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

Come for a walk along the Dagenham Brook & Over Pole Hill

New tickets announced for my walks along The Dagenham Brook and Over Pole Hill

It’s been a fantastic summer of walks for Waltham Forest Borough of Culture as ‘psychogeographer-in-residence’. And now the final two walks have just been announced:

The Dagenham Brook

The Dagenham Brook

The Dagenham Brook, 22nd September 2pm –  book here

Waltham Forest Tours presents The Dagenham Brook with John Rogers, Psychogeographer-in-residence; a guided walk an overlooked stream in Waltham Forest.
Running from Leyton Jubilee Park to Coppermill Lane Walthamstow, the Dagenham Brook leads us through the streets of Leyton and Walthamstow weaving stories as it flows.
John will be joined by a local artist Lucy Harrison as part of this walk. A map of the walk is being produced in by printer Russell Frost of Hooksmith Press, Leytonstone.

Pole Hill Chingford

Over Pole Hill, 20th October 2pm – book here

 Explore the north-eastern frontier of both Waltham Forest and Greater London.
This will take the group up over Pole Hill, the highest point in the borough, which sits on Zero Longitude and was used by the Greenwich Observatory to set its telescope. You will also explore the terrain of the forest fringe.
As part of the walk, John will be joined by artist and illustrator Rachel Lillie, whose recent work includes the exhibition The In-between: An Ode to Epping Forest at Waltham Forest’s Vestry House. A map of the walk is being produced in by printer Russell Frost of Hooksmith Press, Leytonstone.

On the trail of the Dagenham Brook

Leyton Sign Ruckolt Road

Something magical happens when you pack your bag for a walk, even on a day like today when my enthusiasm is thin. In goes the notebook and 2 pens, a copy of Rachel Lichtenstein’s new book Estuary, OS map of the Lea Valley & Epping Forest, camera + mini magnetic tripod, a light jacket, and finally a cap I stuff down the side. All of this crammed into a messenger bag that was given away by the thousand at the London Film Festival 12 or 13 years ago.

I contemplate the journey ahead over coffee at Costa in Leyton Mills – the vast carpark here with its expansive Lea Valley skies is one of my favourite open spaces in London – it’s like the American Midwest of my imagination. The prospect of the relatively short walk along the Dagenham Brook increases in appeal as the caffeine kicks in. These minor urban excursions can easily snowball into epic quests. It’s the anticipation of the unknown buried within the familiar. Of becoming lost in a suburban swamp.

Dagenham Brook
I navigate my way across the grid system of the Asda car park and over to Orient Way, under the Leyton sign to find the point where the Dagenham Brook disappears underground before making its confluence with the River Lea. This is so close to where the Fillebrook momentarily appears above ground (in a reversal of fortunes) that I wonder if these two brooks merge before running into the Lea as a single watercourse.

A broken hole in the thick undergrowth gives me my first glimpse of the Dagenham Brook. I slide down the bank getting snagged in the brambles in the process and struggle to extract myself once I’ve logged my encounter with the river. Urban river hunting is not as easy as it seems.

Dagenham Brook
Fifty yards or so further along a recently surfaced new path hugs the river as it meanders through Marsh Lane Fields. I remember the Beating of the Bounds here on a wet May Sunday afternoon 10 years ago just after we’d moved to Leytonstone. It had been organized by the brilliant New Lammas Lands Defence Committee and was my real introduction into the culture of this section of the Lea Valley with the deep passionate attachment to the landscape. Marsh Lane has had a powerful hold on me ever since.

Dagenham Brook Leyton FC
The brook curves round behind the goal of the abandoned ground of Leyton F.C. – the weeds thick, nearly enclosing the watercourse. I call artist Lucy Harrison to see if she’ll give me a quick 5-minute interview about the Warner Homes that straddle Lea Bridge Road and have the Dagenham Brook running through the gardens. Lucy did an interesting project with the residents of the Warner Estate and I wish I knew more about them – now would be my chance.

Warner Estate Leyton
Lucy obligingly popped out into Blythe Road and told me about how the houses had been built around the beginning of the last century to provide quality affordable rentable homes and had gradually been sold off since the 1960’s. Although they have lost the tidy uniformity of their early years when Warner staff trimmed the hedges and painted the doors and window frames green and cream – they retain a distinctive architectural style with the arched double front doors and elaborate gables. You know when you’ve strolled into a Warner Estate.

