Lost Futures of East London

A walk from Leytonstone to Fairlop Waters via Clayhall, Barkingside and Fullwell Cross

Fairlop, in the London Borough of Redbridge, takes its name from the famous Fairlop Oak, an enormous oak tree in Hainault Forest that was said to be 900 years old in its prime. The tree fell into poor health and the trunk was hollow by the time it became the focus of the annual Fairlop Fair when thousands of Londoners flooded out through the forest for festivities around the tree. In 1805 flames from a picnic set light to the tree causing great damage. Then in 1820 the Fairlop Oak finally blew down. That was the destination for this lockdown walk.
Our walk takes us from Leytonstone High Road through Wanstead to the Redbridge Roundabout and Charles Holden’s Redbridge Tube Station. We then go along Redbridge Lane East. I revisit my thoughts on Mark Fisher’s idea of Hauntology as a ‘nostalgia for lost futures’. I also recently read an essay by Alastair Bonnett that explains how the word ‘nostalgia’ was “devised in 1688 by Johannes Hofer by combining the Greek ‘nostos’ (home) and ‘algos’ (pain) in order to depict a malady brought on by being distant from one’s homeland… The earliest English uses of the term are geo-psychological. According to the OED, the first English usage is from 1770 and derives from Joseph Banks, botanist on James Cook’s Endeavour. ‘The greatest part’ of the crew, Banks wrote in his diary, are ‘now pretty far gone in the longing for home which the Physicians have gone so far as to esteem a disease under the name of Nostalgia” (The Geography of Nostalgia: Global and Local Perspectives on Modernity and Loss by Alastair Bonnett).

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

Fairlop Fair at Fairlop Oak

We visit Clayhall Park, named after the manor that was first recorded in the area in 1203. Here we see the plaque embedded in a stone to commemorate the planting of trees by The Men of the Trees in 1937. We then walk through Barkingside to the majestic Fullwell Cross Library. This glorious building was designed by notable architect Frederick Gibberd who later designed Heathrow Airport, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and was chief planner for Harlow New Town.
The walk ends at the beautiful Fairlop Waters which had been used as an airfield in both WW1 and WW2 and in 1947 was considered for the location of London’s major intercontinental airport.

After a rest by the calming waters I set out for the 6-mile walk home at 7.45pm. I took on a can of Becks beer and bag of Bagel Bites for fuel. People bathed in the glorious evening light in Barkingside Recreation Ground. An old mile stone poked out of the long grass by the entrance to the Tesco Superstore. The Cadbury’s signage on the boarded up Cranbrook Food and Wine caught the start of the pre-solstice sunset as I powered into Gants Hill to top up with a can of Beavertown Gamma Ray Pale Ale for the push along the Eastern Avenue back to Redbridge. By the time I hit The George at Wanstead on the far slope of the Roding Valley, I was experiencing that state of euphoria common in the final stages of a long walk – an intoxicating brew of adrenaline, endorphins mixed with memory and nostalgia. The streets of Leytonstone were quiet as I made those final steps home.

 

Filmed on 18th June 2020
“© OpenStreetMap contributors” https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

London’s Hidden Hamlet – Snaresbrook

A walk through the lost Hamlet of Snaresbrook on the edge of Epping Forest, now a part of the parish of Wanstead in the London Borough of Redbridge. We cross Leyton Flats to the Eagle Pond and look at the Eagle Pub (currently closed due to Coronavirus). Here we see a section of the Sayers Brook or Sayes Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name. We also see Snaresbrook Crown Court which was built in 1841 as the Infant Orphan Asylum. In the video I describe the building as Gothic, but my friend Andrew Stevens texted to correct me saying that it is in fact Jacobethan.
From here we walk along Woodford Road to look at the modernist wonder of Hermitage Court before walking down Eagle Lane to Falcon Close. I ponder upon the idea of Hauntology, a term first used by Jacques Derrida but popularised by cultural theorist Mark Fisher particularly in relation to music. Fisher spoke of “the failure of the 21st Century to really arrive” and now in the 21st Century we experience “culture floating free from time” . I wonder whether the modernist architecture of Hermitage Court is another example of a “lost future” that I feel a nostalgia for.

Snaresbrook Roding Valley
From Falcon Way we look at the Merchant Seaman’s Orphan Asylum on Hermon Hill built in 1861, then walk down Cranbourne Avenue to Elmcroft Avenue where we enter the Roding Valley Park. A comment on the YouTube video from Darren Clack mentions that this land occupies the old course of the Roding at some point in the past when the river took a more meandering route. We explore the wonderful parkland beside the North Circular Road and River Roding as far as Charlie Brown’s Roundabout and then turn up Chigwell Road to Hermon Hill. Our walk ends at Holy Trinity Church, South Woodford.

