Lockdown Pub Crawl around Leytonstone

The Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend was the perfect time for a pub crawl around the pubs of Leytonstone here in East London. Although all the pubs have been closed since the 21st March due to the lockdown, it’s a great time to celebrate the drinking establishments that are such an important part of community life. This walk features: Heathcote & Star (1905), The Northcote (1886), Birkbeck Tavern (1881), Plough and Harrow (1651), Leytonstone Tavern (1865), The Bell (1720), Red Lion (1670), The Crown/Byrds (1720), The Walnut Tree (1997), The North Star (1858), The Green Man (1660), Luna Lounge (2004), Filly Brook (2020).

The fantastic Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop have produced a brilliant history of the Borough’s pubs – Behind the Bar, which can be downloaded from their website.

Walk around the London Olympic Park during Lockdown

On Friday 8th May I decided to take a walk around the London Olympic Park (Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) to see what it was like during lockdown. The park is just a 15-minute walk from my home, but crossing the junction of Ruckholt Road and Orient Way felt like breaching a major boundary. Temple Mills Lane, a rare survivor of the old pre-Olympic streetplan, was quiet. Two people hit balls against the wall of the Lea Valley Tennis and Hockey Centre.  The Velodrome was closed but a dribble of cyclists were taking advantage of the outdoor track. The ghosts of the Eton Manor Sports Club and Eastway Cycle Track wafted in the air. Groups of people had socially distant kickarounds and some bold souls threw frisbees. A solitary security guard/park ranger went up to speak to clusters of people blatantly flouting the government restrictions which, were relaxed slightly 3 days later.  The walk then continued beside the River Lea and pass back towards Hackney Marsh via East Wick and Here East.

Olympic Park lockdown

You can also watch my most recent lockdown walk here.

Leytonstone Lockdown Walk

I’m really enjoying the challenge of digging deeper into my local area for my lockdown walks. For this video I only cover a short section of Leytonstone High Road and yet it was so rich in resonances and associations. It starts with the ghosts of the M11 Link Road protests in Dyers Hall Road in the early 1990’s. Then passes the rubble of the much-loved 491 Gallery, now being very slowly transformed into a block of flats with a beautiful view of the A12/M11 Link Road. Passing on to Leytonstone High we face another development of flats built on the site of Lincolns Pub, but which YouTube comments have informed me was better known to locals in its previous incarnation as The Elms.

We acknowledge Marnie Court, named in honour of Leytonstone’s famous son Alfred Hitchcock, born further down the High Road. The turning point in the walk is the former State Cinema on Leytonstone High Road, now a banqueting venue. From here we turn back along the High Road then into Trinity Close which once would have led us to the ground of Leytonstone FC at Granleigh Road. Leytonstone were a very successful non-league football club, multiple winners of the Isthmian League and the FA Trophy. The ground is now a housing estate.

Leytonstone lockdown walk

The traffic on Leytonstone High Road was still a relatively busy. Scooters buzz away from Yard Sale Pizza. There were more pedestrians at points on this particular day, Friday 17th April around 5pm, than I anticipated, despite very few shops being open (only food shops and chemists).

It was sad to the see the Red Lion closed, chairs on tables, and the shutters down on the Luna Lounge. When will we be back supping a pint of ale and listening to live music at Luna?

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Lockdown walk around Leyton using digital maps

I wanted to give my lockdown walks around the local area a bit of added interested and remembered a couple of great digital resources that reveal layers of information about the streets of London.

Firstly I explored Museum of London Archaeology’s Archaeology of Greater London interactive map which allows you to see the locations of archaeological finds from the prehistoric through to the medieaval period. Leyton and Leytonstone are relatively rich in prehistoric artefacts – mostly stone axes and flint shards, but there was also a Lower Paleolithic Floor at Walnut Tree House at the end of Francis Road, and a socketed Bronze Age Axe found on Murchison Road near the junction with Francis Road. I wondered if this had any relation to the Bronze Age settlement excavated at Oliver Close, Leyton not for away from Francis Road on the other side of the High Road.

