A walk around the Royal Docks in East London from Prince Regent DLR station past the Excel Centre and around the Royal Victoria Dock with a look at Millennium Mills. Then down through the new Royal Wharf development and the Thames Barrier Park before returning to the Royal Albert Dock and finishing at Cyprus DLR.
Here’s some footage from the walk I did for Chapter 2 of my book This Other London in the summer of 2012, just before the London Olympics – starting in Leytonstone then going past West Ham Church and the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey onwards to the site of Beckton Gas Works where Stanley Kubrick shot much of his Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket.
I’ve been sitting on over 4 hours of footage shot on the 10 This Other London walks slowly filtering out a few short videos but much of it remains unseen. The video footage, photos and notes took on an almost entirely different form once processed into a book, they’ve served their purpose and can stay in the bottom drawer. But every now and again I’ll dip back into that archive and release some of those raw video notes back out into the world.
You can download the audiobook of This Other London here
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.
I set out bound for Ilford, following Thomas Burke’s dictum that “to go to Ilford is a fool’s act”, but in fact ended up trapped in a curious geographical anachronism. I’ve been fascinated by Aldersbrook ever since moving to Leytonstone – it’s like that beautifully mysterious world behind the garden shed when you’re a kid – a place of dreams but with an uncanny tinge. I dedicated a few pages to it in This Other London when I conned my kids into walking to the far side of Ilford by telling them I was taking them to South Park (which is a beautiful park between Ilford and Loxford as well as a brilliant animated TV show).
Somehow I had always managed to bypass Brading Crescent and would have done so again if I hadn’t needed some provisions for the push East and noticed the sign for a ‘Convenient’ Store. Must be good to have so confidently deviated from the standard ‘Convenience’ Store.
Straight away you are faced with the fine block of flats that at the time I wasn’t sure if they were 80’s mock baronial or part of the original Edwardian Aldersbrook development. It was in fact built as the Aldersbrook Children’s Home in 1910 by West Ham Board of Guardians with each block named after local notables – Lister, Fry, Morris, Hood, and Buxton. It was transferred to East Ham County Borough in 1929 and in the mid-1950’s converted into flats.
The handsome brick community hall in the grounds bears an inscription recording its opening by County Borough of East Ham in 1931 and today it is still confusingly owned by Newham Council despite sitting inside the London Borough of Redbridge.
The Outer Circle – Rambles in Remote London by Thomas Burke (1921)
100 Years of Suburbia by Kathryn Morrison and Ann Robey (1999)
Some images from the court hearing of the Focus E15 Mums who were occupying a house on the Carpenters Estate in Stratford in protest over social housing in Newham – and their statement following the verdict below.
Statement from the Focus E15 Mums:
“We are overwhelmed and grateful for the support and solidarity from both the local and the wider community. Also thank you to Anthony Gold, ITN solicitors and our barrister Lyndsey Johnson. We have decided to leave 80-86 Doran Walk on our own terms by 7th October, as planned. Newham have agreed to this, with no other conditions and have dropped their Interim Possession Order. We have celebrated a year of the E15 campaign, during which we have tried to engage with Newham Council on a number of occasions and they have refused to listen. As a result, our political occupation was the only option to escalate our demands for social housing, not social cleansing. We have reached our goal of highlighting the issue of decent homes left empty on the state and we have built lasing link with the residents and the community. This has be broadcast to millions of people. Ultimately this occupation was never about staying indefinitely, but about our demands to Newham Council. These demands remain and they include: – Repopulating the Carpenter’s Estate with secure council tenancies now – An immediate end to decanting and evictions of existing residents – No demolition of the estate – The management of Carpenters estate by residents and for residents, with no third party or private management involvement We will continue fighting to save council housing and to ensure decent housing for all. This is the beginning of the end of the housing crisis.”
Here is the day brilliantly covered by Russell Brand in his Trews youtube series (I pop up at Carpenters highlighting the recent thwarted attempt by UCL to take over the site and the imminent arrival of the Smithsonian and V&A to the Olympic Zone)