Marsh Lane Land Grab – appeal for help

I received this by email from the New Lammas Land Defence Committee.

“As we expect you already know, on 12th June the LB Waltham Forest’s Planning Committee granted approval for part of our former Lammas Lands at Marsh LaneFields on Leyton Marshes to be fenced off from public use in order to relocate some of the Manor Gardening Society allotment-holders from Eastway Allotments in LB Newham.

About a third of the plot-holders at Eastway have, sadly, given up; others are still trying to get permission to remain where they are, which we also believe they should be allowed to.
This was the third major land-grab of open spaceoutside the currently designated Olympics site.

What happens next at Marsh Lane Fields will influence what happens in the future elsewhere in green open spaces surrounding the actual site – especially in the part of Leyton that falls in the Borough of Newham (where Major Road Open Space has been fenced off for relocating a Gypsy Traveller community) and Hackney Wick (where yet another part of Hackney Marshes on Homerton Road has been taken for families from another displaced Traveller community) as well as in other parts of Waltham Forest.

Any help would be very welcome indeed – if we were to give up without a squeak it wouldn’t be much inspiration to others in the future – however, this is not a likely prospect and we are preparing to fight this all the way !

We would welcome any offer of help, even if just over the coming week or so when we are all so very busy and the deadlines are so urgent?

The situation is serious and we really do need to work at it NOW if we are to save our Lammas Lands on Leyton Marshes!

For a view from the allotment-holders’perspective (bearing in mind that not all hold exactly the same opinion about what course to take) please see their www.lifeisland. com website, or visit the Games Monitor website which has in-depth analysis from a number of perspectives.

There is also a nascent NLLDC website under construction at www.lammaslands.com but there’s very little on it at present and it has not yet been officially launched.
For more information please contact marshlane@umbilical .demon.co. uk

Many thanks for any help you can give us!!
New Lammas Lands Defence Committee.
Also have a look at this short video I made about the Lammas Lands back in December when the threat first emerged.

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Save Marsh Lane Fields – video

I’ve cut together some footage of the demonstration on Marsh Lane Fields in December. The video hopefully explains the issues, but in short the Olympic Destruction/Development Agency are planning re-locate the Manor Gardens Allotments in Hackney to one corner of Marsh Lane Fields.

The issues/objections are:
– the re-location of the allotments onto land that was used as a tip after the war will involve the removal of vast amounts of earth which will cause enormous disruption to this tranquil corner of Leyton (think of the diggers, trucks etc.). It’ll turn this quiet lane into a rat-run.

– it will involve the enclosure of Lammas Land that has been open, common grazing land since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the C9th. This is both a disaster locally but also on a larger scale it represents yet more common land being enclosed.

It’s instructive to note the two historical precedents of the 19th Century when the authorities intervened, both here on the Leyton Lammas Lands and in nearby Epping Forest, to fend of the advances of land grabbers and keep this vital open space in common ownership. But both these landmark rulings were triggered by the actions of a few.

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SPB Mais haunted by the Harrow Gasometers (in 1937)

This blog’s been quiet for a while, sorry, but I have been awoken from my slumber by the excellent Mr Tregaskis. So for you my friend, this, from SPB Mais (one of the arch proto-psychogeographers / crypto-topographers) on his topographical adventure through Harrow (1937):
“I descended from this dignified, unspoilt village past Matthew Arnold’s lovely home, Byron House, into the Weald with reluctance, for I kept on running up against that nightmare of a gasometer. In the end I took a bus and drove through all the other Harrows. To my great surprise as I wandered down Oxhey Lane…I found a gloriou common of bracken and silver-birches on both sides of the road. I was on the ridge of the hill with glorious views southward over all the Harrows. At least, the view would have been glorious had it not been for my discovery that the monstrous Harrow gasometer had suddenly spawned. I had been sufficiently harassed by the sight of one. But now there were two.”
The inability to appreciate the beauty of a gasometer nestling in the landscape does make me wonder whether, rather than being a prophet, Mais was actually a bit of a phillistine. When they recently pulled down the Edwardian gasometers in High Wycombe the old people lamented their passing. The rusting gasometers on Leyton Marshes are a key feature of the areas topography(like the pylons). They are merely the modern (or not so modern) descendants of the windmills that I read in Understone today sat down on the corner of Francis Road and Newport Road. I wonder whether Daniel Defoe complained bitterly about the cursed windmills that blighted his view.

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Sunday on the Leyton Lammas Lands


Down to Marsh Lane Playing Fields with H, Nick and the kids. I’m keen to see their reaction to the former Lammas Lands. It’s a perfect late summer’s day, walking weather, great for a 14-miler, but not with a 3 year-old and a pram.

We enter the fields via a council estate off Oliver Road and over a bridge across the Dagenham Brook. Nick points out Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) growing on the bank. A red dragonfly darts here and there. Starlings swoop across the sky gathering for migration (Nick reckons they’re bound for Siberia). Windswept long-grasses brush up against giant pylons which send black stripes across the brilliant blue sky. Nick and my 3 year-old look for caterpillars on the Marsh Ragwort. Purple-flowered wild peas. Great heavy bunches of elderberries.