Leyton archaeology lockdown walk

There was surprisingly little from later eras, however a decorared Saxon Tombstone was found on Leyton High Road near the junction with Lindley Road. This places it in the zone of what W.H Weston believes was the Saxon settlement, or ‘Tun’ that gives Leyton its name ‘Lea-Tun’. This is also close to the site of the Roman settlement found by estate workers in the grounds of Leyton Grange on the opposite side of the High Road.

The other layer to my lockdown walk was provided by the morbidly fascinating Bomb Sight interactive map that translates the London bomb census from October 1940 to June 1941 onto a navigable map, allowing you to identify individual buildings hit by World War Two bombs.


Last long walk before the Lockdown

This walk on Saturday 21st March feels like a very long time ago now. The pubs had been ordered to close the night before. Supermarket shelves were emptied in a frenzy of panic buying. Social distancing measures had recently been introduced. People had been urged to only use public transport for essential journeys. We knew the lockdown was imminent and that this was likely to be my last decent walk for a while.

I wanted a route that took me out into nature and kept me clear of the crowds. It also needed to deliver me home without the need for public transport. My feet knew the way and trod a path through Epping Forest from Leytonstone to Highams Park then down through Woodford to the River Roding.

Lockdown walk

On the way out I passed Leytonstone House, which had been home to members of the Buxton Family from the late 18th Century until 1868. It’s where Edward North Buxton lived for a time before he moved to Buckhurst Hill and authored his definitive guide to Epping Forest in 1884. There’s a mulberry tree in the grounds of Leytonstone House that’d been adorned with brightly coloured tree dressings, I imagine to mark the Spring Equinox the day before.

There were an alarming number of people on Leyton Flats heading towards the Hollow Ponds drawn  by the arrival of Spring. The Gorse bushes and Blackthorn trees were in full blossom. I paid homage to the Birch Well and headed for Gilbert’s Slade, giving the crowds the slip in the process.

Crossing the North Circular I picked up a footpath I hadn’t used before running parallel to the road and followed it to new sections of the forest for me. The white noise of the road was oddly cleansing. Turning back through the thick trees of the forest, all was calm. The trees seemed to be murmuring that everything would be ok.

lockdown walk

After skirting Humphrey Repton’s Highams Park Lake it was time to make the turn over the ridge occupied by Woodford Green and cross into the Roding Valley. The streets slumbered like a deep Sunday afternoon in the 1950’s. Views over rooftops stretched to the far side of the river valley. The water tower at Claybury Hospital stood proud on its hill. Passing through the streets of Buckhurst Hill I found myself on Forest Edge, crossing tracks once more with E.N Buxton. Knighton Wood contains the remnants of the landscaped garden of his house.

lockdown walk

I eventually picked up the River Roding on the other side of Ray Park. Of all the many times I’ve walked the Roding between Wanstead and Buckhurst Hill I’ve only once walked it in a southerly direction, and that was 13 years ago. Today it was blissfully free of people. I stopped to pause just after passing Charlie Brown’s Roundabout. An Egret swooped low to the water and elegantly landed in the shade of an overhanging tree. For a moment it was as if everything was how it should be. All the troubles of the world were far away from that riverbank.

Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema

Iain Sinclair Leytonstone
Iain Sinclair introducing Edith walks at Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema, 2019

The last screening at the Leytonstone Pop-Up Cinema was in October 2022 and I realise that we haven’t updated any of our news feeds since then. This is partly because we have no news to announce at the moment but the Pop-Up Cinema isn’t finished just yet.

