Second World War Buildings on Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

I’ve long been intrigued by the concrete foundations of a World War 2 building in Long Wood on Wanstead Flats. I first stumbled over them in the dusk some years ago, wondering what could have been buried in this small patch of woodland.

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There was a small lump of concrete in the scrubby grass in front of the wood that was probably a remnant of the World War Two buildings that stood here.

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At first I thought this was the concrete base of an Second World War anti-aircraft gun, but sebsequent reading appears to point to this being some sort of auxiliary building associated with the war effort.

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There are a number of Second World War relics on Wanstead Flats, most obvious are the barrage balloon posts. But there are also some white panelled buildings used by the ground staff and a squat brick building by the petrol station that was apparently a decontamination block. In the central section of the flats, where there was an Italian POW camp my son found a rusty metal box buried in the ground that may have been associated with the camp.

 

Here’s a great walk around the Second World War history of Wanstead Flats from the Leyton & Leytonstone Historical Society


UPDATE

A week before the lockdown I returned to Wanstead Flats to connect these Second World War sites together into a walk for this video

Sunday sunset walk through Bush Wood

Bush Wood

The Shard seems to be aligned perfectly with the avenue of trees that cuts across Wanstead Flats from Leytonstone to what was once the grounds of the grand Wanstead House. I believe I’ve erronously claimed in the past that this avenue was laid out by Humphrey Repton (confusing it with the avenue of trees he planned in Wanstead Park near one of the lakes). The sunset reveals this alignment in the startling burnt sky. One of the reasons the last light is a perfect time to walk on Wanstead Flats.

Bush Wood

It was dark by the time we looped back from Blake Hall Road, following the path to Bushwood Lodge, and then turning into Bush Wood. Our passage through the woods was illuminated by a full moon casting a crystal trail through the muddy woodland. This pond in Bush Wood has always had a slightly mysterious tinge, often dried out in summer, in winter it lurks like a magic bog among the trees. The moon sat above the bare trees solely to cast moonbeams into this very pool.

Sunday Walk – Wanstead Flats, North Circular and Hollow Ponds

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

The desire was stay local – within the gravitational field of home but still get in a decent walk. My instinct was to head to the far side of Wanstead Flats and take it from there.

The area of Wanstead Flats burnt so badly last summer gives off a glorious smell of resurgent wildflowers.

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The ragwort was alive with caterpillars of the cinnabar moth munching on its leaves, ingesting toxins to make themselves unpalatable to birds. Ragwort and the cinnabar caterpillar appear to have an interesting relationship that makes for a diverting spectacle on a summer stroll.

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I always have to pay homage to the barrage balloon posts and marvel at their continued survival.

Wanstead Park

Wanstead Park

After a stop at Aldersbrook Petrol Station for a Starbucks and Greggs donut – which has become one of my favourite Alan Partridge style treats – I head down Park Road and through Wanstead Park which looked as glorious as ever.

St Mary's Wanstead

The bells of St. Mary’s Wanstead tolled as I stood admiring the Borough of Redbridge’s only Grade 1 listed building. I’ve been told St. Mary’s has an interesting crypt that I’ve yet to visit but the interior of the church is a real gem of the East. The graveyard has burials dating back to the establishment of the original medieval church.

Wanstead War Memorial

Wanstead High Street

There’s clearly a Sunday Scene on Wanstead’s wonderful High Street and I bumped into my eldest son carrying a toy keyboard he’d just bought in a charity shop as he headed to a park bench with his mates. A gentleman approached who watches my YouTube videos to ask if I’d made one on the Wanstead Slip and told me of a relic of Wantead House that now resides in a back garden somewhere along Grove Road. It was great to hear his stories of old Leyton and Stratford.

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Snaresbrook – South Woodford

I decided against heading into the forest at Snaresbrook and carried on along the tree-lined road towards South Woodford stopping to take in the modernist glory of Hermitage Court.

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North Circular – South Woodford

Heading up Grove Hill at South Woodford I came to the Willow Path that crosses the North Circular. This seemed like an ideal location to take a selfie which I posted to Instagram as ‘North Circular Selfie’. I’ve been meaning to make a film of a walk round the North Circular (perhaps over two days rather than one long schlep) for some time but now wonder if documenting the walk with a series of selfies charting my gradual decline as the pollution takes its toll might work better.

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Carnarvon Road, South Woodford

Carnarvon Road, South Woodford has some incredible buildings. Firstly you’re greeted with what appears to be the back of some kind of industrial building – although I couldn’t locate the front. Then across the street is this beautiful modernist block that looks as though it may have an interesting former life.

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Epping Forest

I must have walked past this fine oak tree just off Epping New Road at South Woodford a hundred times without noticing this plaque commemorating the planting of the tree by the Lord Mayor of London in 1932 in celebration of the Jubilee of the opening of the forest.

North Circular

Waterworks Corner

At the Rodney Smith stone I decided to turn for home rather than push on through the forest. This of course brought me to one of my favourite London views, from the bridge back across the North Circular at Waterworks Corner. I took another ‘North Circular Selfie’, naturally.

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Walthamstow to the Whipps Cross Lido

I passed through the narrow strip of the forest that takes you behind the Waterworks and St. Peter’s Church emerging at the very tip of Lea Bridge Road. It’s interesting to note that the gate off Snaresbrook Road is labelled ‘Snaresbrook Lido’ and not ‘Whipps Cross Lido’ or ‘Leytonstone Lido’ as I’ve seen the swimming pool named elsewhere.

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The Hollow Ponds

The Hollow Ponds was the perfect place for the walk to end. I rested under an oak tree and nearly nodded off serenaded by the rustling of leaves in the early afternoon breeze.

 

 

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

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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.

 

Walking in the Snow on Wanstead Flats

The overnight arrival of snow was announced early on Sunday morning by the excited screeching of my youngest son. I was initially less enthusiastic as I’d hope to head out on a long walk – perhaps even venture across the river, but a quick glance at the TfL website confirmed that a mere layer of snow had taken out several tube and train lines.

Snowman on Wanstead Flats

Just after midday, with my GoPro fully charged and the kids thawing out in front of the telly after a vicious backgarden snowball fight, I set out over Wanstead Flats. This has been my default location when it snows – the open expanses shielded by perimeter trees conducive to trapping in the snowfall – unlike the surrounding streets where it quickly turns into a grey sludge.

Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers Leytonstone

The football pitches on the Leytonstone side had the goal posts set out in anticipation of Sunday morning matches but the field was dominated by a squad of snowmen.

Louds squeals and hollers went up from a mound of the Alexandra Lake near Aldersbrook where families sledged down to the waters edge. Flocks of birds swooped in for whole slices of bread. Others took advantage of frozen pontoons to rest on the body of the lake.

Snow on Wanstead Flats

As the light faded towards the 3.50pm sunset the temperature dropped another degree or two so that the cold sought out those gaps around the edge of your clothing. I trudged over more snow cloaked football pitches and eventually to the path leading through Bush Wood from where I watched the twinkling lights of the distant city skyline foregrounded by Leytonstone’s iconic Fred Wigg and John Walsh Towers.

Barrage balloon posts Wanstead Flats

WW2 Barrage balloon posts

Last night brought rain instead of snow. The kids didn’t get the hoped for day off school and as we made our way along the road this morning, we looked out for forlorn patches of the icy crystals that were the only remnants of winter wonderland of yesterday.

Alexandra Lake Wanstead Flats snow