station.

A walk along the Dagenham Brook

This walk following the Dagenham Brook was the fourth in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture 2019. The Dagenham Brook started life as a humble ditch rising in Higham Hill with sewage flowing into it from Walthamstow. The name comes from the ‘Dagenham Commissioners of Sewers’ under whose jurisdiction it fell.

We start the walk on the corner of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way where an embankment and trenches from Roman or Romano-British earthwork and Roman burials were excavated, leading some historians to speculate that this may have been an important waystation on the Roman road between London and Colchester.

Leyton F.C

We then follow the Dagenham Brook across Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) then through the Warner Estate and onto Lea Bridge Road. I was joined on the two guided walks by artist Lucy Harrison who explored the life of the Warner Estate in a fascinating project, WE. We take a look at the abandoned ground of Leyton F.C once one of the oldest football clubs in London, founded in 1868 – now derelict.

From here we cross Lea Bridge Road and walk down Blyth Road (also part of the Warner Estate) and up Bridge Road to Markhouse Road. This is one of the old roads of Walthamstow crossing Markhouse Common. The name derives from ‘maerc’ meaning a boundary as the boundary between Leyton and Walthamstow ran through Mark House manor. Markhouse Common was sold to property developers in the 19th Century.

We turn into Veralum Avenue then Low Hall Road and South Access Road passing the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. Low Hall Manor was a 14th Century Moated manor house with extensive grounds – two-storey timber framed building like the buildings in Tudor Close. The 17th Century farmhouse was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944. The Dagenham Brook probably fed the moat.

Dagenham Brook

We walk around Low Hall Sports Ground and into Low Hall Wood Nature Reserve to look at Owen Bullet’s artwork, The Clearing, and pick up the Dagenham Brook. Turning into North Access Road we see the River Lea Flood Relief Channel and pass by St. James Park. We walk beneath the railway bridge and turn into Salop Road then Elmfield Road. We follow Elmfield Road round until we reach Coppermill Lane and the end of the walk.

Many thanks to Max ‘Crow’ Reeves for joining me on the walk. Take a look at Max’s photo book following a season with Clapton CFC.

Hooksmith Press maps

Further history of the Dagenham Brook can be found here in the Victoria County History

The Lighting of the Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

Leytonstone Menorah

IMG_2053

IMG_2054

IMG_2060

This evening saw the lighting of the first Leytonstone Menorah to mark the last night of Hannukah.

The celebration was organised by Leytonstone and Wanstead Synagogue in Fillebrook Road. It was a beautiful community event, attended by a large crowd in the hundreds, gathered around the Menorah in a raised bed on the corner of Fillebrook and Grove Green Road opposite the tube station. A band played, doughnuts and laktes were handed out, and the Rabbi spoke about the illuminating of the darkness that Hannukah represents.

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

River Ching River Ching

The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

Two nights by the Thames at Hampton Wick

Thames Path

A fantastic opportunity dropped into my inbox one day – to stay for two nights in one of Fuller’s Beautiful Bedrooms at the White Hart Hotel at Hampton Wick. It was almost too good to be true, the perfect sponsored tie-in, Fuller’s – brewers of London Pride. I didn’t hesitate to accept.

I built a 3-day itinerary around my stay at the White Hart:

Day 1 – walk the Thames Path from Richmond to Hampton Wick
Day 2 – Hampton Court Palace and continue along the Thames Path
Day 3 – Bushy Park and time permitting continue along the Thames Path to Walton or double back along the Thames to Strawberry Hill (Horace Walpole and all that)

Richmond

Thames Path – Richmond to Hampton Wick

I’ve been slowly making my way along the Thames Path over the last year or so and had made it to Richmond during the summer. Having a base at Hampton Wick would allow me to explore this next stretch in a little more detail. It was raining heavily when I arrived in Richmond and I wished the ferries were running – a grand way to arrive at Hampton Court. But alas they only operate in the summer season from March till October, so I made my way along the Thames Path in the rain.
Even in late November the Thames is resplendent – the water running fast and high, the river ever threatening to breach its banks and flood the path. I passed the magnificent Ham House and the famous Eel Pie Island, home to one of the tidal Thames last boat yards.

Ham House P1150735
A stone monument just before Teddington Lock marked the end of the jurisdiction of the Port of London Authority, the Lock itself the end of the tidal Thames. Passing this point is a hugely symbolic moment on a passage along London’s sacred river. In Ben Aaronovitch’s brilliant Rivers of London novels this section of the river is the borderland between the domains of the deities of the Upper and Lower Thames – Mamma Thames and Old Father Thames. Another stone on the riverbank denotes the border between the Royal Boroughs of Richmond and Kingston.