We launched the Leytonstone Film Club in July 2008 with a screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger accompanied by a live re-scoring at Leytonstone Library in the Leytonstone Festival. And we ran continuously since then until the lockdowns started in March 2020. We returned in October 2021 but our numbers were seriously down on pre-pandemic levels leading to us taking a break a year later to re-assess our future. And that is where we’re currently at. Hopefully we’ll decide to carry on in some form. Whether that’s at Leytonstone Library remains to be seen. But the desire to bring cinema back to Leytonstone, the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock, is as strong as it was when we launched with that great screening nearly 15 years ago.

Here are some photos from screenings and events over the years.

Wycombe on the day of the new King

Mayor and Beadle of High Wycombe, September 2022

Somehow it was so apt to be in Wycombe on the day the new King was proclaimed at the Town Hall two weeks ago. I wondered whether the ghost of Dr Martin Lluelyn popped along. He’d been physician to both Charles I and Charles II, attending to Charles I on the scaffold before his execution and then served as Mayor of High Wycombe in 1671 when residing in Crendon Street. Charles III is bound to Wycombe through this historical thread whether he likes it or not.

As a town it does ceremonial occasions so well with its ancient tradition of the weighing-in of the Mayor and previous heritage of building giant chair arches. I’d expected a sleepy Sunday stroll in the territory of my birth but found the crowds streaming along Queen Victoria Road.

Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022 proclamation of King Charles III
Queen Victoria Road, High Wycombe, 11th September 2022
High Street, High Wycombe September 11th 2022
High Street, High Wycombe
Cafe on High Wycombe High Street
High Street, High Wycombe

There was life in the High Street too, a plush new cafe had opened up next to a restored building that had recently discovered to be the oldest in the town apart from the Norman church. The Octagon Centre was bereft, haunted by the ghost of its fountain where now there’s only a bare sunlit space.

Octagon Centre High Wycombe
Octagon Centre High Wycombe
River Wye High Wycombe
River Wye
Deangarden Wood High Wycombe
Deangarden Wood
Tunnel under M40 High Wycombe
Fennell’s Wood

I followed the River Wye out of the town across the Rye and then along the bottom of Deangarden Wood. Another footpath took me up the steep valley side and through a long tunnel beneath the M40 into Fennell’s Wood. It’s these beech woods hugging the Chiltern Hills, that not only gave the town and its satellite villages their identity and culture but also their industry. Bodgers turned chair legs and piled them high in their woodland camps. In the brick and flint cottages, chair caners wove the seats. On the valley floor, factories assembled the chairs that gave Wycombe the moniker of Chairopolis. This is where your Windsor chairs actually come from. Wycombe Wanderers still go by the nickname of the Chairboys, and my grandfather used to walk through these woods on the way to watch the Wanderers at their old ground of Loakes Park.

Juniper Hill Water Tower, Flackwell Heath
Juniper Hill Tower

My walk was part nostalgia trip and part recce for a piece of writing I started during one of the lockdowns and had reached a dead end. Following the narrative thread from my Mum’s burial in Wooburn cemetery had somehow led me to the location of a water tower in Flackwell Heath on the opposite side of the valley. It occurred to me that I’d never noticed this great looming structure before – even in the years when I drank and worked in the Green Dragon pub nearby and walked down Juniper Lane almost daily. The tower had grown and grown within the shell of what could become a book until it formed a significant block on my progress. I needed to actually visit the site. And here it was – a beautiful brutalist hulk hidden in a nest of residential streets. It deserves a chunk of my book (if I can ever finish it).

Ronald Wood, Flackwell Heath
Ronald Wood
View of Wooburn Green, Bucks
the view over Wooburn Green

I cut down the side of a wood that also features in the book (although I’m nervous to call it that when it currently only stands at six thousand words) and drop across the fields to Wooburn Green. After a quick visit to my mother’s grave I watch a few overs of Wooburn Narkovians at the Park remembering all those happy childhood summers spent scampering around this pitch as my Dad bowled leggies from Church end and smoked Embassy cigarettes while waiting to go out to bat.

Wooburn Town
Wooburn Town
Wooburn Narkovians Cricket Club at  Wooburn Park 11th September 2022
Wooburn Park