Borderlands – a walk around the boundary of Leytonstone

Leytonstone Council Wards

Leytonstone Council Wards

I’d been wanting to walk around the border of Leytonstone for some time – the major obstacle being working out exactly where Leytonstone ended and Leyton/Stratford/Forest Gate/Walthamstow/Wanstead began. Walking around the E11 postcode district wouldn’t work as a big chunk of it is Wanstead and Snaresbrook in the borough of Redbridge. There’s also the potential anomaly that Leyton tube station is in E11 so did that mean it was Leytonstone? Council ward boundaries weren’t much help as they crossed over into areas that are definitely in other parts of the borough. Andrew Stevens suggested using early administrative boundaries for sewage and water works and although it threw up some interesting nuggets didn’t fully solve the conundrum.  I rang the Council who were helpful but concluded that Leytonstone had no recognized boundary.

In the end I sketched out a route using the E11 postcode where it was in Waltham Forest, the areas containing a borough boundary where it couldn’t be anywhere but Leytonstone (see later for where this occurs and falls apart) and added areas that are commonly agreed to be landmarks of Leytonstone – e.g. Whipps Cross, Hollow Ponds, Thatched House, St. Patrick’s Cemetery. That gave a fairly reliable start point and only left a few grey areas that would have to be tested on foot. Although I’ve lived in Leytonstone over 8 years now and walked most streets in the area I couldn’t feel I truly understood where I lived until I’d stalked the entire perimeter in a single perambulation; sticking doggedly to my turf, looking out beyond as much as in.

Newport Road to Whipps Cross

I met Andrew and his son on the corner of Norlington Road (E10) and Newport Road (my brood bailed early on for Abbots Park, Leyton). One side of Newport is apparently in Leytonstone with the other allegedly in Leyton (Jersey Road being the exception where E11 crosses sides). This is a low point in the ground where the Fillebrook gurgles beneath the tarmac through what would once have been open fields and could have been used as a boundary although unlikely as it seems to have cut through one parcel of farmland or estate. From here we followed the blue postcode line on my Knowledge map taking us round Pretoria Road then surprising goes the length of Norlington Road on the school side then loops round to take in the end of Hainault Road E11 where it meets Leyton High Road.

Turning off Hainault Road we would have needed to leap across garage roofs to stick rigidly to the boundary so we took a 20 yard detour into Leyton to pick up the end of James Lane. It was a straight run along the backs of garages – easily imaginable as an old laneway or cart-track when the area was rural. We then turned along Peterborough Road which I’d always assumed was Leyton but it’s marked E11 and the alternative would be to go through the grounds of Whipps Cross Hospital and miss out a small section of roads on the far side. Skirting round the edge of Whipps looking across at the boarded up nurses accommodation block we kept tight to the Leytonstone border through a tidy nest of streets containing a mysterious abandoned-looking Hansel and Gretel cottage coming out onto the small green at Whipps Cross Roundabout where the trams once stopped. What the people of Leytonstone wouldn’t give to revive the old tramlines from here into Whitechapel.

Whipps Cross to the Birch Well

The border skirts the edge of the Whipps Cross Roundabout in a curious corner where Leytonstone, Leyton and Walthamstow meet and exchange harsh words, sledging each other across the road. This leads up to one of Leytonstone’s oddities – the row of Victorian houses beside the patch of open land with pond known as The Forest. First time I stumbled across this isolated settlement I was sure there had to be a pub to round off the image of the perfect village green but all I found was the expensive Forest private school.
Here we had to rely on the borough boundary separating Waltham Forest from Redbridge that cuts through the forest keeping tight to one edge of the Eagle Pond and behind Snaresbrook Crown Court. Here in the trees Andrew’s son spotted a small pool covered in a mat of luminous green algae. It looked like a well with carved stone edging and water around 2 feet deep. I posted the photo on Facebook and within 30 minutes had been told exactly what it was and its history. Philip and Richard responded with both descriptions and sketch maps confirming that this was The Birch Well – an “important source of water” at during times of drought and water shortages.

Leyton Flats to Bushwood

We clambered over an ivy-covered wall so Andrew could show me the ruin of the Chaplainry from the time when the law courts were an orphanage (Andrew wrote a piece on it for 3:AM). Following a dried up ditch that I speculated could be the course of the River Holt we emerged on Holy Bush Hill and walked down to the holiest of holy Leytonstone relics – the High Stone. Although it’s been moved a couple of times over the years this marks one corner of the area – everything around it is Redbridge.
Under the Green Man roundabout and rest-bite in the North Star which is blissfully close to the Bushwood border. There’d been a Leytonstone Jumble Trail that day and a few houses on Bushwood still had scattered items in their front gardens. Across the road from here is neither Redbridge nor Newham but the Corporation of London (get your head round that – although nowhere near as confusing as when you run into the Corporation livery when going for a stroll in Burnham Beaches, Bucks).

