A Nostalgic walk from Leytonstone to West Ham Park – East London Walks

A walk from Leytonstone to West Ham Park


“The word nostalgia is learned formation of a Greek compound, consisting of νόστος (nóstos), meaning “homecoming”, a Homeric word, and ἄλγος (álgos), meaning “pain” or “ache”, and was coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Described as a medical condition—a form of melancholy—in the Early Modern period, it became an important trope in Romanticism.” – wikipedia

Nostalgia is a tendancy in myself that I’ve tried to resist informing my work too much, as I’m a deeply nostalgic person. I suppose this is because it became synonymous with a certain type of sentimentality, a yearning for the past, ‘the good old days’. Growing up during the 80s this was associated with a post-war period that the rush to a digital future was desperate to dump in the dustbin of history. But I seem to be able to feel more nostalgic about last week than Saturday Swap Shop and Spangles.

The theme of nostalgia came up in conversation at the Wanstead Tap with Jake Green about his wonderful Pie and Mash book two days before the walk in the video above. Neither of us are particularly pie and mash people. But these survivors of late Victorian and Edwardian London seem to represent something that it’s sad to see is under threat.

I contributed an essay to Jake’s book of photos of London’s surviving Pie and Mash shops. The theme of the essay was a walk that linked together the locations of former pie and mash shops between Stratford and Islington – a Dead Pie Shop Trail.

“I find myself on a late winter’s day in West Ham Lane, Stratford, at the site of Lediard’s Pie and Mash shop. Steak Republic now occupies the site. The menu still boasts ‘World Range Pies’, along with milkshakes, gourmet burgers and traditional fish and chips. A fragment of carved stonework from the old building pokes through the gap between the plastic shop signage and First Impression Hair and Beauty Salon next door. The neighbouring stretch of West Ham Lane features numerous food outlets; Mummy Yum Chicken Ribs and Pizza, Top Chef Chinese Cuisine, a Polish Delicatessen, and Burj Chicken and Pizza. There is clearly still a market for cheap and simple food in the area despite Lediard’s demise.

The view West from here towards the next part of the Dead Pie Shop Trail is one of emergent skyscrapers, cranes looming over skeletal towers on the outskirts of Mega City Stratford. The grand old civic buildings of the County Borough of West Ham dating from the early 1900s are boarded up, abandoned. Change is sweeping not only through post-Olympic Stratford but London as a whole. What can we learn from the dead pie shops about the London that’s been lost and the city to come?”

west ham park

Cairn on the site of Upton House in West Ham Park

So it’s unsurprising that on a blustery Saturday morning last week I allowed my feet to lead me through the ‘memory grounds’ (Sinclair/Kötting) from my early days in Leytonstone to my first days in London as student living in a terraced house just off the Romford Road. I went down past St. Patrick’s Cemetery to the former workhouse and hospital at Langthorne, on a site that had once belonged to Stratford Langthorne Abbey. Along the route to West Ham Park the ghosts of former pubs lined the roadside like gibbets dangling highwaymen. The Cart and Horses where Leytonstone’s Steve Harris gave birth to Iron Maiden is in a state of stasis awaiting a block of flats to be built out the back before it can receive a full renovation. West Ham Church stands like ‘a still point in a turning world’ (a favourite phrase of my old walking buddy Nick Papadimitriou). And West Ham Park itself links us to a period of civic pride and a belief in the public good that I feel no shame in being nostalgic for.

With the world as it is at the moment and a long winter looming, roaming the byways of the past in mind and on foot could bring necessary relief in these uncertain times.