Dagenham Brook p1010216
The Brook gently flows on into territory where I can’t follow it closely – behind cul-de-sacs, round the back of industrial estates and allotments. There are allotments all along the course of the river – even more so than along the Filly Brook. The occasionally waterlogged, spring-fed land unsuitable for building or industrial use, I guess good for growing crops fond of wet soil.

Pumphouse Museum Walthamstow
I eventually rendezvous with the Brook again near the end the W19 bus route where it winds around the edge of Low Hall Sports Ground. I pay homage with a nod, a photo and a few seconds of video before moving on back along the road unable again to walk along the riverbank. In truth physical encounters are a bonus with urban river walking for me, it’s more of a simple device to open up what might appear an unpromising landscape unenthusiastic about yielding its secrets. The brook sets the route and tells you its story, guides the way.

St James Park Walthamstow

The Dagenham Brook suggests I take a look at St James Park, one of those backstreet open spaces known mostly to the locals but a beautiful spot. There are only a handful of people in the park – a lady sitting on the ground appears to have positioned herself dead centre of a large empty section. An access road leads down the middle of a wonderful grand avenue of lime trees. The park occupies part of the site of the 14th Century Low Hall Manor which was purchased by Walthamstow Council in the late 19th Century.

Dagenham Brook Walthamstow p1010264

The brook slides behind park and under the railway bridge now running parallel with the broader River Lea Flood Relief Channel. I’ve seen discussion online suggesting that the Dagenham Brook is also a man-made watercourse, a drainage ditch. Old OS maps of the area show an elaborate tapestry and ditches and ponds adorning the landscape – nearly all now buried or filled in occasionally rising again to flood a basement or waterlog a garden.

Seb Lester mural walthamstow
Moving beneath the railway you are greeted by a sequence of murals on the end of terrace walls. On the corner of Chester Road a verse from Ewan MacColl’s timeless song written for Peggy Seeger is painted in elaborate filigree font
                           The first time ever I saw your face
                          I thought the sun rose in your eyes

Louis Masai walthamstow

On the other end of the block is a work by Louis Masai of a Fox, Badger and Bees – the bees carry a placard appealing to ‘Save Us!’, the badger sits behind a sign saying ‘No to the Cull’. Around the corner is a colourful abstract work by Italian street artist Renato Hunto.

Mural Walthamstow
Moving in to Coppermill Lane I can’t see any further trace of the Dagenham Brook as it appears to have merged with Flood Relief Channel. I stand on a concrete block and look north along the course of the Lea and bid my farewell to this understated, wonderful watercourse.

sunflower walthamstow

Walking the Gores Brook – Dagenham’s mythical river

A comment on a recent YouTube video alerted me to plans by Thames21 to uncover the section of the Gores Brook running beneath the ground in Parsloes Park where the river rises. Loving the eastern rivers as I do, this was a tantalising invitation.

Although culverted in the 1930s, the buried sections of the river in Parsloes Park are marked on my 1950s Geographia atlas. Also using manhole covers as a guide I followed the course of the buried river to the edge of the park before finding it running above ground in Goresbrook Park. This gentle stream then crosses beneath Ripple Road, and past Dagenham Asda where the 145 bus terminates.

1950s Map of Parsloes Park showing the Gores Brook
View of pylons at Dagenham east London
confluence of the Gores Brook and the Thames
confluence of the Gores Brook and the Thames

From here our riparian adventure plunges us into a dramatic post-industrial landscape created by the ghost of the Ford Motor Works at Dagenham as we walk along Chequers Road, crossing Dagenham Dock Station and passing beneath the A13 road. Turning into Choats Road, we once again meet the Gores Brook and follow footpath 47 to the point where the Gores Brook makes its confluence with the Thames at Horse Shoe Corner.

Mayesbrook Park, Barking and Dagenham

One sultry Friday morning the other week I jumped on the first bus that swung through Leytonstone Station with the aim of just riding it to the end of the line. But I didn’t make it to the terminus of the 145 at Dagenham Asda as I was so beguiled by the autumnal colours lining Longbridge Road that I spontaneously disembarked without a clue where I was. It was a fortuitous decision because within 10 minutes I wandered through the gates of Mayesbrook Park, where the Mayes Brook gently trundles through the mile long parkland on its way to meet the River Roding at Barking.

Exploring the park left me starving, so I headed for Upney Station to make my way home. I passed Upney Fish Bar that had a sign boasting of being voted best Fish and Chip Shop in London one year. I’m normally skeptical of such claims but was prepared to wait 10 minutes for my fish to be freshly fried. I took the steaming hot parcel back to the park and cracked it open on a bench by the lake surrounded by eager geese. My god, the batter was so crispy each bite scattered the birds from the trees, and the chips were just the right side of perfect. So that boast turned out to be relatively modest.

