Walking the River Lea from Hackney to the Thames

Reflecting on a cold cold January walk on an Easter weekend as we look forward to Spring despite forecasts of April snow. If you want a snapshot of how London is changing you could do no worse than take this stroll from the edge of the Olympic Park and hug the banks of the River Lea to its confluence with the Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf.

You see the towers of new Stratford and hug the contours of the Stadium. Across the Navigation the old wharfs and industrial heart of Hackney Wick is being remodelled. Passing beneath the Bow Flyover the Navigation once again provides a slideshow of change, here to the East the developments around Sugar House Lane that have been rising sluggishly from the factories and warehouses on the south side of Stratford High Street. A similar vista greets us through Bow as well till we hit the huge distribution centres of Sainsburys and Amazon beside the riverbank as we approach Cody Dock.

River Lea Walk

River Lea at West Ham

Forced away from the Riverbank at Cody Dock we wander into a slice of living history – the old industrial Lea Valley landscape around Bidder Road and Stephenson Street. Pylons rise over car and scrap yards, paint shops, and other staples that were once essential to the functioning city. These spaces keep being pushed further East till eventually they’ll end up in the sea. Someone first urged me to come down here some 7 or 8 years ago, just after the Olympics, ‘Go and see it while you can,’ Chris said.

A path beneath the A13 takes us into Bow Ecology Park where once Shipworks straddled the Lea. On the other side of the water one of the many simulacra produced by New London rises on what they call City Island or ‘mini Manhattan’ in the marketing literature. A tight cluster of colourful tower blocks tethered to the reality of Canning Town by an iron bridge. In lockdown it appears like a fever colony, no one permitted to leave the isolation blocks save for supply runs to Sainsburys Local.

Bidder Road, Lower Lea Valley
Bidder Road
City Island on the River Lea
City Island
City Island on the River Lea
City Island and Canning Town

Once you find a way off City Island through yet more new building developments around the mouth of the Lea that borrow names from the recorded past, we find our way to Trinity Buoy Wharf. Jim Finer’s Long Player installation continues to mark time in the lighthouse, and the River Lea slides into the Thames and heads off along Bugsby’s Reach bound for the sea.

The Other East End – Pudding Mill & Bow

A walk from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park through the medieval settlement of Bow

This walk starts near the London Stadium afer an amble down from Leytonstone. The Olympic Park was busier than my last visit while still deep in lockdown in early May. Now cyclists and joggers buzzed in all directions, families enjoyed the playgrounds by the banks of the City Mill River. I passed the East Bank development, with construction now seemingly back in full swing, and crossed the Greenway to Pudding Mill Lane.

The development around Pudding Mill is still in skeletal form at best with much of the site still blank plots where once a range of industries thrived. Cooks Lane takes on to Stratford High Street and the Bow Flyover. Crossing the River Lea we find ourselves on Bow Road, over the border by Bow Church. There’s an interesting historic building at 223 Bow Road which turned out to be a 17th Century shop.
We then go through Bow Arts Alley to Grove Hall Park, once a Victorian private Asylum that features in Charles Dickens Nicholas Nickleby. The walk then goes back past Bow Church and along Bow High Street to St. Leonard’s Priory, an 11th Century Nunnery. From here we go down St. Leonard’s Street to Bruce Road and to Kingsley Hall in Powis Road. Kingsley Hall is where Mahatma Gandhi stayed when visiting Britain in 1931. He would take morning walks along the Sewerbank (Greenway) to Stratford and through Plaistow and West Ham. Following the A12 Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road we find Bromley Hall, an early Tudor Manor House built in around 1485 and believed to be the oldest brick house in London.

This is where the video ends.

Bow

St. Thomas’s Creek Stratford

Off camera I doubled back along the A12 then crossed the Lea Navigation to Three Mills and back along past evening fishermen, beneath the road barely noticing and along the Hackney Cut. I then picked up the course of the Old River Lea around the back of the Olympic Stadium and a return to the Park. I chatted to a charming couple who watch my YouTube videos as we walked through the sunset to Leyton. A great end to a memorable stroll.

Disappearance in the Olympic Zone

Greenway Hackney

Hopped onto the eastern end of the Greenway in Hackney Wick yesterday morning – the bronze letters beckoned me onwards like the opening titles of Star Wars (remember how we all sat in the old single screen cinema and read that scrolling text).

