A Walk through the ancient borough of East Ham

It was two months ago now, on the 11th June, that I set off across Wanstead Flats for a long planned walk through the ancient Borough of East Ham. The regrowth from last year’s fire was evident (as noted before on this blog) and I exited the flats near Manor Park Station. I passed the Earl of Essex pub on Romford Road, now closed and waiting for a new life, hopefully as a pub. The old Coronation Cinema is now The Royal Regency banquetting venue, opened in 1911 as the Coronation Electric Theatre, the last film flickered onto its screen in 1968.

I was thinking of Dr. Pagenstecher’s History of East and West Ham published in 1908 as I made my way along High Street North;

“East Ham is perhaps the most remarkable example of rapid transformation from a rural to an urban community. Its marvellous growth and development is absolutely without parallel in the history of the United Kingdom.”

St. Mary Magdelene East Ham

It was sad to see The Ruskin Arms boarded up. Jimmy Winston, one of the founder members of Small Faces told me the band used to rehearse in the pub when his Dad was the landlord. It’s a pub with a lot of history.

I stopped for a cracking £4.95 veg buffet at Annpoorna Indian Restaurant on the High Street before pushing on past the opulent Town Hall to search in vain for the grave of Druid and antiquarian, William Stukeley in the churchyard of St. Mary Magdalene. Stukeley had been buried at St. Mary’s in 1765 at his request after visiting Rev. Joseph Simms the vicar. Perhaps it was the antiquity of the site that caught Stukeley’s imagination, with Roman burials being excavated by workman. Or the maybe the New Age theoritsts and neo-psychogeographers were correct about St. Mary’s being a nodal point in the London earth grid, a plum location on a ley line. It’s a beautiful peaceful location in any case and the perfect place to end a walk through the ancient borough of East Ham.

 

Through Old West Ham to Cody Dock & River Lea

A few years ago some friends, Stuart and Rayna (who made the brilliant A13 road movie), asked if I’d ever been to Cody Dock. I’d not only never been there but I’d never even heard of it. So a couple of weeks ago at the end of February, I plotted out a route from Stratford Broadway down through Old West Ham to Cody Dock.

My path took me past the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and from Cody Dock I doubled back along the Lea Valley Path to Bow Locks.

The video features some wonderful music by Emily A. Sprague from the YouTube Audio Library

Walk of Revelations – Gallions Point, Albert Island & North Woolwich

After my summer walk around the Royal Docks and subsequent video, a local resident got in touch to say they could show me around Gallions Point and Albert Island. We met one sultry midweek morning by Gallions Reach DLR Station to begin the circuit around ‘the island’.

A slogan on one of the developments reads, ‘London is Moving East’, as if this wasn’t part of London and were terra nullius waiting to be claimed. We see the Gallions Point Marina about to be evicted and demolished to make way for the new Albert Island development by the GLA. The planes from City Airport continuously fly overhead and the building of the new runway will increase the number of flights. We also walk through Royal Albert Wharf and see the Riverside development. Two beautiful hidden beaches were visited with incredible views across the Thames. Finally we see the remains of the Royal Pavilion (or Royal Victoria) Pleasure Gardens and the majestic old North Woolwich Station.

Many thanks to my local guide.

Old West Ham to Stanley Kubrick’s Beckton

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.

Beckton Gas Works

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

Lost Pavilion – eastern mysteries of Plashet and Little Ilford

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.

Plashet Park

Plashet Park

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.

IMG_7756

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.

Passmore Edwards Library East Ham

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.

Sri Mahalakshmi Temple East Ham

Sri Mahalakshmi Temple

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.

Sri Murugan Temple

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.

Little Ilford Church

Little Ilford Church

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.

Little Ilford Park

Little Ilford Park

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.

Little Ilford Park pavilion

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.

A corner of Redbridge that will forever be East Ham

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).

aldersbrook map
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.

East Ham Borough
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.

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Sources:

The Outer Circle – Rambles in Remote London by Thomas Burke (1921)

100 Years of Suburbia by Kathryn Morrison and Ann Robey (1999)