Eel Pie Island
At sunset I arrived at the ancient town of Kingston-Upon-Thames (Cyninges tun), coronation site of seven Anglo-Saxon kings. The Coronation Stone still stands in the town centre with the names of the Anglo-Saxon kings who ascended the throne carved around its base.

White Hart Hotel

The White Hart Hotel – Hampton Wick

Crossing the old bridge over the Thames I was reminded of passing this way in the opposite direction earlier in the year walking the London Loop. After three hours walking in the rain I was ready to take refuge in a comfortable inn and there right opposite the end of the bridge was the White Hart Hotel where not only would I have a room for two nights but dinner and breakfast as well.

White Hart Hotel

I was greeted by an open fire and a friendly receptionist who told me that my room, the Jane Seymour room, was her favourite in the whole hotel. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I have to be honest and say I was blown away. This was not a room but a suite. A portrait of Jane Seymour seemed to be indicating the way to the huge four-poster bed. I carefully took off my muddy boots by the door. There was a large bathroom where the deep bath filled in less than ten minutes, the soak in that tub was in itself dreamlike at the end of a rainy walk along the Thames Path. I donned my bath robe and made a cup of tea from a wide selection and munched the complimentary handmade biscuits, before having a snooze on a mound of soft pillows on the bed.

White Hart Hotel

Dinner took the experience to the next level. The menu was extensive and creative. For the first night I had the Owton’s dry-aged 8oz sirloin steak with triple cooked chips, grilled tomato and mushroom, plus a watercress and herb salad, which I washed down with two pints of Fuller’s London Pride. The steak was cooked to perfection, the beer was fresh and clear, and the service was exceptional. A fire crackled away by the wall throwing out shadows onto the deep wood interior of the restaurant. I wafted back up to my opulent room in a daze and supped a bottle of London Pride from the mini bar in front of the TV on the sofa before crashing out.

White Hart Hotel

Thames Path to Hampton Court

Breakfast the next morning of course had to be a Full English (which I had without the beans and black pudding) and like dinner the night before was spot on. It set me up nicely to stroll the next stage of the Thames Path to Hampton Court.

P1160322

Hampton Court Palace
It’s a delightful 3 miles along the Thames from The White Hart to Hampton Court. It was a brisk bright morning, sun shimmering over the surface of the river – perfect walking weather. I wondered whether the £23.75 admission to Hampton Court Palace would be worth it, but to be fair, although steep that ticket opened up a world of wonders that would keep you occupied for an entire day. I drifted in awe through the apartments of William III with stunning views out across the gardens. Henry VIII’s great hall is like stepping back into the Tudor world (minus the disease and executions). I even managed not to get hopelessly lost in the maze.

I wanted to get more of the Thames Path under my belt so headed over the bridge to East Moseley in the last hour of light as a glorious sunset painted the sky deep orange. Moseley is an ancient settlement, recorded as far back as the 8th Century, and looks a fine town worth exploring. The opposite riverbank is decorated with a colourful parade of stationary houseboats, the most notable of which contains Pink Floyd’s recording studio. As I started to wonder about how to return to Hampton Wick a lovely lady walking her dog offered to give me a lift across the river in her boat. In the summer months they run a ferry service here that’s been in operation for over 400 years.

Thames Houseboats

White Hart Hotel

Dinner at the White Hart

A shower back in my opulent room at the White Hart and the ambience of Hampton Court lingered around the four-poster bed, an extension of the Elizabethan experience. It’d only been a day but the dining room had started to feel like home. I went for a full three-course meal
–    Fuller’s London Porter smoked salmon
–    Malt & barley smoked cod
–    Vintage Ale Sticky Toffee Pudding with Fuller’s salted caramel ice cream
This was naturally washed down with a glorious pint of London Pride. Everything about that meal was on point – from the sourdough bread that came with the smoked salmon, through the chive butter sauce on the cod to the incredible Fuller’s Ice Cream. I celebrated by taking a pint of London Pride back up to my room.

White Hart Hotel

Diana Fountain P1160742

Bushy Park

It was difficult to choose what to do with my final day – Strawberry Hill has intrigued me ever since seeing it in Patrick Keiller’s film London and visiting for a writers’ conference some years ago. But with the bright clear morning sky Bushy Park was calling. After a marvellous breakfast of Eggs Benedict served on an English Muffin and a fruit salad it was time to say goodbye to the White Hart. I was sad to leave that beautiful bedroom with its sumptuous bed and cosy Elizabethan vibe. But those two nights by the banks of the Thames at Hampton Wick with stay with me for some time to come.