Over Marsh Lane Fields & Across Hackney Marshes

The roadside wildflowers near the nest Nest E10 apartments made me think of Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside. This was apt because I remember reading Iain Sinclair’s wonderful article about this hugely influential book in the Guardian Review then heading for a walk to our own patch of unofficial countryside at Marsh Lane Fields expecting to find hordes of Guardian reading foragers only to find this glorious open space largely devoid of people and the elderflower trees laden with fruit. So this lockdown walk on the 15th May was a welcome return to one of my favourite places in London, a precious tract of land preserved for the enjoyment of local people.

From Marsh Lane Fields (Leyton Jubilee Park) I crossed the metal footbridge over the railway sidings to Leyton Waterworks. The threat of the music festival has now passed, the campaign to stop the festival successful and the organisers graciously accepting defeat. I do miss the old Pitch and Put over here. I used to come over in the hour before sunset in summer for a quick round with my eldest son in tow munching on vending machine crisps. I was curious to see if the hot weather had made people take to swimming in the River Lea at the spot that some have come to call Hackney Beach. But on this weekend three weeks ago there was only a solitary hammocker snoozing suspended over the gently flowing waters of our sacred river. Two weeks later scenes of swimmers cavorting in the river caused social media outrage.

Leyton Waterworks - Marsh Lane walk River Lea Marsh Lane walk

Crossing the Friends Bridge I passed into the London Borough of Hackney, breaching the old Middlesex – Essex border and once the frontier between the Danelaw and English Law. Here there was a liberal sprinkling of picnicers and people playing sport. You could sense the lockdown dissolving on this side of the river, too soon for my liking. A great plume of smoke billowed into the sky from a warehouse fire in Barking, fire engines cut through traffic on the Eastway. I crossed the river back into Waltham Forest and took the backstreets through Leyton home.

Walk from Marsh Lane Leyton, along the Lea to the Wetlands Centre

Marsh Lane, Leyton

Marsh Lane, Leyton

A bright cold Thursday morning, letting my feet guide me.

Marsh Lane, Leyton is full of resonances of my arrival in the area, beating the bounds of the Lammas Lands, a discovery of Country London that I never knew existed.

Marsh Lane Leyton

Marsh Lane Leyton

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WaterWorks Centre Leyton

WaterWorks Centre Leyton

The WaterWorks Centre was shutters down closed. The looming towers rising around Lea Bridge Station now frame the view. I miss the old pitch and put, playing on Saturday evenings with my son following me round, sitting on the tee with a bottle of Strawberry Milk and packet of crisps.

Walthamstow Marshes

Walthamstow Marshes

Frost glimmered on the Lea Bridge Cycle Lane as I headed for the marshes contemplating coffee in the old stately home in Springfield Park.

Lea Navigation Hackney

Lea Navigation Hackney

I didn’t want to leave the Lea Navigation to climb through Springfield for coffee and survey the valley, so kept on the towpath.

A friend knowledgeable in these matters, says that the plants in the water at the beginning of this clip are called Frogbit, which apparently hibernates in winter.

Lea Navigation Tottenham

I sat on a bench beside the Navigation as I approached Ferry Lane enjoying the sun pitching on my face. A smattering of cyclists and joggers passed. All the action was on the water with birds skidding in to land, squawking, wings flapping, heads disappearing beneath the surface, a multitude of voices, songs and calls.

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

Walthamstow Wetlands

The viewing platform at Walthamstow Wetlands affords a majestic vista back down the Lea and over reservoirs towards Hackney and Leyton. It was almost balmy there, face to the sun.

Forest Road Walthamstow

Forest Road Walthamstow

The view of the building works on Forest Road, Walthamstow from the platform at Blackhorse Road Station was like looking at a gigantic sculpture with the arrangement of green, red and purple structures perfectly aligned. The breeze blocks in the foreground were a bit of a letdown though, I think yellow would work well.

The ghost horses of Marsh Lane Fields

The most poignant moment in making this elegy for a London meadow – Marsh Lane Fields, came when I couldn’t recall where exactly the horses had been tethered beneath the pylons. It was the memory of that image – so striking when I’d first seen it on my personal discovery of Marsh Lane Fields, new to the area Beating the Bounds in the driving rain with the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee – that made me realise not only had the horses been erased from the landscape but the pylons as well. How was it possible that I hadn’t noticed before. I’d surveyed the changes to the site when passing through on one of the walks for This Other London and the fact I was running late for the wassailing in Clapton made me hurry through.

marsh lane fields horses

Sunday night I dug out my old camcorder from the top of the wardrobe and spooled through a miniDV tape I shot in December 2006 when the NLLDC returned to Marsh Lane to lead a protest against the proposed enclosure of one end of the ancient Lammas Lands by the London Olympic Authorities for the relocation of Manor Garden Allotments from Hackney. One protest had begotten another. First time this was attempted, in 1892, the people of Leyton marched onto the fields led by their councillors and tore the fences down. A plaque on the Eton Manor Athletics Club commemorates the event. It’s said the land was drained by Alfred the Great and bequeathed to the people of Leyton as common pasture based on the old Lammas grazing system. This mattered little to the Olympic people and their fences went up.