Related videos:
River Roding Walks https://bit.ly/2C7ovrR
Mark Fisher: The Slow Canellation of the Future https://youtu.be/aCgkLICTskQ

Filmed on 12th June 2020 during the Lockdown.

Wanstead Slip

Wanstead Slip

Chatting with a couple of members of the congregation at the beautiful St. Mary’s Wanstead, I wondered whether the parish boundary included the Wanstead Slip, that curious parcel of land on the other side of Wanstead Flats around Cann Hall, Leytonstone. They weren’t sure, and asked for further explanation about what exactly the Wanstead Slip was and how it came to be, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure.

Thankfully,  A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6, published by Victoria County History in 1973 has this note on the Wanstead Slip:

“Wanstead lies about 7 miles north-east of the City of London. (fn. 1) It is a dormitory suburb straddling the arterial road to Southend and Colchester and forming part of the London borough of Redbridge. The ancient parish extended from Wanstead Flats north for about 4 miles to the boundary with Woodford. The western boundary marched with Leyton and Walthamstow, and the river Roding formed the eastern boundary. The south-west of the parish comprised a spur called the Wanstead Slip which ran south of Leyton down to the marshes near Temple Mills, and included a small detached part locally situated in West Ham. This was more or less coterminous with the manor of Cann Hall, which was originally in Leyton but appears to have become part of Wanstead by the early 13th century. (fn. 2) The main body of the Wanstead Slip (207 a.) was merged in Leyton sanitary district in 1875 and was constituted a separate civil parish (Cann Hall) in 1894. (fn. 3) The detached part of the Slip (38 a.) was merged in West Ham local government district in 1875. (fn. 4) In the same area a small adjustment of the boundary between Wanstead and West Ham had been made in 1790. (fn. 5) In the south-east corner of the parish Aldersbrook appears to have been transferred from Wanstead to Little Ilford early in the 16th century. (fn. 6) That substantial change evidently took place without legal formalities and caused boundary disputes at later periods. (fn. 7) Later boundary changes included the transfer of 96 a. of Wanstead Flats to East Ham in 1901.”

And there is a further reference in A History of the County of Essex: Volume 5, in an article on the Hundred of Becontree:

“Domesday Book lists some 19 estates in Becontree hundred, containing 104 hides in 10 villages distinguished by separate names. (fn. 1) Most of these villages later gave their names to the parishes of the hundred, but there were some exceptions. Ham was subsequently split into the two parishes of East Ham and West Ham. Higham later became part of Walthamstow parish. One of the estates in Leyton later became Cann Hall in the neighbouring parish of Wanstead, forming the anomalous ‘Wanstead slip’. Dagenham, which certainly existed in 1086, and which became a separate parish, is not named in Domesday, no doubt because it was then, as later, part of the manor of Barking.”

 

Walk along the River Roding and back to Leytonstone

National Trust Long Walks

Headed out for a short walk mid-Sunday afternoon and found this book in a charity shop in Wanstead – it immediately became apparent that I’d have to carry this heavy tome as some form of atonement for not embarking on a longer schlep earlier in the day.

Eastern Avenue

My only aim was to head for the River Roding where it passes under the Eastern Avenue in Wanstead. It was unseasonably warm and I wanted to bask in the last two hours of sun.

River Roding Wanstead

My mind meandered in tune to the waters of the Roding, over bridges and past the pumping station. I remember startling a grass-snake along here a few years ago one hot summer morning.

IMG_6443

I only recently discovered D. W. Gillingham’s wonderful Unto the Fields, by chance on a walk from Chigwell to Loughton. It was a glorious discovery, an entire book published in 1953 on the Roding Valley. A celebration from another era of a landscape I’ve come to love. The exploration of the territory in the book begins in November:

“Now I have chosen this November morning to introduce you to the fields because November is the beginning of Nature’s year, like the farmer’s at Michaelmas… The fieldfares especially were numerous today; their chattering could be heard everywhere, for the migration down the Roding valley was at its height. A few redwings had come to the valley before them.”

Roding Valley pylon

Gillingham delights in the fog and frost of November mornings. As the russet rays of sunshine pitch onto the banks of the Roding I feel the heat and remove my scarf. The pylons, our protectors, glow orange.

A1400 Woodford Avenue

Passing beneath the titanic piers supporting the North Circular I feel the energy drain from my legs, my thighs become sore and heavy. I consider jumping on a bus at Charlie Brown’s Roundabout up to South Woodford station and heading home for tea. But I resolve to hike along the A1400 Woodford Avenue to Gants Hill instead. The National Trust Book of Long Walks needs to be at least partially appeased.