Nick rubs some Yarrow in his fingers – “used for stanching bleeding” (it was also known as Soldier’s Wortweed). There’s Black horehound and Burdock. I’m looking out for the legions of foragers that Richard Mabey wrote about in yesterday’s Guardian. But the only other people around are a family on bikes and two joggers. The Leyton & Leytonstone Guardian reported last week that this is one of the least visited open spaces in the Borough. Even Nick, who the great Londoner writer Will Self claims knows London better than anyone he knows, has never heard of it. Will it remain so unspoilt as the Olympics take over the Lea Valley?

The 3 year-old fills his pockets with stones and chases Nick up Marsh Lane.

(plant identification courtesey of Nick. He gifted me his copy of ‘Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers’ by McClintock and Fitter, 1956 at the end of the day so hopefully I’ll be able to bring a greater appreciation of the local flora to the blog in future).

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Beating the Bounds on the Lammas Lands

Went out beating the bounds on the Lammas Lands of Leyton Marshes Sunday after seeing an article about it in the Leyton & Leytonstone Guardian. It rained all day but still at least 20 hardy souls turned out to enact this ancient ritual led by local activist Katy Andrews of the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee and Rev Dr Meic Phillips.

My interest in the practice of Beating the Bounds comes from the Remapping High Wycombe project when I did my own symbolic circuit of the town’s boundary. I was intrigued to see it done for real though, particularly as here on Leyton Marshes it wasn’t just a quaint re-enactment of an old custom whereby the devil was beat out of the locality and youngsters where shown the parish limits, it carried a real political message.

The idea of Lammas Lands is based on the Celtic system of cattle grazing. Parishioners had common rights to graze cattle on these lands from Lammas Day (1st August) till the old Celtic New Year’s Day of 25th March. People stopped grazing cattle here some time ago, after the railways carved up the area, but in 1905 a determined group of local people got together and fought for the of the Lammas Lands to be “devoted to the purpose of an open space in perpetuity.” This still stands and the right to free access to the land and for it not to be fenced in is an important local right, especially at a time was more and more of London is being taken out of circulation by developers. But with the 2012 Olympics on its way, the London Development Agency have their hungry eyes on all the spare land they can grab, and without a word to anyone, they’ve decided that a chunk of the Lammas Lands would be a good place to relocate allotments from Hackney that are going to end up as a Badminton Court or something else equally useful.

Leyton Marshes are a great expanse of land, the like of which you just don’t expect to see in London. Horses grazing, some tethered to the great electricity pylons that straddle the Lea Valley. Into it we plunged with our willow wands bedecked with ribbons. I missed the first “child sacrifice” because I got lost on the pitch and put. I was slightly surprised that this bumping of a child would be carried out, however traditional, the idea of Druids carrying out child sacrifice is now thought to have been Christian propaganda aimed at undermining the influence of pagan practices.

Rev Dr Meic Phillips boomed out snippets of local history and oddities of English law, such as the way that footpaths are established (by carrying a coffin between a dwelling and a church – and you can still do it if you can find a dead person). I struck up conversation with the vicar of the Parish of Clapton and it dawned on me how this distinctly pagan ritual is being appropriated by the church, but not in a christianised form but a blatantly pagan one. Looking and listening to Rev Dr Phillips, I could see that he was just a Druid in disguise, and I started to wonder whether the Druids hadn’t died out but they’d just entered the fledgling Church of England and quietly subverted it.

Opposite the River Lea Navigation Katy pointed out the former site of James Latham’s timber yards, currently been turned into the sort of Legoland housing estate that John Prescott plans to have spreading throughout southern England like an outbreak of measles. This was the place my Dad had told me to look out for. He used to drive up from Wycombe to pick the timber up from Latham’s wharfs, back in Wycombe it would be turned into veneered panels. The Lea Bridge Road is my old man’s only point of reference in this neck of the woods.

Through a ditch and up a muddy bank, the rain lashes down, people going down left right and centre, I fall head first into a patch of stinging nettles. This is the stuff, there won’t be a riot like there was in 1905, but we’ll at least get some mud under our nails.

On we go around the marshes, with references to how the calendar change of 1752 divided the grazing practices of the parishes Leyton and Walthamstow who had peacefully co-existed for thousands of years (well a couple of thousand at least). It meant that the people of Leyton who had adopted the new calendar had to take their cattle off the Lammas Lands eleven days before those of Walthamstow who had stuck with the old system. Caused a bit of a row back then apparently.

All along the way there were reminders that our common land rights are under greater threat than ever. There was a real mood of protest and defiance, however twee we must have looked with our ribbons fluttering in the wind.

At the end of the walk, drenched, we cast our willow wands into the Dagenham Brook, a symbolic act of returning the willows to water. The next symbolic act was the adjournment to the Hare and Hounds for a pint, where it all started back in 1905.