Wanstead Flats to Thatched House

We skirted the edge of Wanstead Flats by the iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh towers and payed homage to the fine Metropolitan Cattle Trough, coming out through the trees onto Harrow Road. As we passed the end of Cann Hall Road headed for the E7 section of Waltham Forest Andrew refused to go further on the solid grounds that ‘no one in their right mind would say that this was Leytonstone’. Fair point. But there is a block of streets from Cann Hall (recognized Leytonstone E11) to Vansittart Road round the edge of West Ham cemetery onto Leytonstone High Road via Janson Road that sit within the boundary of Waltham Forest and surely couldn’t be in Leyton. Andrew argued that simply part of Forest Gate must be in both Newham and Waltham Forest. I did wonder whether he was just tired and fancied cutting a chunk off the walk,  however Cann Hall Road did make more sense.
I’m still raw from the closure of my precious local The Heathcote Arms so walking past the boarded up Lord Rookwood and The Colegrave Arms converted to a mosque, both on Cann Hall Road, topped off by the Thatched House invaded by a bookies, opposite the junction with the High Road, was like a macabre exhibition of the fate that befalls pubs once sold. Let’s hope not eh.

Crownfield Road to the Link Road

While Crownfield Road, E15 seems like a natural border a few small streets to the south appear to be in Waltham Forest. We couldn’t decide at which point Crownfield Road became Leyton and the idea that Leyton High Road was on the border seemed mad so we made an arbitrary turning off Crownfield up Ellingham Road into Downsell Road (the school here is listed as Leytonstone) heading for Langthorne Road – undeniably Leytonstone and taking us past the old Infirmary, St Patrick’s Cemetery (which has Leytonstone on the plaque by the entrance), and the legendary Birkbeck Tavern – a pub saved from being zombied into flats.
There are a series of streets leading down to Leyton High Road here that are in E11 and could be claimed for Leytonstone but it’s unlikely anyone living there, so close to Leyton tube would refer to this as Leytonstone (Leslie Rd, Millais, Frith, Calderon, Webster, Goodall) – but we could well be wrong. After writing off the E7 parts of the borough we were becoming gung ho with our judgments and had no problem dispatching a block of E11. On reflection I think this might have been a mistake.

Grove Green Road back to Newport via Twickenham Road

From here it was fairly straightforward to cross the Link Road via the foot-tunnel, up Grove Green Road, along Francis Road, into Twickenham, St. Anne’s (half of which is Leyton) and up Newport on the eastern side with a detour round Jersey Road E11, to close the loop by Dennis’s shop. In total took us around 4 hours to cover approximately 8 miles.

 

By Our Selves – Andrew Kotting & Iain Sinclair back on the road

Last night to the Hackney Picturehouse – the cinema occupying a building that was squatted in recent history by some of my old associates from Frampton Park Estate. The occasion was a rare one – the chance to see some work-in-progress footage from the latest Andrew Kötting and Iain Sinclair collaboration, By Our Selves.

The project is a retracing of the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare’s Journey out of Essex when he walked from the asylum at High Beach, Epping Forest, where he was a patient, to his home in Northamptonshire. Sinclair covered this ground in his book Edge of the Orison but the film and associated live art events are no mere wandering documentary from page to screen, no BBC4 style lecture with occasionally moving images. Nor is it simply a sequel to their brilliant two men in a swan pedalo film Swandown. Kötting does the 3-day schlepp dressed as a folkloric Straw Bear led on a string leash by celebrated actor Toby Jones playing Clare. Sinclair appears by the roadside in some of the footage – English Heritage should really pay him to continuously walk around the M25 and up the Great North Road. Jem Finer once again contributes a jaunty, haunting soundtrack of synthetic birdsong and refracted instruments. Alan Moore manifests on a bench reading Clare’s poem I Am.

 

The day after I’m still haunted by the sounds and images – the procession of masked figures beating drums behind the straw bear parading through Epping Forest, John Clare/Toby Jones reading a boxing magazine sat on the side of a field-path (Clare was a boxing fan). The psychogeographers dream ticket of Kötting and Sinclair looks set to deliver another vital  post-millennial vision of England.

 

The project is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to finish the edit – you can back it for the price of a couple of pints.

Here’s Iain Sinclair talking about his journey for Edge of the Orison on Newsnight in 2005 which includes a snippet of footage that I think was shot by Radio On director Chris Petit

 

 

Over Pole Hill

I‘d taken a mazy path from Woodford Green, through Knighton Wood, across Whitehall Plain and onto Station Road Chingford for a bag of chips munched on a bench at Chingford Green outside the Assembly Hall which was hosting a performance by the Ex-Servicemen’s Wives Choir. It was like the 1950’s.

Pole Hill Chingford

A path in the car park at the rear of the Kings Head pub led to the summit of Pole Hill. I was breathing heavily as I came upon the clearing and soon realised that the view would be significantly better in winter when the bare boughs wouldn’t obscure the vista.