Clayhall sunset

The pylon sky sunset glows as I continue along the Woodford Avenue and brings new life to my tired legs. The view of a Toby Carvery across the road also inspires me to pursue the walk – my sons and I had been discussing the prevalence of Toby Carveries in the area before I headed out for reasons I can’t recall. I sent them both the photo below.

Toby Carvery Gants Hill

At this stage I start to see the Beehive Harvester around every bend of the road and tell myself that I should settle down there and read the National Trust Book of Long Walks and make some notes of things that had passed through my mind on the walk – minor meditations that will be gone by the time I reach home. But before it appears I’m tempted to follow Redbridge Lane East to the roundabout by Redbridge Tube Station where I’m momentarily seduced by the Beefeater Red House. I vow to return, for now I have promised the book of Long Walks that I’ll complete the circuit by walking home.

Redbridge A12

There’s something epic and romantic about the A12 – the Eastern Highway out through Essex to Suffolk – carved across a landscape of broad skies. It’s America. It makes me imagine far off places well beyond Lowestoft.

Redbridge Lane West

Along Redbridge Lane West, lamp-posts illuminating leaves. Across George Green to pick up the old Roman marching route back through Leytonstone to home.

 

Wanstead Flats after the fire

Wanstead Flats fire damage

Walked across Wanstead Flats this morning for the first time since the enormous fire on Sunday that engulfed a large section of the grass and scrub land between Lake House Road and Centre Road, with some damage along the edge of the section towards Aldersbrook Road. The BBC reported that more than 220 firefighters were called to tackle the blaze, that was still smoldering on Tuesday. Today you can make your way along the paths that seemed to have largely escaped serious fire damage.

Wanstead Flats map showing the burnt area - from OpenStreetMap

map showing the burnt area – from OpenStreetMap

Fire damage on Wanstead Flats

the path running parallel to Centre Road

Wanstead Flats fire damage

note the patch of pink flowers on the right that escaped fire damage

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

path leading from Centre Road to Aldersbrook Road

IMG_5800

Worringly, there had been further fires overnight by the Empress Avenue allotments in Aldersbrook. One of the fires was started just outside the Aldersbrook Riding School which was being investigated by the Police as a possible act of arson. There were dark burnt patches all around the area. The mound of dung and manure beside the allotments had been set alight and was still smoldering.

Aldersbrook fire

Fires had scorched the dry grass and weeds off the end of the lane near the old sewage works and the pylons. One local suggested that the sporadic nature of the fires indicated they’d been started deliberately. It was interesting to note how some plants in heavily burnt areas had escaped damage – you’ll see it in the thistles here and on Wanstead Flats there was a cluster of tall pink flowers (purple loosestrife?) surrounded by blackened earth at what had been the heart of the inferno.

 

Out to Claybury Victorian Asylum

“cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”Lenny’s Documentary

This was in some way a reprise of a walk I did in March 2007 inspired by a line from Ian Bourn’s early video work Lenny’s Documentary set in Leytonstone, “cause people round here are always cracking up, after which they go to Claybury Hospital”.

Claybury Hospital was the fifth London County Asylum, designed by asylum architect George Thomas Hine, and opened in 1893. It was closed in 1995 and converted into a slightly eerie gated community of luxury flats popular with Reality TV stars and Premier League footballers. Claybury is also mentioned by Iain Sinclair in both Rodinsky’s Room (with Rachel Lichtenstein) and London Orbital in relation to the mysterious hermit of the Princelet Street Synagogue David Rodinsky, whose sister was a patient there.

The walk also took in the Merchant Seaman’s Orphange on Hermon Hill, founded in 1827, also converted into apartments. From there I dropped down, crossing the River Roding, past the Pet Cemetery and a Toby Carvery. The route then took a lop-sided slant through a nest of streets into the Crooked Hat Plantation, one of those curious pockets of ancient woodland, once part of the great Forest of Essex, cut off and stranded by urban sprawl.

The views from Claybury are superb, some of the finest in London. When I was here 10 years ago, sliding around in the mud, I spoke to a lady walking her dog who’d worked in the asylum as a nurse. Today it was hot and humid. A group of Secondary School kids were returning from a trip to the pond. I skirted the railings to get a good view of the iconic water tower before walking down a long road through the grounds of the private settlement. There was an eerie Stepford Wives vibe about the place – it spooked me, so I got out as fast as I could and jumped the tube back to Leytonstone.