On the trail of the Dagenham Brook

Leyton Sign Ruckolt Road

Something magical happens when you pack your bag for a walk, even on a day like today when my enthusiasm is thin. In goes the notebook and 2 pens, a copy of Rachel Lichtenstein’s new book Estuary, OS map of the Lea Valley & Epping Forest, camera + mini magnetic tripod, a light jacket, and finally a cap I stuff down the side. All of this crammed into a messenger bag that was given away by the thousand at the London Film Festival 12 or 13 years ago.

I contemplate the journey ahead over coffee at Costa in Leyton Mills – the vast carpark here with its expansive Lea Valley skies is one of my favourite open spaces in London – it’s like the American Midwest of my imagination. The prospect of the relatively short walk along the Dagenham Brook increases in appeal as the caffeine kicks in. These minor urban excursions can easily snowball into epic quests. It’s the anticipation of the unknown buried within the familiar. Of becoming lost in a suburban swamp.

Dagenham Brook
I navigate my way across the grid system of the Asda car park and over to Orient Way, under the Leyton sign to find the point where the Dagenham Brook disappears underground before making its confluence with the River Lea. This is so close to where the Fillebrook momentarily appears above ground (in a reversal of fortunes) that I wonder if these two brooks merge before running into the Lea as a single watercourse.

A broken hole in the thick undergrowth gives me my first glimpse of the Dagenham Brook. I slide down the bank getting snagged in the brambles in the process and struggle to extract myself once I’ve logged my encounter with the river. Urban river hunting is not as easy as it seems.

Dagenham Brook
Fifty yards or so further along a recently surfaced new path hugs the river as it meanders through Marsh Lane Fields. I remember the Beating of the Bounds here on a wet May Sunday afternoon 10 years ago just after we’d moved to Leytonstone. It had been organized by the brilliant New Lammas Lands Defence Committee and was my real introduction into the culture of this section of the Lea Valley with the deep passionate attachment to the landscape. Marsh Lane has had a powerful hold on me ever since.

Dagenham Brook Leyton FC
The brook curves round behind the goal of the abandoned ground of Leyton F.C. – the weeds thick, nearly enclosing the watercourse. I call artist Lucy Harrison to see if she’ll give me a quick 5-minute interview about the Warner Homes that straddle Lea Bridge Road and have the Dagenham Brook running through the gardens. Lucy did an interesting project with the residents of the Warner Estate and I wish I knew more about them – now would be my chance.

Warner Estate Leyton
Lucy obligingly popped out into Blythe Road and told me about how the houses had been built around the beginning of the last century to provide quality affordable rentable homes and had gradually been sold off since the 1960’s. Although they have lost the tidy uniformity of their early years when Warner staff trimmed the hedges and painted the doors and window frames green and cream – they retain a distinctive architectural style with the arched double front doors and elaborate gables. You know when you’ve strolled into a Warner Estate.

Dagenham Brook p1010216
The Brook gently flows on into territory where I can’t follow it closely – behind cul-de-sacs, round the back of industrial estates and allotments. There are allotments all along the course of the river – even more so than along the Filly Brook. The occasionally waterlogged, spring-fed land unsuitable for building or industrial use, I guess good for growing crops fond of wet soil.

Pumphouse Museum Walthamstow
I eventually rendezvous with the Brook again near the end the W19 bus route where it winds around the edge of Low Hall Sports Ground. I pay homage with a nod, a photo and a few seconds of video before moving on back along the road unable again to walk along the riverbank. In truth physical encounters are a bonus with urban river walking for me, it’s more of a simple device to open up what might appear an unpromising landscape unenthusiastic about yielding its secrets. The brook sets the route and tells you its story, guides the way.

St James Park Walthamstow

The Dagenham Brook suggests I take a look at St James Park, one of those backstreet open spaces known mostly to the locals but a beautiful spot. There are only a handful of people in the park – a lady sitting on the ground appears to have positioned herself dead centre of a large empty section. An access road leads down the middle of a wonderful grand avenue of lime trees. The park occupies part of the site of the 14th Century Low Hall Manor which was purchased by Walthamstow Council in the late 19th Century.

Dagenham Brook Walthamstow p1010264

The brook slides behind park and under the railway bridge now running parallel with the broader River Lea Flood Relief Channel. I’ve seen discussion online suggesting that the Dagenham Brook is also a man-made watercourse, a drainage ditch. Old OS maps of the area show an elaborate tapestry and ditches and ponds adorning the landscape – nearly all now buried or filled in occasionally rising again to flood a basement or waterlog a garden.

Seb Lester mural walthamstow
Moving beneath the railway you are greeted by a sequence of murals on the end of terrace walls. On the corner of Chester Road a verse from Ewan MacColl’s timeless song written for Peggy Seeger is painted in elaborate filigree font
                           The first time ever I saw your face
                          I thought the sun rose in your eyes

Louis Masai walthamstow

On the other end of the block is a work by Louis Masai of a Fox, Badger and Bees – the bees carry a placard appealing to ‘Save Us!’, the badger sits behind a sign saying ‘No to the Cull’. Around the corner is a colourful abstract work by Italian street artist Renato Hunto.

Mural Walthamstow
Moving in to Coppermill Lane I can’t see any further trace of the Dagenham Brook as it appears to have merged with Flood Relief Channel. I stand on a concrete block and look north along the course of the Lea and bid my farewell to this understated, wonderful watercourse.

sunflower walthamstow

‘Busy Lea Bridge Was Once A Lonely Road’

97 Lea Bridge Road

John Rogers Leyton talk

Yesterday I showed a new video, about Leyton F.C, and did a talk on a few aspects of Leyton at Lucy Harrison’s installation and event at 97 Lea Bridge Road.

