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

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

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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.

 

Walk from Marsh Lane Leyton, along the Lea to the Wetlands Centre

Marsh Lane, Leyton

Marsh Lane, Leyton

A bright cold Thursday morning, letting my feet guide me.

Marsh Lane, Leyton is full of resonances of my arrival in the area, beating the bounds of the Lammas Lands, a discovery of Country London that I never knew existed.

Marsh Lane Leyton

Marsh Lane Leyton

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WaterWorks Centre Leyton

WaterWorks Centre Leyton

The WaterWorks Centre was shutters down closed. The looming towers rising around Lea Bridge Station now frame the view. I miss the old pitch and put, playing on Saturday evenings with my son following me round, sitting on the tee with a bottle of Strawberry Milk and packet of crisps.

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes

Frost glimmered on the Lea Bridge Cycle Lane as I headed for the marshes contemplating coffee in the old stately home in Springfield Park.

Lea Navigation Hackney

Lea Navigation Hackney

I didn’t want to leave the Lea Navigation to climb through Springfield for coffee and survey the valley, so kept on the towpath.

A friend knowledgeable in these matters, says that the plants in the water at the beginning of this clip are called Frogbit, which apparently hibernates in winter.

Lea Navigation Tottenham

I sat on a bench beside the Navigation as I approached Ferry Lane enjoying the sun pitching on my face. A smattering of cyclists and joggers passed. All the action was on the water with birds skidding in to land, squawking, wings flapping, heads disappearing beneath the surface, a multitude of voices, songs and calls.

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

The viewing platform at Walthamstow Wetlands affords a majestic vista back down the Lea and over reservoirs towards Hackney and Leyton. It was almost balmy there, face to the sun.

Forest Road Walthamstow

Forest Road Walthamstow

The view of the building works on Forest Road, Walthamstow from the platform at Blackhorse Road Station was like looking at a gigantic sculpture with the arrangement of green, red and purple structures perfectly aligned. The breeze blocks in the foreground were a bit of a letdown though, I think yellow would work well.

Midwinter on Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes

With clear midwinter morning sky, rooftops and hedgrows swaddled in frost, I headed down Lea Bridge Road bound for Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes. I’d been meaning to make a video of this magical zone for a while, but somethings are too precious to capture on camera it seems – perhaps that’s why the resultant video was shot on 3 of them.

Walthamstow Marshes

The best entrance to the marshes isn’t via Lea Bridge Road, or the path across from the Filter Beds, but over the old iron footbridge from the Argall Avenue Trading Estate that carries you across the railway tracks and the River Lea Flood Relief Channel. Muddy puddles were frozen solid revealing nature’s pattern in the whorls and curls embedded in the ice. The jacketted horses in the Riding Centre blew out big plumes of breath. Dogs scarpered across Leyton Marsh to the river bank. Vapour trails embroidered the sky. It was glorious.

The A.V. Roe railway arch, Walthamstow Marshes

The A.V. Roe railway arch

I marked the line of trees demarcating the parish boundary between Leyton and Walthamstow that I’d been shown on a Beating of the Bounds organised by the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee when I’d first moved to the area. Then on to another memory stored in A.V Roe’s railway arch, not of that first triplane flight in 1909, but of singing the wassail song here with the Hackney Tree Muskateers.

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes is decorated with the droppings left behind by the Belted Galloway cattle reintroduced to the marshland to help restore the ‘natural’ order created by thousands of years of human interaction with this landscape. The cattle themselves were curiously elusive.

Mural Underpass Walthamstow Marshes

The circuit was completed by turning across Coppermill Fields and through the Mural Underpass to the Lammas Meadow. A horse trotted around the field edge. The horizon on all sides was marked by cranes and other signs of construction as the Lea Valley undergoes another period of change. This stip of marshland, preserved through previous struggles, has never felt so precious.

Leyton marshes pylons

Over the marshes to the Signature Brew Backstage Bar

Leyton Marshes

Freezing cold crisp blue sky Saturday – perfect day for a walk over the marshes.

