A walk along the Dagenham Brook

This walk following the Dagenham Brook was the fourth in my series as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture 2019. The Dagenham Brook started life as a humble ditch rising in Higham Hill with sewage flowing into it from Walthamstow. The name comes from the ‘Dagenham Commissioners of Sewers’ under whose jurisdiction it fell.

We start the walk on the corner of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way where an embankment and trenches from Roman or Romano-British earthwork and Roman burials were excavated, leading some historians to speculate that this may have been an important waystation on the Roman road between London and Colchester.

Leyton F.C

We then follow the Dagenham Brook across Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) then through the Warner Estate and onto Lea Bridge Road. I was joined on the two guided walks by artist Lucy Harrison who explored the life of the Warner Estate in a fascinating project, WE. We take a look at the abandoned ground of Leyton F.C once one of the oldest football clubs in London, founded in 1868 – now derelict.

From here we cross Lea Bridge Road and walk down Blyth Road (also part of the Warner Estate) and up Bridge Road to Markhouse Road. This is one of the old roads of Walthamstow crossing Markhouse Common. The name derives from ‘maerc’ meaning a boundary as the boundary between Leyton and Walthamstow ran through Mark House manor. Markhouse Common was sold to property developers in the 19th Century.

We turn into Veralum Avenue then Low Hall Road and South Access Road passing the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. Low Hall Manor was a 14th Century Moated manor house with extensive grounds – two-storey timber framed building like the buildings in Tudor Close. The 17th Century farmhouse was destroyed by a V1 flying bomb in 1944. The Dagenham Brook probably fed the moat.

Dagenham Brook

We walk around Low Hall Sports Ground and into Low Hall Wood Nature Reserve to look at Owen Bullet’s artwork, The Clearing, and pick up the Dagenham Brook. Turning into North Access Road we see the River Lea Flood Relief Channel and pass by St. James Park. We walk beneath the railway bridge and turn into Salop Road then Elmfield Road. We follow Elmfield Road round until we reach Coppermill Lane and the end of the walk.

Many thanks to Max ‘Crow’ Reeves for joining me on the walk. Take a look at Max’s photo book following a season with Clapton CFC.

Hooksmith Press maps

Further history of the Dagenham Brook can be found here in the Victoria County History

A walk along the River Ching

River Ching Walk

I’d been meaning to walk the Ching for years, a beautiful meandering river rising at Connaught Water in Epping Forest and making its way down a narrow strip of the forest, then through the streets of Chingford before passing the old Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium and making its confluence with the River Lea near the Banbury Reservoir.

So it was a great opportunity to include The Ching in the walks I produced as psychogeographer-in-residence for Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019.

River Ching

Connaught Water to Newgate Street

We start at Connaught Water, Chingford, not far from Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge. Connaught Water is named after The Duke of Connaught, Queen Victoria’s seventh son and first Ranger of Epping Forest. Following the river we cross Ranger’s Road and the border between Waltham Forest and the County of Essex. Here we can first notice how the river meanders through the forest edgelands.

We walk over the grasslands of Whitehall Plain, and on Whitehall Road by the old stone bridge we stand on the boundary between the London Boroughs of Redbridge and Waltham Forest. There is something about hugging the edgelands, haunting the borders of an area that gives a particular perspective on what goes on within the periphery.

River Ching

We were fortunate to be joined on one of the guided walks by artist and musician Ellie Wilson, current Epping Forest artist-in-residence. Ellie talked about the ancient lopping rights that existed in Epping Forest and how the legacy of this cutting of the branches can be seen in the growth of the trees. We also listened to some of Ellie’s haunting music made as part of her residency in the forest as we followed the bends of the Ching through the wooded glades. A magical experience.

We leave the river at the mysterious Newgate Street as we come out on Chingdale Road at the bottom of Friday Hill. This illicits the story of a King (Henry VII?) who was served such a magnificient loin of beef at Friday Hill that he took up his sword and knighted it, ‘arise Sir Loin!’ he declared. And since that day this particular cut of beef has been known as Sirloin steak, or so the story goes.

Highams Park to Walthamstow Stadium

The river passes through Highams Park, the waters originally being dammed by the great landscape gardener Humphrey Repton to form Highams Park Lake when he landscaped the grounds of Higham Park House in 1794. Now the river flows freely on its way beside the lake, and we take the path the runs between the Ching and the lake.

River Ching

From here the Ching becomes an urban river. Shopping trollies are cast into its waters as contemporary votive offerings to the River Goddess. It meanders past back gardens, hidden behind the facade of houses, ocassionally glimpsed from a bridge, or down an alleyway where kids hang out after school. Our route takes in Gordon Avenue, Beverley Road, Studley Avenue, the delightful River Walk, Haldan Road then Cavendish Road which delivers us back to the riverbank.

A footpath beside the river guides us into the site of Walthamstow Stadium, once one of the most famous greyhound tracks in the country. Opened in 1929, its grand art deco entrance added in 1932, it closed in 2008. London once boasted 33 greyhound stadiums, now there are just two. Thankfully the art deco features have been retained in the housing development and the stadium neon flickers into life at dusk. Beside the main entrance we can see the Ching before it dives beneath Chingford Road.

River Ching River Ching

The Last Leg

On the other side of Chingford Road there’s a footpath beside the bridge. The Ching guides us through a perfect snapshot of an edgelands environment – pylons, megastores, huge carpark, flytipping in the undergrowth, shipping containers. The river brings us out into Morrisons carpark which is where the guided version of this walk ended. For those keen to see the river’s end you can follow Ching Way out to the North Circular. There cross the footbridge to Folly Lane where you get a final glimpse of the Ching before it makes its confluence with the River Lea just to the north of Banbury Reservoir.

