Over Marsh Lane Fields & Across Hackney Marshes

The roadside wildflowers near the nest Nest E10 apartments made me think of Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside. This was apt because I remember reading Iain Sinclair’s wonderful article about this hugely influential book in the Guardian Review then heading for a walk to our own patch of unofficial countryside at Marsh Lane Fields expecting to find hordes of Guardian reading foragers only to find this glorious open space largely devoid of people and the elderflower trees laden with fruit. So this lockdown walk on the 15th May was a welcome return to one of my favourite places in London, a precious tract of land preserved for the enjoyment of local people.

From Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) I crossed the metal footbridge over the railway sidings to Leyton Waterworks. The threat of the music festival has now passed, the campaign to stop the festival successful and the organisers graciously accepting defeat. I do miss the old Pitch and Put over here. I used to come over in the hour before sunset in summer for a quick round with my eldest son in tow munching on vending machine crisps. I was curious to see if the hot weather had made people take to swimming in the River Lea at the spot that some have come to call Hackney Beach. But on this weekend three weeks ago there was only a solitary hammocker snoozing suspended over the gently flowing waters of our sacred river. Two weeks later scenes of swimmers cavorting in the river caused social media outrage.

Leyton Waterworks - Marsh Lane walk River Lea Marsh Lane walk

Crossing the Friends Bridge I passed into the London Borough of Hackney, breaching the old Middlesex – Essex border and once the frontier between the Danelaw and English Law. Here there was a liberal sprinkling of picnicers and people playing sport. You could sense the lockdown dissolving on this side of the river, too soon for my liking. A great plume of smoke billowed into the sky from a warehouse fire in Barking, fire engines cut through traffic on the Eastway. I crossed the river back into Waltham Forest and took the backstreets through Leyton home.

A lost Roman Road in Leyton

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.

Roman Road

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.

Walking the Shortlands Stream across Leyton Marshes

Back at the end of February I joined local historian Claire Weiss for a walk following the Shortlands Stream across a corner of Leyton Marshes. Claire has been researching the history of Lea Bridge Farm. This stream, or in reality a sewer, ran across the farmland and has since been culverted, although traces above ground can be found.

We met at Marsh Lane Fields and started our walk at the bridge over the Dagenham Brook, finding the point where the Shortlands Stream makes its journey beneath the ground.

More information about Claire’s Lea Bridge Farm project can be found here

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

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.

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

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.

 

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (Fillebrook)

A walk along Leytonstone’s Lost River – the Philley Brook (or Fillebrook) – part of a series of walks for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

The route of the walk in the video is as follows:

Fillebrook Route

Start at St. Andrew’s Church – go behind to patch of land beside St. James Lane – Bury Field Farm – note church on boggy high ground – gas lamp beside church – note course across Forest Road

Follow the footpath beside St.Andrew’s Church and turn left  into Coleworth Road

Turn right into Hainault Road to block of modern flats – brook runs through car park

Turn left into Lytton Road

Turn left into Wadley Road

Brook cuts across Ripley Mews and Temple Close (linking to carpark behind flats) – can hear under street iron

Continue back along Lytton Road

Turn left into Esther Road – see where brook comes through metal gate continues under houses – flooding

Back to Lytton – look down across back gardens

Turn left into Wallwood Road – Wallwood Farm Estate – Stratford Langthorne

See where brook comes through opposite Kings Passage

Listen to river in Kings Road (be careful of cars) – then it goes through St. John’s Ambulance

Along Kingswood Road to Queen’s Road – see brook running across – listen (watch out for traffic)

Kingswood Road – ex-Fillebrook Road

Turn right into Fairlop Road – then left into Bulwer Road – left into Chelmsford (alt. route goes from Grove Green Road straight into Fillebrook Road)

Turn right Into Fillebrook Road from Chelmsford Road opp Damon Albarn house and Leytonstone & Wanstead Synagogue

At end of Fillebrook Road turn right into Drayton Road – Drayton Road sound of river opposite flats – then left into Southwest Road

Turn right into Avebury Road – right into Cavendish Road – left into Scarborough Road

Philley Brook Fillebrook

The Philley Brook in Drayton Road

Turn right into Grove Green Road – look at Stuart Freeborn Murals on other side of the railway – Heathcote and Star Pub

Turn right at Heathcote into Pretoria Road – then left into Newport Road

[Ian Bourn diversion not in the video but on guided walk: Grove Green (Farm) – Stuart Freeborn – Claremont Rd – Northcote Arms -Francis Road]

Across Francis Road – alleyway into Dawlish Road

Through Sidmouth Park

Cross Leyton High Road – note –  Brooke House – go through Coronation Gardens  – maze + water feature

Exit onto Oliver Road – note Leyton Beach – turn left

Turn right into Dunedin Road – (note Ruckholt Road) go through new development to Orient Way – end at Allotments

Graham Millar M11 Linked

Listening to Graham Millar’s M11 Linked on Grove Green Road

 

Walking in Waltham Forest talk

I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about my walks for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture at Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society on Wednesday 16th October – more details here