I fast-forwarded through the footage of the protest, the singing of an old marching Song sung during he footpath protests of the early 20th Century. Were the horses a misplaced memory of the stables on the site of the Lea Valley Pitch and Putt (was that a figment of my imagination as well?). But eventually, the horses were munching the grass and taken care of with drawing salve for horses in Standard Definition, today closely mown and rebranded Leyton Jubilee Park, grazing where now allotment holders cultivate rhubarb.

Marsh Lane Land Grab – appeal for help

I received this by email from the New Lammas Land Defence Committee.

“As we expect you already know, on 12th June the LB Waltham Forest’s Planning Committee granted approval for part of our former Lammas Lands at Marsh LaneFields on Leyton Marshes to be fenced off from public use in order to relocate some of the Manor Gardening Society allotment-holders from Eastway Allotments in LB Newham.

About a third of the plot-holders at Eastway have, sadly, given up; others are still trying to get permission to remain where they are, which we also believe they should be allowed to.
This was the third major land-grab of open spaceoutside the currently designated Olympics site.

What happens next at Marsh Lane Fields will influence what happens in the future elsewhere in green open spaces surrounding the actual site – especially in the part of Leyton that falls in the Borough of Newham (where Major Road Open Space has been fenced off for relocating a Gypsy Traveller community) and Hackney Wick (where yet another part of Hackney Marshes on Homerton Road has been taken for families from another displaced Traveller community) as well as in other parts of Waltham Forest.

Any help would be very welcome indeed – if we were to give up without a squeak it wouldn’t be much inspiration to others in the future – however, this is not a likely prospect and we are preparing to fight this all the way !

We would welcome any offer of help, even if just over the coming week or so when we are all so very busy and the deadlines are so urgent?

The situation is serious and we really do need to work at it NOW if we are to save our Lammas Lands on Leyton Marshes!

For a view from the allotment-holders’perspective (bearing in mind that not all hold exactly the same opinion about what course to take) please see their www.lifeisland. com website, or visit the Games Monitor website which has in-depth analysis from a number of perspectives.

There is also a nascent NLLDC website under construction at www.lammaslands.com but there’s very little on it at present and it has not yet been officially launched.
For more information please contact marshlane@umbilical .demon.co. uk

Many thanks for any help you can give us!!
New Lammas Lands Defence Committee.
Also have a look at this short video I made about the Lammas Lands back in December when the threat first emerged.

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Marsh Lane Fields Celebration

Marsh Lane Fields has again been saved, and this time without a riot.
I got an email announcing the victory this afternoon:

“Last night the Borough of Waltham Forest’s planning committee turned down an application by the LondonDevelopment Agency to fence off about a fifth of Marsh Lane Fields in Leyton to relocate allotment-holders(who don’t want ot move!) from a lovely 85 year oldsite at Bully Point in Newham.
The campaign against this was led by the Lammas Lands Defence Committee,with a lot of help from other interested groups in the borough. We had already planned a rally on the marshes on Sunday before the announcement that lastnight’s planning cttee meeting would be deciding the application, and we therefore propose to hold a PARTYon the fields. So bring party stuff – champers,ribbons, etc. – if there’s any snow we can build asnowman or have a snowball fight! And please bringpolo mints, carrots or apples for the horses thatgraze there – they’ll appreciate it immensely this time of the year when it’s muddy and the grass doesn’tgrow very fast.”

It nice for a change to celebrate a victory against rapaciuos development.
I was worried that my video about the campaign would become an obituary piece.
There’s a good piece on Indymedia about the victory too

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Save Marsh Lane Fields – video

I’ve cut together some footage of the demonstration on Marsh Lane Fields in December. The video hopefully explains the issues, but in short the Olympic Destruction/Development Agency are planning re-locate the Manor Gardens Allotments in Hackney to one corner of Marsh Lane Fields.

The issues/objections are:
– the re-location of the allotments onto land that was used as a tip after the war will involve the removal of vast amounts of earth which will cause enormous disruption to this tranquil corner of Leyton (think of the diggers, trucks etc.). It’ll turn this quiet lane into a rat-run.

– it will involve the enclosure of Lammas Land that has been open, common grazing land since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the C9th. This is both a disaster locally but also on a larger scale it represents yet more common land being enclosed.

It’s instructive to note the two historical precedents of the 19th Century when the authorities intervened, both here on the Leyton Lammas Lands and in nearby Epping Forest, to fend of the advances of land grabbers and keep this vital open space in common ownership. But both these landmark rulings were triggered by the actions of a few.

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