 

Maps of all five of the walks produced for Waltham Forest Tours can be purchased from Hooksmith Press

 

Art Assembly at Walthamstow Town Hall

Things to Do in Debden When You’re Dead

Brilliantly bizarre end to Art Assembly on Saturday in the Council Chamber at Walthamstow Town Hall. I’d been commissioned to make this film (Things to Do in Debden When You’re Dead) with theatre Director William Galinsky, who’d been asked to re-animate the corpse of William Morris. William Galinsky had responded by writing an unfilmable script – but the idea of attempting to shoot a zombie sci-fi Blader Runner film about William Morris’ News from Nowhere in a day, a week before the screening, was too tempting to turn down. Luckily artists Jessica Voorsanger and Bob and Roberta Smith agreed to take part – Bob playing himself having his chest ripped open by the sock puppet offspring of William Morris. And Jessica as herself who then is zapped into the future and returns as a cyborg Space Captain to wipe out the sockie Morrises and avenge her husband’s death – obviously. Brilliant satirist, Miriam Elia played a gentrifying alien arts administrator and my son, Oliver Rogers, who’d come along to help out with lighting and setting up the camera played opposite Miriam, doing a great job of improvising his lines.

Art Assembly

William Galinsky and the Intergalactic Arts Alliance

The film kicked off the session at the end of Art Assembly, a day-long programme of events around Walthamstow, as a provocation to debate the subject of whether ‘artists should try to change the world’. The panel was chaired by William Gallinsky with the two alien representatives of the Intergalactic Arts Alliance (or something like that) played by Ezra and Miriam Elia, who set the tone by stating that their interest in the arts was to push up property prices. It produced an fascinating debate that veered between absurdity, seriousness, righteous indignation, and incomprehensibility. Which is exactly how it should be.

 

 

 

The William Morris Resurrection at Art Assembly

Up till 3am last night finishing a short film about William Morris I’ve directed for this wonderful event tomorrow at Art Assembly, part of Waltham Forest Borough of Culture. So I’m a little tired today but excited to be screening something very different. Here’s the blurb for the event:

The William Morris Resurrection – Sat 23rd November 5-6pm, Walthamstow Town Hall – Art Assembly

A panel of experts, Two Aliens, One Universe, One Question: Should artists try to change the world?

Join us for the debate of the ages, where we discuss why artists can’t stop trying to save the world… Imagine if William Morris woke up 140 years in the future like the hero of his science fiction novel News from Nowhere…  Would he find the creative utopia he had dreamed of or would he be bitterly disappointed by the state of the world and of the arts community in particular?

Join us and arts professionals from all over time and space to explore the role of the artist past, present and future. The event includes the world premiere of a new short film by William Galinsky & John Rogers –  THINGS TO DO IN DEBDEN WHEN YOU’RE DEAD – featuring Miriam Elia, William Galinsky, Ollie Rogers, Bob & Roberta Smith, Jessica Voorsanger, an alien who thinks he’s Antony Gormley and a miniature Rutger Hauer.

The event includes contributions from some of the UK’s most vibrant artistic minds as well as some light relief at the end of an action packed Art Assembly. This event is presented as part of Art Assembly, a one-day festival to explore how art can make a difference.

 

Lea Valley Walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey

This Lea Valley walk from Walthamstow to Waltham Abbey is surely one of my favourites. I’d finished leading a walk across the marshlands from Leyton Water Works to Walthamstow Wetlands and had the desire to push on into the evening. I headed up along Blackhorse Lane then turned into Folly Lane which opens up the postcard image of the ‘edgelands’ – you could bring coachloads of anthropologists and urban geographers up here to Harbet Road with it’s pylons and fields of fly-tipping, mountains of rubble and stacks of shipping containers.

Lea Valley Walk along River Lea Navigation

It’s a relief to drop beneath the North Circular onto the towpath of the Lea Navigation, and slowly chug along the waterway like a listing barge. You note the phases of change passing through the outer rings of the city – London Waste, Ponders End, Brimsdown Power Station, the confluence with the Turkey Brook, Enfield Dry Dock and Enfield Lock, then Rammey Marsh and the final release of passing beneath the M25 and into the beyond.

 

filmed on 28th July 2019

London Forest Buses Badge

London Forest bus badge

What a majestic object – a London Forest Buses Driver’s/Conductor’s enamel badge.

According to Wikipedia, London Forest was a short-lived subsidary of London buses that operated between 1989 – 1991 when industrial action in response to proposed pay cuts led to the newly awarded private franchise being transfered to a rival bus operator.

The strike was the first by London bus drivers since 1958 and led to the suspension of bus services in North East London for two weeks. The buses operated out of Walthamstow and Leyton bus garages. London Forest had planned to close Leyton garage but in the end it was Walthamstow bus garage that was closed and eventually developed as housing.

Here’s the text of the Early Day Motion moved by Leyton MP Harry Cohen in the House of Commons:

STRIKE AT LONDON FOREST TRAVEL
EDM #1143
Tabled 16 July 1991
1990-91 Session
That this House notes that the current strike by the 1,300 men and women based at Ash Grove, Clapton, Leyton and Walthamstow garages is the first official indefinite strike in London of busmen and women for 33 years; notes that it has been provoked by the management of London Forest Travel who are trying to enforce new contracts, upon threat of redundancy, which would mean 20 per cent. longer working hours plus a 9. 5 per cent. cut in wages; notes that this would make the working week for many of the bus men and women in excess of 50 hours; further notes that this situation has been brought about by an unrealistic tender submission 25 per cent. below present costs, including pay and conditions, but that management are not taking any cut; and calls for this dispute to be swiftly sorted out, without any reduction in the bus men and women’s pay and conditions, so that the buses can run again.

 

A fascinating moment in the history of the area discovered by searching for London badges on ebay.