97 Lea Bridge Road

The building has a fascinating industrial heritage and is now sadly scheduled for demolition. Waltham Forest Council have recently granted planning permission for a complex of 300 flats (with only 20% ‘affordable’) despite objections by local residents to the scale and character of the scheme.

Music by Dominique

Music by Dominique inspired by the Lea Valley

97 Lea Bridge RoadIMG_9610 IMG_9613

Talking about Leyton F.C with local historian David Boote and some other interesting conversations with local people at the event made me think of Nick Papadimitriou’s remark that he knew of the Leyton ground as it had a river running along one side. I’d assumed he’d meant the Orient that has the culverted Philly Brook trundling beneath the pavements behind one of the stands.

Walking home though I spied the Dagenham Brook gurgling along behind one of the goals at the now derelict Leyton F.C ground.

Dagenham Brook

‘Busy Lea Bridge Was Once A Lonely Road’ continues at 97 Lea Bridge Road on Sunday 19th June 2-8pm.

 

Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market

Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market Leyton Food Market

Today was the first Leyton Food Market – in Coronation Gardens. I munched on a Giddy Pig sausage bap and somehow managed to resist a can of Signature Brew’s Backstage IPA. Loads of Leyton favourites had stalls aside from Signature Brew there was Yardarm, Deeney’s, and We Serve Humans. There was also a record stall and some jewellery and plants.

It’s on every Saturday 9am – 5pm. During football season you’ll need to get there early if you want any tomato ketchup on your burger or sausages – today it only took a kids’ football tournament at the Orient to clean out the entire stock.

Trains return to Lea Bridge Station after 31 years

Eastenders had just gone on air for the first time when the last train pulled out of Lea Bridge Station in 1985. The Sinclair C5, a peculiar electric trike, had been launched and pointed the way towards a bold new future of travel. Hover cars were seemingly just around the corner. A local band, Aunt Fortescue’s Bluesrockers played as that last train chugged off down the track.

31 years on and this morning saw the re-opening of Lea Bridge Station. Eastenders is still on the telly but the C5 had ceased production before the weeds had started to grow through the platforms at Lea Bridge. We never got our hover cars, a brand new cycle shed was also opened at the station this morning instead. Aunt Fortescue’s Bluesrockers were there again on the station platform to play as the trains returned to Lea Bridge. People are cockahoop about the return of the trains and the 4 minute commute to Stratford. It turns out that Victorian modes of transport are still the most efficient ways to move around the city.

Lea Bridge Station re-opeing 16th May 2016

Lea Bridge Station

Both the Leader of Waltham Forest and the Under Secretary of State for Transport emphasised the economic boost the reopening of the station would bring to the area. A brass band played, school children sang as the first trains pulled into the Station and people waved to well-wishers as they boarded – it was like the 1860’s all over again.

P1050630

It was a wonderful occasion, even if it was marred by the MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy sobbing as the celebratory cake was cut (didn’t she vote in favour of bombing Syria – and yet so easily moved to tears). I chatted to a fella called Jamie, who happened to be in Stratford last night when the first train was announced that would be stopping at Lea Bridge Station. He was the only passenger on the train and purchased the very first single ticket from Stratford to Lea Bridge, which he pulled from his wallet to show me, a precious relic, a trainspotters’ Shakespeare first folio.

Lea Bridge Station opening

The people at this end of Leyton are no longer cut off from the transport network and neglected – they can embrace the Council’s Mini Holland scheme with open arms. I noticed that Deputy Council Leader Clyde Loakes arrived on the train from Tottenham Hale pushing his bike – a clear sign that this isn’t just about trains but connecting the new cycle paths to the rail network and beyond. One day people will look back with our odd obsession with the internal combustion engine powered personal car and wonder what ever happened to the Sinclair C5. At least we got the trains back to Lea Bridge Station and a shiny new bike shed.

 

Leytonstone byways to Old Leyton

Be guided by your feet – or a river, road or canal. With the rain lashing down crossing the footbridge over the Link Road the prospects for a stroll did not look good so I fell upon old territory, some of the first streets I walked when I arrived in London as a callow 18-year.

Then the sun broke out over Upper Leytonstone and I followed the old byways along the Leytonstone/Leyton border to Abbotts Park, past the new Exchange development to Leyton Cricket Ground where I imagined I was watching Essex play Australia in 1905. Squinting you can see back to the workers excavating the remains of a Roman villa in the grounds of Leyton Grange back in the 18th Century, until of course the cars come hooning round Church Road.

 

Download the audiobook of This Other London here (excerpt in the video above)

Great shop front signage on Leyton High Road

Leyton Barbers

Why have I not really taken notice of the great signage on Al-Hambra Barbershop on Leyton High Road before? Is because I’m usually too busy counting the growing rash of Estate Agents colonising this end of Leyton’s ancient thoroughfare. I was on my way to Deeney’s for the first time this morning in my never-ending quest for a Cronut when it stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s a real work of art.

Leyton High Road Barber

This end of Leyton High Road didn’t get the Notting Hill make-over in the run-up to the Olympics that washed over the section around the Ruckholt Road approach to the Olympic Park but frankly it doesn’t need it, blessed as it is with great ghost signs and this peach on Al-Hambra.

Leyton High Road shop front

I like the fact it’s a Gent’s Hair Dressers – two words – and not a Barbers. Makes me feel like I could go in and get my long locks trimmed whereas in a Barbershop it’s simply a matter of what number buzz cut you want.

Deeney’s didn’t have any Cronuts after all that.

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