I jumped onto a granite block to take in a view westwards that had been obscured by mounds of rubble when I passed along this way in the summer of 2013.

You can hear in the video how my mental map has been utterly fried and I omit the fact that Bow sits somewhere on this vista. The erasure is so complete that I didn’t even remember the view from the 2013 walk and how the Bryant and May factory with its famous Match Girls strike seemed much closer.

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Even poring over various maps from 1936 to the present I can’t reliably find what was here before, the only features being a couple of nameless blocks. This is presumably the site of the new Pudding Mill development, taking its name from the lost tributary of the River Lea.

50 Years a Borough_2

I had to go back to this map of West Ham in the early 18th Century to get a sense of place – the concrete canvas seems to be on the former Bow Marsh.

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It’s not all about deleting the past in the Olympic Park as a replica sculpture of Newtons Cottage on Carpenter’s Road Lock is being built and will open to the public on 1st October.

street piano greenway

I processed all this with a tinker on the Street Piano by the View Tube on the Greenway.

 

Walk from Whitechapel to Leytonstone

I dropped off a screener of my documentary Make Your Own Damn Art and decided to take advantage of the spring evening and wander back home from Brick Lane to Leytonstone.

Fashion Street E1
Mile End Road

Although this is the first part of London I came to as a callow 18-year old  and have been drifting around the city ever since, tonight I discovered parts of East London I’d never seen before.

Bancroft Road – the birds were singing loud and proud
Jewish Cemetery Bancroft Road. It belonged to the synagogue in Maiden Lane Covent Garden and opened in 1811. It was badly bombed in WW2 
Meath Gardens E3 – formerly the private Victoria Park Cemetery est. 1842
Meath Gardens
Yuppie gulag rising on the banks of the Regent’s Canal – redevelopment often seems to shadow cemeteries and asylums
I read somewhere that the Regent’s Canal was named to curry Royal favour and get planning permission – little changes
St. Barnabas Church E3 – affiliated with the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Munching chips from Roman Road I asked two young women in hajibs the way to the Olympic Stadium – they directed me to this bridge over the A12. This must be the continuation of the old Roman Road to Essex.
Crown Close Bow, still hanging on in there
For some reason I had The The’s Heartland playing in my head as I walked this way
 Local artists make their feelings about the coming Olympics known 
Crossing the Lea at sunset
london

Walk from Leytonstone to the Thames

Been meaning to do this walk for a while – heading south in a straight line from Leytonstone across Stratford and Abbey Marshes bound for the Plaistow Levels beside the river Thames.

 Leyton High Road –

 

“Local history is the cradle of true patriotism, and local patriotism is the best stimulant to efficiency and progress”

Fifty Years A Borough 1886-1936 – The Story of West Ham by Donald McDougall, 1936

 

 “There seems to be no doubt that the name comes from the Saxon, indicating the Street by the ford, or Stratford”.

 Old Stratford looks down upon the arrivistes

“It is quite likely that the area was a centre of communal life of the (pre-Roman) period and that it saw Druid ceremonial at its best”

The Greenway

East Ham and West Ham were simply known as Hamme at the time of Edward the Confessor.

Alfred the Great is said to be responsible for the creation of some of the watercourses around Stratford such as the Channelsea River which he created to drain water from the Danish ships moored in the River Lea.

Channelsea River 2
a home at Bromley-by-Bow – note the jacket hung up left of the bed

Limehouse Cut

“These streams had for many years been deteriorating, silting up, and at times giving off very offensive smells.”

another unofficial home
the marsh monster

“But before there were small clustered villages, and before the unassailable fortress stood sentinel on the bank of the river, what people lived in the forests and marshy lands? What did they do in the struggle to live?
The first great work of these unrecorded hands was to build a wall of earth all along the north bank of the river so tha a great belt of swampy land was made fertile and flourished into meadows and pastures.”
The Story of Tower Hamlets, 1967

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West Ham Abbey “stood on the banks of the Channelsea River, one of the waterways created by Alfred the Great, in a very low-lying area now almost entirely covered by factories, warehouse and gasometers.”
Fifty Years a Borough