Walk 15: HARRINGAY GREEN LANES walk to WALTHAMSTOW QUEENS ROAD
The train line between Harringay Green Lanes and South Tottenham was built in 1868 as an attempt by the operator of the Lea Valley railway to get access into Westminster. Parliament refused to allow a train tunnel under Mayfair and the line remained a minor suburban railway. Trains stopped at an additional station called St Ann’s Road from 1882 onwards, but the station was closed in 1942 due to wartime staff shortages and did not reopen after the war.
The line between South Tottenham and Walthamstow Queens Road opened in 1894 as a surburban railway serving large developments in Walthamstow.
Routing note: This walk connects in Harringay Green Lanes with Overground walk 15. It will connect in Blackhorse Road with Underground Victoria line walk 5. Finally, it connects in Walthamstow Queens Road with Overground walk 16. Although the train line crosses the main line from Liverpool Street, there is no junction or interchange.
HARRINGAY GREEN LANES
This station opened in 1880 under the name “Green Lanes” and changed names more often than any other station in London. It was “Harringay Park Green Lanes” in 1883 (because there were too many “Green Lanes” in London, causing confusion), “Harringay Park” in 1951 (as a shorter name), “Harringay Stadium” in 1958 (because of a popular greyhound race course nearby, the new name being meant to attract more travellers to the train line) and “Harringay East” in 1990 because the racecourse had been closed. The present name is in use since 1991.
The station is located directly above the Underground Picadilly Line on a very busy shopping road. Surprisingly, the Underground did not open a station here nor anywhere in the vicinity so that there is no convenient interchange. The reason might be that the Underground planners faced heavy criticism from the train companies for supposedly trying to lure travellers away from them, so that they tried to avoid conflicts whenever possible.
As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. The original ticket office was not demolished but is difficult to identify nowadays because it was transformed into a normal commercial outlet.
Exit the station and turn L. You are on Green Lanes
Just after crossing a canal, take the footpath L along the riverside
This water course is not actually a river despite the name “New River”. It is an artificial canal built in 1609 to bring drinking water to Islington in central London. The river runs from a sluice near Hertford, where the water is taken from the River Lea, to a reservoir near Angel tube station in Central London, where the water was stored for distribution. Originally, the river was built as a canal running around each gully on the way in order to ensure a slow but steady current. Later on, the canal was straightened significantly with embankments, aqueducts and a siphon being built where necessary, but this section through Harringay is still pleasantly winding.
The canal was built by a private company and proved a very profitable venture, although it faced opposition from landowners at the start. They feared that their cattle might fall into the river or that the river might spill over into their pastures. In the end, the main shareholder had to appeal to His Majesty, who bought 50% of the shares and thereby forced the opposition to back down.
The New River company was one of nine London water supply companies until 1903, when all nine were nationalised after 50 years of haggling in Parliament and reports on water contamination. When the now single company supplying London was privatised in 1973 as Thames Water, the New River became part of it. It is therefore private property but many sections have a riverside path that is marked as a long-distance footpath.
At the next road bridge L on Seven Sisters Road.
After a short while, you pass on the right side small Manchester Gardens, the only green space on this section of Seven Sisters Road. As the council internet page nicely says, it was used for antisocial activities until a refurbishment in 2008. It was actually the walled garden of a large house and was bequeathed to the borough at some point. I did not notice remarkable flower displays or sculptures.
Just after the small park, the imposing brick building is one of the numerous telephone exchanges built in the 1930s as this modern convenience became more widespread. As you know, communications needed a lot of staff to put the calls through so that the buildings had to be large, but the London companies were really keen on showing off. Telephone exchanges provided employment in particular to young ladies and were a significant contribution to the empowerment of working class women at the start of the 20th century.
Continue on the main road passing under two separate train lines
Between the two bridges, there is an interesting detail at the corner with Culvert Road. The pavement in front of the low rise estate has a labyrinth design. This is really unusual on a plain roadside pavement. It is actually a reference to medieval custom as labyrinths of this type were often laid on the floor of pilgrimage churches or cathedrals. The purpose was that pilgrims would meditate and concentrate on holy matters while following the winding path. Such labyrinths do not normally have dead ends and loops, as opposed to hedge labyrinths like that in Crystal Palace Park, as they were not intended as an amusement.
Just after the second train bridge R Stonebridge Road
The road turns slowly L. At the end, where it turns sharply L, take the short passage R to the main road
R under the train line for
The station opened in 1871 as the terminal for suburban trains from Upper Holloway and was originally called “South Tottenham and Stamford Hill”. The name was shortened in 1949.
Like in most stations on this train line, the original station building has been demolished. There is just a “temporary” container on this access ramp and a vending machine under a short canopy on the platform. There is a colourful arch marking the access ramp, but it is not a remarkable architectural achievement by any means.
Directly after the train bridge L into Crowland Road
At the end of the road ahead into Markfield Recreation Ground (also called Markfield Park)
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 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.
Go down to the river Lea
R along the river for about 1/3 mile
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.
Ignore the first bridge (High Bridge) and cross the river shortly afterwards on the Coppermill footbridge
The footbridge links Springfield Park, visited on my walk from Hackney Downs to Tottenham Hale, with a large island between the Lea River and the Lea Navigation. There is a very nice looking pub just at the foot of the bridge looking unusual; it actually reminds me of farms in Gascony in France.
