It wasn’t my intention to go for a walk, merely to try a new breakfast spot that opened recently near the Jubilee Pond on Wanstead Flats. But perhaps starting my day by crossing that first section of open ground triggered something in my noggin because as soon as I’d digested my croissant I was off.
I dropped by the Wanstead Tap but it was too early and the shutters were down, so I thought I’d take a look at what some gentrifiers are trying to brand Forest ‘Great’ (I kid you not, soon to be as galling as ‘Awesomestow’). Forest Gate was the first place I lived in London as a callow bumpkin of 18 and I loved it straight away, although that was on the other side of Romford Road near West Ham Park. The Woodgrange Road hub was a slightly obscure adjunct, particularly with Stratford equidistant.
I counted 4 posh coffee shops but otherwise the area looks little changed from other recent visits. When recounting this to a friend who lives near the Flats they told me the new bakery with its mortgageable loaves of artisan bread had been the focus of Cereal Killer Cafe style anti-gentrification protests, which on further research (i.e asking facebook friends who live in the area) manifested itself as some graffiti spray painted on the windows at night.
After crossing Romford Road and discovering that I’d superglued the zoom rocker on my camera I decided to walk in a straight line to Ilford – sort of in protest at my own stupidity and to finally spend a Waterstones voucher I’d had in my wallet for a year.
I soon found myself wandering through the gates of Plashet Park where a strong gale battered the trees and bushes. Undergrowth that a couple of years ago was found to be harbouring a couple of adult boa constrictors.
On the far side of the park is the majestic Passmore Edwards Public Library, today used as the Newham Registry Office. The foundation stone was laid in 1898 and the mosiac flooring at the entrance still radiates civic pride.
The Sri Mahalakshmi Temple on East Ham High Street North is an unavoidable beacon that lit up my eastward alignment to Ilford. Not far away by Little Ilford School stands an even grander Hindu place of pooja – Sri Murugan Temple.
Music wafted out onto the street, I loitered by the door for a bit before kicking off my trainers near the steps and tentatively going inside. Various forms of worship were taking place in the huge space, some people just sat cross-legged on the floor praying-meditating, there was a feeling of total peace. Sadly my messed up knees prevent me from sitting on the floor so I sat on one of the scooped plastic school chairs placed by the wall for old people, and soaked up some of the good vibrations.
Continuing along the straight track brought me to the door of the ancient church of St. Mary the Virgin Little Ilford. The stone church dates from the 12 Century but replaced an older timber church that could have been established in the pre-Conquest period. It was at this point I realised I was accidentally following a route I’d planned for This Other London Book 2 – a work still in progress – but had shelved when other avenues appeared. My interest in Little Ilford had been sparked by reading about the 18th Century antiquarian Smart Lethieullier who is buried somewhere in the church.
Lethieullier was descended from wealthy French Huguenot refugees who’d settled in nearby Aldersbrook. Lethieullier carried out some of the first surveys of the Roman villa at Wanstead Park and recorded explorations of the Ambresbury Banks earthwork in Epping Forest.
The gale force winds now brought a smattering of freezing rain along for the ride as I entered Little Ilford Park – an odd pear shaped open space with pylons hugging the border with the North Circular Road. I toyed with finding a crossing to the River Roding and working my way down to Barking, as per the itinerary I now recalled planning 2 years ago, but Little Ilford Park is reluctant to let those who enter leave.
This squat concrete pavilion seems to have been inspired by Soviet bus stop design – or maybe it was the other way round in the manner that the Moscow Metro was inspired by Charles Holden’s Piccadilly Circus station with Holden returning the favour with his Russian influenced station at Gants Hill.
I watched the rain for a bit from the shelter of the pavilion trying to imagine playing any kind of cricket on whatever pitch lay beneath the thick clumps of grass before walking the length of the park and exiting for Ilford High Street beneath the grand North Circular fly-over.
That original exploration could now be back on the itinerary.