The East-West Passage – Stratford to the City via Bethnal Green

Fresh off the train from Ramsgate into Stratford International I needed to stretch my legs so set off Westwards. Cutting down beside the Copper Box Arena and along the Lea Navigation towpath I crossed onto the Hertford Union Canal – which connects the Lea Navigation to the Regent’s Canal.

I emerged onto Roman Road as the sunset started to light up the blocks of flats above the shops. I follow the ancient London to Norwich route through Globe Town and Bethnal Green to the junction with Shoreditch High Street, itself the Roman Ermine Street striking north through the Hertfordshire countryside and beyond continuing north through Lincoln to York. On the other side of this two millenia old confluence is the narrow lane, Holywell Street associated with the Shoreditch Holy Well and the Holywell Priory, although the site of the Holy well has been reported as being in nearby Bateman’s Row.

I’m sucked into the belly of the Barbican, escaping across the modern A1 North Road and down Long Lane through Smithfield. I always get the shivers passing across the ‘Smooth Field’ as this is where my namesake, John Rogers the Martyr was burnt at the stake on 4th February 1555.

John Rogers Martyr

My feet lead me to the road that links me to the place of the my birth, the A40, and where John Rogers the Martyr was vicar at St. Sepulchre. I pay my respects to the great heretic then head for the Central Line at Chancery Lane.

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

Fun Fair in the Olympic Park

Olympic Park Fun Fair

Photo 06-04-2017, 20 09 23

Photo 06-04-2017, 20 09 50

‘Roll Up Roll Up for all the fun of the fair in the Olympic Park’, nobody said. A pound each just to enter. Barely a soul around, like one of those ghost theme parks somewhere out in the American midwest, or a scene in a zombie movie. Loitering too long at one of the amusements meant being descended upon by eager, underemployed staff. My son didn’t really fancy much apart from the mini-Zorbs bobbing in a paddling pool in the corner that I managed to persuade him away from. Three arrows for £3.50 to win a wan-looking soft toy. £3 for a bag of pink candyfloss that was mostly air, my son wanted a fresh one on a stick, ‘the lady who does that ent ere’, the girl behind the counter said eyes glued to her phone. The burgers were solid black like discs of coal, the sausages resembled greasy truncheons. The dodgems sat idling remembering better times. The Ghost Ride was in good company this evening. The deserted Fun Fair should become a permanent fixture in the Olympic Park, an Olympic Legacy.

We left with the bag of pink sugar vapour and made our way to East Village in search of food that wouldn’t kill us. The illuminated apartments seemed to be far outnumbered by those in darkness, whether this indicates a large number of vacant flats or the late working hours of the inhabitants I wouldn’t want to say.

There was some sign of life at street level along Victory Parade, even a posse of teenage boys ambling along and a smattering of people in the bars and restaurants. I’m told militant vegans were out in force protesting at the cheese and wine fayre at the weekend, noisily picketing the Gelateria until the police were called. That’s an event that needs adding to the social history of the site.

It’s nearly 4 years since I was given a tour of East Village before the first residents moved in, a tour that focused almost entirely on the impressive environmental sensitivity of the landscaping missing out any mention of the 51% stake owned by the Qatari government purchased at a £275 million loss to the British taxpayer – an interesting idea when looking at skyrocketing property prices in London and an ever-worsening housing crisis.

I tried to point out to my son some of the things I remembered from the tour, but he was distracted by his hunger with his heart set on pizza. I was about to tell him we might have to settle for fish and chips when he spotted what turned out to be really good pizzeria that allowed us to park my son’s bike inside and served a favourite pizza from my Modena years.

I’m determined not to give up on East Village and the Olympic Park, to not let the cynicism ringing in my ears even louder than my tinnitus completely cloud my view. Nor do I want to be seduced into a SOMA daze of compliance by good pizza and swan pedalos. The deserted fun fair and the good pizza seemed to provide a decent balance on this occasion.

Pudding Mill Lane, Sugar House Lane & IKEA City

Pudding Mill Lane

I hadn’t been back to Pudding Mill Lane on the edge of Stratford for at least a year and the area around Sugar House Lane for around 2, so I was keen to see what was happening there now.

Pudding Mill Lane Station is all slick and new, seemingly fully completed and you can now exit without walking through a tight tunnel of plastic fencing, although construction around the station appears to be still at an early stage of development.

 Marshgate Lane Stratford P1040006

The Lost River

Marshgate Business Centre is still intact – a final reminder of the old industrial Stratford. Digging out copies of ‘Your Park’ from 2007 & 2008, the glossy pamphlets that were dropped through our doors in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, there is an update in September 2007 about the relocation of newts from the Pudding Mill River before the river can be drained. It was ultimately filled in and I believe the Olympic Stadium was built on the site.