Ducking round the back of the ice rink on Lea Bridge Road I first cross Leyton Marsh remembering the January day 3 years ago when I joined the Hackney Tree Musketeers for their wassailing of the fruit trees at Millfields and Springfield Park.

 

Walthamstow Marshes

I walked along the riverbank past Walthamstow Marshes and under the AV Roe bridge where we had sung the Wassailing song that day as trains clattered overhead.

 

Walthamstow Rervoirs

The view across the reservoirs from Coppermill Lane is one of the finest in London – you look across a sequence of bodies of water that stretch for around 7 miles along the Lea Valley.

Signature Brew brewery Leyton

I’ve been wanting to pay a visit to the Signature Brew Backstage bar since it opened last year and I can think of fewer better ways to end a walk than to stroll through a brewery to the tap room.

Signature Brew backstage bar

Tucked away in an industrial unit on the Leyton Business Park the Signature Brew Backstage Bar is an absolute gem serving up their delicious ales in snug surrounded by music memorabilia.

 

The Backstage Bar opens Saturdays 12 – 8 – check the Signature Brew twitter feed first. Address: Unit 25, Leyton Business Centre, Etloe Road, E10 7BT

The ghost horses of Marsh Lane Fields

The most poignant moment in making this elegy for a London meadow – Marsh Lane Fields, came when I couldn’t recall where exactly the horses had been tethered beneath the pylons. It was the memory of that image – so striking when I’d first seen it on my personal discovery of Marsh Lane Fields, new to the area Beating the Bounds in the driving rain with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee – that made me realise not only had the horses been erased from the landscape but the pylons as well. How was it possible that I hadn’t noticed before. I’d surveyed the changes to the site when passing through on one of the walks for This Other London and the fact I was running late for the wassailing in Clapton made me hurry through.

marsh lane fields horses

Sunday night I dug out my old camcorder from the top of the wardrobe and spooled through a miniDV tape I shot in December 2006 when the NLLDC returned to Marsh Lane to lead a protest against the proposed enclosure of one end of the ancient Lammas Lands by the London Olympic Authorities for the relocation of Manor Garden Allotments from Hackney. One protest had begotten another. First time this was attempted, in 1892, the people of Leyton marched onto the fields led by their councillors and tore the fences down. A plaque on the Eton Manor Athletics Club commemorates the event. It’s said the land was drained by Alfred the Great and bequeathed to the people of Leyton as common pasture based on the old Lammas grazing system. This mattered little to the Olympic people and their fences went up.

I fast-forwarded through the footage of the protest, the singing of an old marching Song sung during he footpath protests of the early 20th Century. Were the horses a misplaced memory of the stables on the site of the Lea Valley Pitch and Putt (was that a figment of my imagination as well?). But eventually there were the horses munching the grass in Standard Definition, today closely mown and rebranded Leyton Jubilee Park, grazing where now allotment holders cultivate rhubarb.

A field in England

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As bucolic as anything you would find in the ‘traditional’ countryside – our precious Leyton Marshes, a step away from Lea Bridge Road. Once part of the ancient Lammas Lands (open access grazing pasture for the people of the parish between August and March).

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Through the trees and down across a ditch and you are across the Parish boundary on the Walthamstow Marshes – again former Lammas Land. I couldn’t help noticing that there was more signage than on the Leyton side and which also looked in generally better nick – or am I succumbing to local rivalries and insecurities.

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What they don’t have in Walthamstow is this seductive pumping house near the Essex Filter Beds. You have to love the use of glass bricks and its overall symmetry. You expect it to house more than a pump, which is merely a front for what is actually an imaginarium.

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You suspect that whoever attempted to break through the wooden door wasn’t attempting to gain access to this glorious pump. They may have thought it would open a Stargate … or perhaps provide a place to kip for the night. I hope they weren’t too disappointed – I certainly appreciated being able to have a sneaky peak inside.

(There’s more on the marshes in This Other London)