A walk around King’s Lynn

Back in May I headed up to King’s Lynn to do a talk and walk at Groundwork Gallery for a fantastic show by arts collective Haptic/Tacit called FieldWork. I’d produced a commissioned essay to accompany the show which you can read on the Groundwork website:

Field work is the work. What follows is the echo. I sit in this very chair skimming through video clips of expeditions through the West London Industrial Belt, the newbuilds colonising Albert Island, the looming transformation of Thamesmead, the freakzone on Orford Ness, the point in Essex where the shimmering sand tempts you to do a death walk along the Broomway. All of England, both real and imagined crumbles into the North Sea off the Suffolk and Norfolk coast. This is edgeland in its most literal sense. The ghost church bells of the lost city Dunwich tolling beneath the waves. W.G. Sebald striding through the East Anglian landscape, walking away from a gnawing melancholy yapping at his heels. ‘Read Sebald and you can never look at the landscape in the same way again’, wrote Suffolk resident Roger Deakin.

continue reading here

After the talk at Groundwork Gallery and a look at the Haptic/Tacit show we went for a stroll around the medieval quarter of King’s Lynn in the company of three town guides with my occasional interjections. Amongst the feast of heritage architecture we were led through a low doorway into a garden where the 14th Century buildings would have faced a wharf where goods were unloaded from across Europe in the period when the town derived great prosperity from being part of the Hanseatic League. The newest buildings in this former commercial enclave dated from the 16th Century.

Our walk ended looking out along the waters of the Great Ouse towards the North Sea. It was a fantastic introduction to the wonders of this storied Norfolk town. I must return soon to further pick up the threads of its watercourses and pilgrim trails.

Roding Valley Edgelands Walk from Wanstead to Chigwell

Finding myself in Wanstead near the Roding at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon, I decided to head for Chigwell – a great place to end a walk in the dark. I would like to have had more daylight to go looking for the springs that gave Chigwell – or Cicca’s / King’s Well its name. But it wasn’t to be. In daylight hours Chigwell has been a place I’ve passed through, crossing the Roding Valley or heading up to Hainault Forest and Havering-atte-Bower. I’ve yet to find the time to dwell there hunting for the wells and springs. That feels like a summer pursuit.

I crossed the Roding and climbed the steps to Roding Lane South, the terminus point of the 366 bus route. There’s something so romantic about a single-decker in a layby at the end of a bus route. This is a road that has it all – not only the bus terminus but the river, the pylons rising from the throbbing substation, the private hospital opposite the pet cemetery, the listed Victorian pumping station, the industrial estate complete with transit bus depot. A limping lady who saw me filming came to tell me that one of the industrial units had been converted into temporary housing and she was sure the pylons were draining her energy.

Trebor Woodford

Trebor House 1956

The large blue building on Woodford Avenue opposite the Toby Carvery, always draws me in. A 50’s industrial building it’s almost perfect in its symmetry and form. I often feel a slight guilt in my admiration. The comments on the YouTube video banished any such guilt in focussing my attention on this functional building as people told me that it was originally the Trebor sweets factory – a legendary Willy Wonka-like location. Who didn’t grow up sucking on Trebor Refreshers and still partake of an Extra Strong Mint. I had no idea that Trebor had started life in East London, one of the founders in fact from Leytonstone – Sydney Herbert Marks. The original factory was in Katherine Road, Forest Gate and was destroyed by a German bomb in 1944.  This glorious building, Trebor House, was built in 1956 on the site of a bungalow as the Trebor HQ.

subway sign

subway woodford

I took the subway beneath Woodford Avenue and made my way along Roding Lane North towards Hospital Hill Wood where the water tower from the Victorian Claybury Asylum still dominates the summit. The light was starting to fade now. It’d been a wet and  gloomy day and the hopes of sunset from the highlands was dim. The strip of shops along the Green at Woodford Bridge were a welcoming sight but I couldn’t afford to linger, even with the second lock down looming and chances to sit in a cafe diminishing by the day.

Claybury Hall Chigwell old picture

Claybury Hall 1797

In Chigwell Road, Thurlby House sat back off the road remembering former glories from the end of the 18th Century when it was built, and through the 19th Century when its Doric columns were added. It became a Dr. Barnardo’s Home in the early 20th Century and a public library after the Second World War. It’s now private apartments.

The Three Jolly Wheelers sits right on the Essex border as you enter Chigwell. It feels like a border crossing. Dark woods lining the long road. You can imagine the scene in the inn in stagecoach days when a passage through the forest after dark would have been ill-advised. It did look cosy, but I was saving myself for a final Sunday pint in the Red Lion back at Leytonstone – itself an old coaching inn.

The 12-minute wait for a tube at Chigwell Station on the Central Line Loop offered time to absorb the walk. I didn’t get to properly explore Chigwell at my leisure once again but studying the map on the platform did introduce me to the Chigwell Brook, a tributary of the River Roding that I’d previously overlooked. But that will be a walk for another day.

Marginal Land – Richard Mabey quote

“… it is often in those awkward-shaped parcels of ground – left over like a hem when the surrounding areas have been sewn up – called ‘marginal land’. These seem to be multiplying with the piecemeal extension of built-up areas: a sliver left over between two strictly rectangular factories, a disused car dump, the surrounds of an electricity sub-station”
– p.38 The Unofficial Countryside (1978), by Richard Mabey