This is part of the West Anglia Main Line running from London to Cambridge, with additional suburban lines branching off in Hackney Downs. The line was opened in 1872.
Routing note: Technically, the trains on this line also pass Clapton station, but there are no trains to Tottenham Hale calling at Clapton. For this reason, my route does not pass Clapton station. I describe a route through Clapton station on walk 11 from Hackney Downs to Wood Street.
This walk connects to walks 1, 2 and 11 at Hackney Downs. It connects with walks 7, 9 and 10 at Tottenham Hale. It will also connect at Tottenham Hale with Victoria Underground line walks 4 and 5.
Like all stations on the line, it was opened in 1872. It was originally called Hackney Downs Junction as the line from Liverpool Street divides here with one branch going to Stoke Newington and one to Clapton. In addition, passengers could switch to the very popular service towards Shoreditch and towards the Docklands, calling at Hackney Central. There was even a pedestrian walkway with a special ticketing office between the two stations, but this was closed in 1944. Hackney Central was reopened in 1980, but the connecting walkway has disappeared. The station building is a modest glass box from the 1960s.
R underneath train tracks on Dalston Lane
L Bodney Road
Cross road into Hackney Downs (park)
Hackney Downs is a relatively large green space bought in 1860 by the parish commissioners in order to ensure sufficient greenery in the area. It has an unusual pattern of 8 strictly straight walkways converging towards the fountain in the middle. There are a few amenities such as a playground and minor flower beds near the fountain, but most of the park is rather forlorn and unimaginative. Apparently, the park was used for major community events including fireworks in times gone, but cost-cutting in the 1980s make it look empty and a bit unloved. The only redeeming feature in my mind is the row of impressively tall poplars along the train line.
Exit the park at the NE corner
R (eastwards) Downs Road
At the end of Downs Road, you reach a small garden with a fountain. This is Clapton Pond, a very popular place to have a chat as it is quite central in the area. Clapton has large green spaces as well, but those are on the outskirts. The fountain is one of the more impressive ones among all London suburbs and has a significant role in preventing algae growth in the water. There was apparently a pond in Clapton in old times and it was fed by a spring, but opinions about the current location are divided, some people even speculating that it was built on a World War II crater. The borough says on its website that it was actually landscaped at the end of the 19th century.
There is a listed building overlooking the pond, a town house from the 18th century. It is now owned by a developer whose original application was refused by the Council. The buiding was mysteriously gutted by fire shortly after this rejection and some conspiration theorists suggest that the fire will conveniently make sure that the listed building becomes impossible to save, so that a bland “quick-profit” modern building may well appear next.
There are other listed buildings on the east side of the pond; the low brick houses with the conspicuous chimneys and the bushes in the front garden are known as Bishop Wood’s Almshouses. Thomas Wood was bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, but he was apparently born in Hackney and this is the reason why he bought land and had alsmhouses built here. It was quite usual for people who had “made it” in life to set up such charities, but the need was so big that applicants needed to be over 60, a rare old age in the 17th century. The almshouses were renovated in the 19th century, so that only the general outline of the building is really old. A local resident writes on Internet that he never saw anyone going in or out of the building and the front garden does look a bit overgrown and unkept.
Cross Lower Clapton Road and take
R Newick Road
R Cornthwaite Road
L Fletching Road
R Chatsworth Road
L into South Mill Fields, walking along a marked cycle path
This is part of a really large green space extending on both sides of a very busy main road. I don’t know when the Council decided to buy the property. There are not many amenities, although consultations have started about more play areas for children. There are instead magnificent trees in long rows crisscrossing the park. Near the spot where you will reach the riverside, there is also an impressive circle of twelve majestic plane trees, certainly a symbolic number.
Join the canal towpath
L Canal Towpath passing two road bridges and a rail bridge
You are walking here along the Lea Navigation. This is not really an artificial canal, more a straightened arm of the river Lea. The river must have been used by ships as early as the 11th century as there are reports of Vikings attacking Hertford by ship. Seeing how narrow the river Lea is in that area, the ships must have been quite small. Work was done in bits and pieces over the centuries with Parliament for example issuing an Act in 1425. Like on all canals, there were constant disputes between shippers (who needed enough water), mill operators (who needed to keep water upstream in case of drought or for sudden increases in milling demand) and vested interests (who feared that easy transport by boat could undercut the high prices they demanded for delivering goods by cart to the City). The shippers won the main lawsuit in 1594.
You could continue to walk along the canal for many miles and I will suggest to do so on some of my other routes. There is actually a long-distance walking trail going all the way from the Lea mouth to the source beyond Hertford; this is marked with roundels showing the outline of a swan in black on a white background. Although you are still close to Central London, you have large open spaces along the river as flooding risks and nature conservation efforts have kept large tracts of the Lea valley marshes unbuilt.