Ahead past the Lea Valley Marina
The official name is “Lee” Valley Marina because there is no official agreement on whether the river is the Lea or the Lee. This is rather amusing for an European, where such doubts are not tolerated by local authorities. There is a boatyard here since the 1930s.
Follow the marina access road ahead, passing under a train line
Before the bridge, you walk for a short distance along the northern edge of Walthamstow Marshes, visited on my Stratford to Tottenham Hale walk. It is an important nature reserve as the marshes are attractive to insects and birds while this type of landscape is unusual in a big city like London. Despite the efforts of grazing cattle, the marshes are noticeable for the large quantity of bramble weed with corresponding berries in summer.
Ahead Coppermill Lane
As the name of the road says, there has always been a mill here (at least since 1066). As opposed to many mills on the river Lea, this one was converted into an industrial mill as early as the 1650s. It was a copper mill only between 1808 and 1859 before being turned into a water pumping station. It is still being used by Thames Water but the landmark tower in the Italian style is now empty. It had been built in 1864 to house the pumping engine.
After the mill, the road runs between water features in a manner not seen elsewhere in London. On the left side, the large lake is a drinking water reservoir, one of several unnamed such lakes nearby. Apart from the water storage role, they are also a protected area of particular interest to birds and they provide a nearly continuous blue/green belt from the Thames to the countryside north of London.
On the right side, the road runs above the many filter beds of the Walthamstow Water Works. Filter beds are not considered sufficient nowadays to clean water, but they are still used as one of three steps as they enable heavier matter to settle. In most European countries, the water is churned in order to oxygenate it and limit smells, but the cool and moist weather in London makes this less necessary.
The walk across the Lea Valley ends with an artificial water channel, used as the flood relief channel for the river Lea. It is actually the original river channel, straightened into a concrete, anonymous canal.
L Edward Road
Just before this pleasant, quiet road, you passed the entrance to a large green space called Douglas Eyre Playing Fields. This is a large set of football training fields owned by a foundation since 1909 and not accessible to the general public.
R Hawarden Road
Detour L on Blackhorse Road for
The station opened in 1894 together with the train line. It was located a few yards east of the present location and this made interchange with the Underground Victoria line, opened in 1968, somewhat cumbersome. The train station was therefore relocated in order to offer a direct connection.
The station uses the London Underground building, finished in 1968. The boxy design with glass and a steel roof was typical at the time; it is rather modest for a London Underground design, the reason being budget difficulties. The nice mural with a black horse on blue ground is a work by Scottish sculptor David McFall.
Walk back on Blackhorse Road southwards
L into a playground, walk past the children’s amenities into the adjacent park
This is Stoneydown Park and Gardens. The ornamental gardens were opened in 1920 in order to provide parkland to this newly terraced suburb while the playground was added in 1955 on a design considered at the time particularly well thought through. I walked through the park in late autumn, so that there were no flowers, but there are clearly a few flower beds in the appropriate season. They are laid in a strictly geometric pattern around the central cross of paths with a music pavilion. This shows how the winding paths of Victorian times had fallen out of fashion in the 1920s.
Cross the park ahead
R Pretoria Avenue
Some of the terraced houses in this street have a rather nice design with Dutch gables. In old European cities where road or canal front was expensive due to the limited number of plots, houses were built in the depth of the property and it was sensible to emphasise the fronts through such triangular gables. In London suburbs, where the house front also includes bow windows and small front gardens, the design is just for decoration.
Towards the end of Pretoria Avenue, you also pass a more traditional villa with a Georgian half-rounded colonnade. This is surprising in a rather modest suburb like Walthamstow.
At the end L High Street (pedestrianised)
According to the borough website, this road is the longest outdoor street market in Europe and is being held since 1885. There is a rather stunning contrast between activity on market days and the emptiness on normal afternoons. It is also one of the longest stretches of pedestrianed road in any London suburb. Since shopping centres in the American style became popular in the 1980s, local authorities have seen little need to implement pedestrianisation schemes and fear opposition from shop operators. As a result, popular shopping roads like Green Lanes in Harringay but also Oxford Street in Westminster are choked with noisy traffic. Considering that Walthamstow has a limited number of green spaces in the borough centre, I think the borough took the right decision.
Most buildings on this stretch of High Street are uninteresting except for the former film theatre, now a snooker club above a charity shop. The general shape is typically 1930s, stressing vertical lines, and the palmettos at the top of the columns were very popular at that time. The winged design at the middle level is also typical of a period when people were fascinated by the idea of speed and mechanical progress. As my other picture of High Street shows, the reminder of the road is surprisingly low-rise, with many shops not even having one upper level. If the shops fronts were out of wood rather than out of brick, you might feel in New Zealand or Canada.
R Willow Road (the first main road you reach, equipped with traffic lights)
Ahead under the train line using the pedestrian subway
Cross the small park ahead
This is really a very small green space and some people poke fun at London boroughs occasionally giving grand names to this kind of public space.
Very soon L Netley Road
R Glen Road
L Exmouth Road
WALTHAMSTOW QUEENS ROAD
The name of the station is occasionally written Queen’s Road as in some other London locations, there being apparently no clear regulation on how to write this particular wording. The station opened as plain “Walthamstow” together with the train line and was renamed in 1968 in order to avoid confusion with the new Underground station at Walthamstow Central.
The station design is a nearly exact copy of that at South Tottenham, including the ugly little container used whenever railway staff needs to be on the premises (which is very rarely).