City Mill River

It is also curious to note that on a ‘Walk the Olympic Park’ map published in July 2007 the section of the City Mill River where it crosses Marshgate Lane is marked as the St Thomas Creek. The most detailed description I’ve found of the network of rivers that branch off from the River Lea once it passes through Leyton, is in a 1936 publication celebrating the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Borough of West Ham. ‘Fifty Years a Borough’ published by the County Borough Council West Ham, makes no mention of the St Thomas Creek, so it raises the question of where the Olympic Park cartographers got the name from.

 Danes Yard Stratford

The Ikea City

Crossing Stratford High Street I pass down Sugar House Lane into a vast building site. The former light industrial zone has been flattened to the ground. Diggers move back and forth flattening the muddy earth creating a blank slate from which the property development arm of flatpack furniture retail giant IKEA can build what has been dubbed as ‘IKEA City’. So far the only visible sign of what’s to come is a peculiar wicker-looking sculpture rising into the sky from Danes Yard. The rest of Strand East will consist of 1,200 new homes, workspaces and a designer hotel. Insert your own jokes here about allen keys and flatpack construction nightmares. One of the many security guards on site told me the ground preparation work will continue for another year before a 3 year building period.

Strand East Stratford London P1040102

Three Mills

I cross an iron bridge onto Three Mills Island where the Bow Creek, River Lea and Three Mills Wall River meet – an auspicious spot. Three Mills Studios continues to form a vital function in the London production sector and over recent years has been the location for Tim Burton animations, Big Brother, 28 Days Later, among others. In the week that London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced his intention to make London the most film-friendly city in the world the future of Three Mills must surely look bright.

Three Mills Island London P1040162

The Prescott Channel

The sunset attempts to crack through the hard cloud shell and signals that it’s time to head home. The path along the edge of Three Mills Green gives a final cross-section view of the Strand East site, the only two standing structures a late Victorian brick building and a tall chimney on the West of Sugar House Lane. The Prescott Channel branches off from the Three Mills Wall River at the far end of Three Mills Green and what appear to be geese make a noisy crash landing on the waterway startling a bunch of gently drifting ducks.

 

The ever changing face of the London Olympic Park

swan pedalos olympic park

The Olympic Park was abuzz with summer this afternoon. The BBQ area was puking out plumes of smoke like an Outback bushfire, a couple sat dripping wet on a wooden jetty after a swim in the River Lea. I enjoyed a drink by the boats on Stratford Waterfront wondering what Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair will make of the Swan pedalo rides that start next weekend.

manhattan lofts stratford

Stratford International Quarter

But of course the shadow of constant development looms over the surrounding area. The Manhattan Loft Gardens are finally rising into the Stratford sky – after existing solely as a series of projected images outside Stratford International Station for the last 5 years.

And the International Quarter will consume a large chunk of land between Westfield, the Aquatics Centre, and the Waterfront.

London Olympic Park map

The grey areas on this map mark out the development sites that will be completed over the next 3 years. By 2020 London’s newest park will be encircled by high-rise blocks.

Celebration Walk Stratford E20 IMG_2476Back in January this year I snapped the new blocks going up on the edge of Victory Park – on Celebration Avenue. It was a nice scene around Victory Park this evening. A few cafes and restaurants have opened and were busy, people played ping-pong on the outdoor tables, children ran down the Telly Tubbies mound. The development will cast one side of the park in shadow.

Opposite, the site next to Sainsburys is being developed – not part of East Village I was told.

celebration avenue Stratford E20

When I first became, if not quite obsessed then preoccupied by East Village and the Olympic Park about 6 years ago, I offset the creeping horror I felt by telling myself that it would take time to become ‘a place’, that people would have to annotate the newly laid streets with their narratives before we would could really know what it was. But until then it was a land-grab, a year zero scheme with a fictional E20 postcode borrowed from EastEnders, the erasure of the Europe’s largest tenant owned housing co-op at Clays Lane, an outpost of the Qatari Royal Family.

walk olympic park

However, we did have a good time in the Olympic Park today. I plan to go back and try the new cafes. And we’ll be riding the Swan Pedalos on the Waterworks River next week in honour of Andrew and Iain’s Swandown incursion.

 

The incredible shrinking park

The London Olympic Park certainly is ‘No Ordinary Park’ as dubbed in the marketing tag line – it just keeps getting smaller and smaller while sprouting bigger and more impressive cranes. Where once there were international sporting events there are now world class cement mixers, spectators have been replaced by phalanxes of builders in hard hats and fluro vests.  The true London Olympic Legacy appears to be a never ending building scheme.

Focus E15 go to Bow County Court and win

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.

Focus E15 Mums protest

Focus E15 Mums protest

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.”

IMG_8675 IMG_8673 Focus E15 Mums protest

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)