L into Springfield Park
You can learn more about the history of the park by looking at the information panels located in several places. The Council bought three estates at the turn of the 20th century and combined them into the present park, opened in 1905. One of the manors stands today; Springfield House, named after springs but also called the White House, has a café with very nice views over the Lea Valley as it is at the top end of the park. The popular conservatory is currently being renovated.
The rest of the park is also interesting because of the elaborate landscaping, taking full advantage of the location on the steepest hill overlooking the Lea navigation. At the top level, you will find a pond, some really nice flower beds, a rose garden and the café. There is also an elaborate arrangement of seats half hidden among topiary. Because of the height of the hill, this is the best location to get a feeling for the lower Lea Valley with its industrial areas and the 2012 Olympics buildings.
At half height, there is a strip of deep wood – nothing exceptional as such, but certainly rare in a suburban park. The bottom part is made of more standard playing grounds and grassy slopes.
Exit the park on the N side
R Spring Hill
The footbridge is called Horse Shoe Bridge. It links Clapton with an island between the Lea River and the Lea Navigation. There is a very nice looking pub just at the foot of the bridge. If you climb on the bridge to enjoy the view, you will notice that the pub looks unusual; it actually reminds me of farms in Gascony in France.
L Canal Towpath
L into Markfield Recreation Ground
This green space with a nice row of trees all around it and a large children playground was originally opened in 1938 as a King George’s Field as the purchase of the grounds had been partly financed by a foundation set up to commemorate the king by giving grants to local authorities for parklands.
The park itself is nothing special and has a fairly normal playground and a few rows of mature trees. There is a rose garden in the northeast corner in front of an industrial building and an artificial hill behind it. There are also a number of low concrete walls in an overgrown area at the foot of the railway embankment; this is a rather fun place to walk around and there is even a small community-managed garden in a raised section. All this concrete is the remnant of the former Tottenham sewage disposal works.
They were set up here because of horrible pollution from about 1840 on: the marshy area bred malaria-carrying mosquitoes and the Moselle river carried waste from hundreds of houses into the Lea river. The local Board therefore built a pump to raise the water into filter beds, a pretty efficient method at the time. Unfortunately, capacity was soon exceeded and Tottenham was charged after the 1866 cholera epidemics of 1866 with contributing to the pollution of the water supplies for the East End. When the new railway via Seven Sisters was built in 1872 with very low commuter fares, it attracted a huge inflow of working class residents to the area and this forced construction of much larger sewage works that were opened in 1886. The works were extended later on and closed in 1964 when sewage was diverted to a much larger site in Edmonton.
The centerpiece of the sewage works was a set of pumps transferring the sludge from the sewers into the filter beds. The industrial building in the middle of the rose garden houses the beam engine for the main pumps from 1885 to 1906 and is now a museum. Opening times are extremely limited as the museum is run by volunteers. If you cannot go on a day mentioned on the website (www.mbeam.org), you will not see the engine under steam, but you still have a good chance of being able to see the spectacular and beautifully renovated engine whenever there are volunteers working inside or if a school has booked a visit. The engine needed 200 kg of coal per hour and two mechanics had to live on the premises to ensure smooth operation.
Exit Markfield Park on the N side through a pedestrian subway under the train tracks
Ahead Markfield Road
Ahead Broad Lane (very busy main road)
R Ferry Lane
This is a very early station as it opened in 1840 on the Stratford to Broxbourne line operated by the Northern & Eastern Railway. There are a few trains still using this line but most trains to Tottenham Hale run since 1872 from Liverpool Street, with some calling at Hackney Downs but none calling at Clapton (although they do pass the station). There is a similarly weird situation north of Tottenham Hale with some slow trains calling at Angel Road and some at Brimsdown but none at both.
The station was first called “Tottenham” and switched to “Tottenham Hale” in 1968 in order to emphasize the connection with the Victoria Line of London Underground. It was not possible to call the underground station “Tottenham” because the line also calls at a station nearer to central Tottenham, so that the name would have caused confusion The train station is very busy as it is a major interchange between the Underground and the Lea valley suburbs. It is also the only stop for train services between Liverpool Street and Stansted Airport, so that it is one of the rare suburban stations hosting lots of foreign tourists with their bulking overseas luggage. The station was rebuilt in the 1990s in order to accomodate the Stansted Express better and the café (with no toilets) is now much larger than the ticket hall, showing different priorities than in Victorian times. Anyway, there is no rest of the original buildings.