Pole Hill obelisk

 

 

 

The stone obelisk bears two plaques. The highest records the association with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia – forever in my mind Peter O’Toole garbed in white and directed by David Lean) who bought 18 acres at the top of Pole Hill where he planned to build a house where he and his friend Vyvyan Richards would print his now famous work The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
The dream remained unfulfilled but they did build a hut with a pool where Richards lived until 1922.

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The second plaque – well you can read it yourself – but I take this as meaning that Chingford Green isn’t the land that time forgot but the place where time began. It wasn’t the 1950’s down there – it was the year 130.

I don’t know why some annoying pedant has scribbled that “This is not the Highest Point in Ldn”, nobody claims that it is to my knowledge, a portion of the population of Chingford deny that it’s even in London – refusing to acknowledge the 1963 London Government Act that brought the area into London from Essex.

Yardley Hill

Moving on through Hawk Wood I then made the steep ascent of Yardley Hill through a field of buttercups to fantastic views down the Lea Valley and westwards over the Northern Heights.

Lea Valley view from Fernhill Wood

Skirting the huge Scout encampment at Gilwell Park and surviving a narrow country road with no footpath that appears to be a where the speed limits of 4×4 vehicles are tested, I was rewarded with this view from the edge of Fernhill Wood – creation smiling upon Brimsdown.

Sewardstone

I came down off the hill into Sewardstone (named after, “Seward, a great Saxon thane” – Village London 1883) just before 9pm.  Just beyond the edge of London, a place where the buses stop running at 6.23pm. Sewardstone is an oddity – the only area outside Greater London with a London postcode – E4. I’d long wondered what was out here, the lack of detail on the OS map is matched by the reality on the ground. A couple of farms, a row of houses and a pub with a nice garden … oh and a Premier Inn.

McDonalds Waltham Abbey

My only desire had been to hit the outer limits of London through the forest, to land on a name on a map like a game of ramblers monopoly. But now the reality of finding some transport back into town hit home. The only thing left was to take the long road schlepp in the dying light towards Waltham Abbey.

The peaceful A21 that bypasses the town centre is as tranquil as the hills and certainly safer than that death track by Gilwell Park. The MaccyD’s on the Middlesex/Herts border, now a familiar waypoint on recent Lea Valley wanders, shows the way to Waltham Cross station and the return to London.

Urban Druid

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I recorded this video on a walk in Epping Forest last November – ruminating of the idea of urban druidry. I’d just bought Living Druidry by Emma Restall Orr – I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a Druidry correspondence course for years, initially tickled that such a thing was even possible but then increasingly drawn into the idea of connecting with some form of environment based faith system (you can put that down to impending middle age if you like). But every time I dip my toe in the pagan pond it always turns up ethereal folk swanning around in Wiltshire or somewhere similarly scenic and Arthurian.

Ambresbury Banks

Ambresbury Banks

Well for me there is nothing more Arthurian than Epping Forest – one of the candidates for the real King Arthur was knocking around these parts, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who re-fortified Ambresbury Banks up near Theydon Bois. But getting away from supposed previous Golden Ages why can’t druidry be just as relevant to a dirty old city like London as to the chalk downlands and sweeping green hills.

In my mind though, when I entertain the idea the Urban Druid it looks as if it would be to druidry what Tony Hancock’s artist was to the art world in The Rebel.

 

 

Andy Ross – Almost People

Andy Ross - Almost People from fugueur on Vimeo.

Last Sunday evening my old friend Andy Ross came over to Leytonstone to make a video previewing his debut album Almost People, which was produced by ex-Stereolab drummer Andy Ramsay at Press Play Studios in South London.
Andy was my room-mate in a terraced house in Forest Gate when I arrived in London from the Chilterns back in 1989. We had both rocked up carrying guitars that we could barely play but that didn’t stop us spending the next 3 years writing songs and forming a band with the rest of our dubious bunch of housemates who had little more musical apptitude than us. We were a parody of a late Thatcher student band with songs like ‘Block of Concrete Flats’, ‘Brian Walden’ and others too cringe-worthy to set down here.We carried on writing music for a bit after leaving Poly, recording songs on borrowed four-track machines, but I wandered off on my travels (buying a guitar on the way) and that ended our musical collaboration.
But Andy has perservered and honed his craft over the ensuing 20 years and he’s now made a really beautiful album. It was a genuine treat for me to be able to rekindle the collaboration in some form but this time with some proper songs that don’t have titles that sound like they had come from the pen of Rick from The Young Ones
We went up to The Hollow Ponds to catch the last hour of light which I seem to have slightly miscalculated meaning that we were chasing the sunset around the edge of the water. Being a Sunday we ambled round the grounds of the parish church and I grabbed a few images of Andy on the church steps before, out of the gloom, the vicar started shouting angrily at us about the Churchyard being private property and that we should ask permission to enter – no wonder church numbers are dwindling.
Oddly one of Andy’s songs I remember most from Poly days was called Vicar in his Chapel – perhaps it was a prophecy.