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
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