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

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

 

Forest Uprising at Leyton Cricket Ground

Forest Uprising

Forest Uprising

Sunday saw the closing event of Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019. Forest Uprising transformed Leyton Cricket Ground (once used by Essex County Cricket Club) into a steel sound installation plantation, dense thickets of illuminated scaffold poles giving forth the voices of the people of the borough. An alloy People’s Forest.

Forest Uprising Forest Uprising

East 17’s Tony Mortimer joined Waltham Forest Youth Choir in a rousing rendition of the boyband’s hit, Stay Another Day.

Forest Uprising IMG_1774 IMG_1785 IMG_1789

The Glasshouse

The Glasshouse was an odd beast, but bizarrely compelling. A greenhouse full of broad bean shoots staffed by bio-suited technicians studying the public as much as the plants. What I found peculiar was that it was a less dramatic version of a real underground urban farm in the tunnels beneath Clapham Common that I visited last year. A great way to introduce the next generation to the future of farming.

Forest Uprising

It was a fittingly dreamlike conclusion to Waltham Forest’s year as London Borough of Culture.

______________________________

Here’s a playlist of the walks I produced for Borough of Culture 2019

Art Assembly at Walthamstow Town Hall

Things to Do in Debden When You’re Dead

Brilliantly bizarre end to Art Assembly on Saturday in the Council Chamber at Walthamstow Town Hall. I’d been commissioned to make this film (Things to Do in Debden When You’re Dead) with theatre Director William Galinsky, who’d been asked to re-animate the corpse of William Morris. William Galinsky had responded by writing an unfilmable script – but the idea of attempting to shoot a zombie sci-fi Blader Runner film about William Morris’ News from Nowhere in a day, a week before the screening, was too tempting to turn down. Luckily artists Jessica Voorsanger and Bob and Roberta Smith agreed to take part – Bob playing himself having his chest ripped open by the sock puppet offspring of William Morris. And Jessica as herself who then is zapped into the future and returns as a cyborg Space Captain to wipe out the sockie Morrises and avenge her husband’s death – obviously. Brilliant satirist, Miriam Elia played a gentrifying alien arts administrator and my son, Oliver Rogers, who’d come along to help out with lighting and setting up the camera played opposite Miriam, doing a great job of improvising his lines.

Art Assembly

William Galinsky and the Intergalactic Arts Alliance

The film kicked off the session at the end of Art Assembly, a day-long programme of events around Walthamstow, as a provocation to debate the subject of whether ‘artists should try to change the world’. The panel was chaired by William Gallinsky with the two alien representatives of the Intergalactic Arts Alliance (or something like that) played by Ezra and Miriam Elia, who set the tone by stating that their interest in the arts was to push up property prices. It produced an fascinating debate that veered between absurdity, seriousness, righteous indignation, and incomprehensibility. Which is exactly how it should be.

 

 

 

The William Morris Resurrection at Art Assembly

Up till 3am last night finishing a short film about William Morris I’ve directed for this wonderful event tomorrow at Art Assembly, part of Waltham Forest Borough of Culture. So I’m a little tired today but excited to be screening something very different. Here’s the blurb for the event:

The William Morris Resurrection – Sat 23rd November 5-6pm, Walthamstow Town Hall – Art Assembly

A panel of experts, Two Aliens, One Universe, One Question: Should artists try to change the world?

Join us for the debate of the ages, where we discuss why artists can’t stop trying to save the world… Imagine if William Morris woke up 140 years in the future like the hero of his science fiction novel News from Nowhere…  Would he find the creative utopia he had dreamed of or would he be bitterly disappointed by the state of the world and of the arts community in particular?

Join us and arts professionals from all over time and space to explore the role of the artist past, present and future. The event includes the world premiere of a new short film by William Galinsky & John Rogers –  THINGS TO DO IN DEBDEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD – featuring Miriam Elia, William Galinsky, Ollie Rogers, Bob & Roberta Smith, Jessica Voorsanger, an alien who thinks he’s Antony Gormley and a miniature Rutger Hauer.

The event includes contributions from some of the UK’s most vibrant artistic minds as well as some light relief at the end of an action packed Art Assembly. This event is presented as part of Art Assembly, a one-day festival to explore how art can make a difference.

 

Across the Marshes from Leyton Filter Beds to Walthamstow Wetlands

This is the second in my series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

We start at the Leyton WaterWorks Centre, part of the Lee Valley Regional Park. I find the Essex Filter Beds one of the most beguiling locations in East London – for its role in providing the booming population of the city with clean drinking water, and the way it has become a haven for plant, bird and insect life. It’s a real oasis in the East.

We move on past the abandoned pitch and put, which I still dearly miss, and pay homage to the course of the old River Lea by the Friends Bridge (important not to cross here as it takes you over the border into Hackney). The path that leads beneath Lea Bridge Road and along the top of Leyton Marshes apparently follows the course of the aqueduct that linked the filter beds to the reservoirs at Coppermill Lane.

Waterworks Leyton

Walking across Leyton Marshes always reminds me of joining the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee on a Beating of the Bounds in 2006. They talked about the ancient common rights of pasture that existed on the marshes based around the Lammas grazing system (‘Loaf Mass’). The importance of learning the boundaries of your parish. Grazing on the marshes ended in the early 20th Century but Belted Galloway cattle have recently been reintroduced to helped rebalance the ecology of this precious landscape.

Leyton Marshes

Marshlands WF Tours.00_13_08_10.Still018

Sandy Lane takes us to the railway arches where A.V. Roe built his notorious tri-plane in 1909. From here we enter Walthamstow marshes.

John Rogers Marshlands walk

Guided walk July 2019 – photo by Marco Visconti

The walk ends at Walthamstow Wetlands, taking in the tremendous views of the reservoirs from the Coppermill Tower.