The old psychogeographical trick of taking random bus journeys delivered in spades.

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook is lost no more

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook - Leytonstone's lost river
The Philley Brook / Fillebrook

It was great to get a really clear view of Leytonstone’s lost river, the Philley Brook (Fillebrook) down beside Auckland Road allotments at the weekend. I’d only previously caught glimpses of dark water through the weeds obscuring the culvert. But now with the undergrowth cleared away the river can be clearly seen flowing above ground. To my knowledge this is the only point where the Philley Brook can be seen, although it can be heard in a number of locations running beneath the streets of Leytonstone and Leyton (I didn’t really hear it in the upper Walthamstow reaches).

The Philley Brook / Fillebrook - Leytonstone's lost river which is prone to cause flooding in Leyton, Leytonstone and Waltamstow
The Philley Brook
The Philley Brook beside Auckland Road allotments Leyton
The Philley Brook goes back underground

Moments before this glorious sighting I’d bumped into Claire while filming a Q&A video for my YouTube channel. I mentioned that I felt I hadn’t resolved the question of where the Philley Brook (Fillebrook) made its confluence with the River Lea or if it merged with the Dagenham Brook first somewhere beneath the Eurostar railway sidings. Being a water professional, Claire recommended taking a look at the Environment Agency Long Term Flood Risk maps. And my word, what a revelation. The course of the buried rivers of the area is marked out in dark blue. Thank you Claire!

Flood Risk map Leyton
Flood Risk map Leyton - Philley Brook / Fillebrook

Walking Walthamstow’s Lost Rivers – the Higham Hill Brook

 

In the course of my hunt for the lost rivers of Walthamstow I came across this paragraph in the Victoria County History:

“Higham Hill sewer flowed from Chapel End across Blackhorse Lane to Dagenham brook. The brook flowed south to Leyton, joined by Moor ditch from Markhouse common. Most of Moor ditch was piped in the 1880s. Parts of the Higham Hill sewer, Dagenham brook, and Blackmarsh sewer west of the brook ( Its continuation in Leyton was known as Shortlands sewer), were diverted or filled in when the flood relief channel was built in 1950–60.”

And it was also marked on the 1840 map of Walthamstow. There was another lost river of Walthamstow to be staked out on foot.

I headed out on a sunny Friday afternoon, along Hoe Street and into Forest Road, which is shown as Clay Street on the 1777 Map of Essex at this point. The quest would start at the Water House, now the William Morris Gallery, as the 1777 map shows a watercourse flowing West from the moat in what is now Lloyd Park, in a more or less straight line to the River Lea. Comments on the Walthamstow lost river video (the Philley Brook) had mentioned a river flowing beneath Winns Avenue in Walthamstow. This aligned with the route of the stream rising in the Water House moat. However, descriptions of the course of the Higham Hill Brook and 19th Century maps place the source as Higham Hill Common, further north, but not so distant as to rule out a relationship (as discovered with the multiple sources of the Philley Brook / Fillebrook).

I headed in the direction of Priory Court, the shape of the road seeming to mirror the contours of the river on old maps. The assumption being that the river must cut through the post-war council estate and pass either through, or around Higham Hill Common Allotments. There were no massive indicators here, but on Higham Hill Road the point where the subterranean stream crosses was apparent. This also aligned with the site of Walthamstow Avenue FC’s Green Pond Road ground, now a housing estate. A former resident of the area, Robert, confirmed in a comment on the YouTube video that the river indeed flowed beneath the pitch: which is why it had a reputation for poor drainage and matches always being postponed during late December and January. Also knew an old lady from my time attending At Andrews church who lived on Green Pond farm which is where the football ground and dairy were built on and she told me of her childhood playing by the brook in the 1920’s.

Higham Hill Brook

From this point to the confluence with the Dagenham Brook the route was fairly clear – the walk taking me down Higham Street (where a footbridge is marked on an old map), and into Chamberlain Place. The river then passes through a huge new housing development, Blackhorse Yard, which includes plans to include the re-surfaced stream in the design. A rare example of daylighting in London. 

Luckily for me the Higham Hill Brook meets the Dagenham Brook in the Forest Industrial Estate near two breweries so I was able to celebrate the successful conclusion to the walk with some fresh beer from Signature Brew.