Walk 16: WALTHAMSTOW QUEEN’S ROAD walk to LEYTON MIDLAND ROAD
2 1/4 hour
The train line opened in 1894 providing a link between Norfolk and the lower Thames ports and sea resorts but its main purpose was to serve the newly built suburbs of Walthamstow and Leyton.
Routing note: This walk connects in Walthamstow Queens Road to Overground walk 15 and in Leyton Midland Road to Overground walk 17.
Looking at a map, the distance looks too short for the indicated walking time. My route goes on a long detour in order both to cross a pleasantly green section of the Lea Valley and to visit the main attractions of old Leyton. If you are interested in the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum, you are advised to check carefully for opening times and to plan sufficient time as the volunteers are full of interesting stories to tell.
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. Interestingly, the station is not located on Queens Road at all.
The station design is typical for the train line and 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).
Take the station exit marked “Edinburgh Road”
L Edinburgh Road, turns R
At the end of the road, you will notice a mosque at the street corner. Mosques often signal in London working class neighbourhoods and this part of Walthamstow fits the bill. The present building was finished in 2002. The main front keeps perfectly in style with London architecture with yellow bricks. Of course, the minaret and dome are more conspicuous, but so are Anglican church towers.
R Queens Road, turns first L then R again
The road passes the Walthamstow cemetery, opened in 1872 when legislation forbade burials in old churchyards after this practice was considered as contributing to cholera epidemics. The entrance lodge was built in the fashionable neo-medieval style and is actually quite well proportioned. Towards the end of Queens Road, you pass a community centre and a small playground, but both are very plain, fully in line with the suburban terraces around them. It is actually one of the London suburbs where speculators built very quickly before the local authorities got a chance to set ground aside for parks.
At the end of the road, you cross Markhouse Road where you cannot miss the unusual structure of Lighthouse Methodist Church. It is a Walthamstow landmark ever since it was built in 1893. Despite what I thought, it was indeed built as a church from the onset. The colour scheme is Edwardian (red and yellow bricks) but the architecture is very difficult to describe. It reminds partly of an industrial hall, partly of a theatre, and the tower is definitely unique.
Ahead Downsfield Road
Ahead Low Hall Lane
L South Access Road
At number 10 in this road, you pass the inconspicuous entrance of the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. The pumps were used from 1885 until the 1970s to pump sewage from the local drains into the mains. They were replaced by electric pumps but the borough had no objections when a charity was founded to preserve the pumps as they are the last surviving ones of this particular design. The museum is run by volunteers who set the pumps in motion once a month. The charity also has an interesting collection of equipment used in defunct Walthamstow factories including firefighting devices. My picture shows a boiler that was used in a hospital. As the museum is free, it is well worth a visit.
Just a little further on, the road passes St James Park. This open space was landscaped on the grounds of a manor house bought by the borough in 1877 with the park itself opening in 1910. It is off the beaten path and pleasantly quiet, with nice lime trees around it planted in 1920, but it has no exciting attractions. The larger green space you pass later on is just playing fields. You could theoretically jump the very low fence in order to walk on the grass verge, but it does not bring much.
Ahead via the short cycle path into Argall Avenue
Just before the factory gate L on the public footpath called Black Path
The path is an old market path linking the farming village of Walthamstow with the produce and cattle market in Smithfields. It was both a shortcut and an illegal method to avoid the toll bridge over the river Lea. It is an interesting example of the very English concept of a public footpath: it would be technically easy to force walkers to use the one road crossing the industrial estate, but this would run against an important legal concept (that of a right of way as opposed to trespassing).
A panel gives a few more details if you are interested. The path runs around an Allied Bakeries factory that produces a modest 10,000 loaves of bread per hour. It must be one of the last industrial premises so close to central London.
Ahead along the Argall Way parking lot (you can follow here temporarily the black sign for cyclists towards Leyton)
Ahead across the motorway using the footbridge (there is a black sign saying “Lea Valley Cycle Path via footbridge”)
Ahead across the Lea Flood Relief Channel
As the name says, this is an artificially straightened arm of the Lea River. The river drains a section of Essex and Hertfordshire where the ground is heavy clay, so that heavy rain has difficulties percolating into the soil and tends to run off in floods. The flood risk is also what saved the core of the Lea Valley from being built over.
L along the canal following the cycle route, turns R after a riding school
The riding school is located within Leyton Marsh, part of the extensive area managed by the Lea Valley Regional Park Authority. The marshes were a common used by the residents of Leyton for centuries but became polluted by sewage from the new suburbs built in the 1880s and the water company tried to fence them off in order to use them as filter beds to clean the water and treat the effluent. Residents appealed to Parliament and a law confirmed the status of a public green space in 1904. The land is owned by the park authority since 1971 along with the former water company facilities.
Cross the riding school access road using the stiles and continue towards the embankment
L on the embankment, crossing under a major road and then walking between two nature reserves, the Middlesex Filter Beds
This is an interesting area and you will find a lot of information on panels. After a cholera epidemic in 1849, doctors realised that cholera was caused partly by polluted drinking water. The water supply companies realised that customers would be willing to pay more for clean water and the first filter beds were installed here in 1852. Only six filter beds of the original 25 are parts of the Reserve. The filter beds were closed in 1969 when a new water treatment plant was opened in Walthamstow and nature was left to take over. The area is managed by the Lea Valley Authority who strives to keep different habitats in the different filter beds.
Although there are similar abandoned areas in other parts of London where you can see how trees grow on former sidings and other abandoned areas, the filter beds have the advantage that you go around them at a raised level, so that you get a better overview of how wood regains a footing. It is impressive to see how lush and tall the forest is after 40 years. Lots of birds.
At the north end of the Reserve, near the place where the Lea River and the Lea Navigation separate, there is a large work of art called “Nature throne”, commissioned in 1990 from Paula Haughney. The Lea Valley Authority website describes it as “infamous” but I actually think it is both interesting to look at and well fitted to the location.
The path turns at the end L then R towards a footbridge
If you with to enter the nature reserve, you need to cross the bridge and come back later for the rest of the walk
The river you see here is narrower and more winding than the flood relief channel, but it is also a Lea River arm. There is a third arm, the Lea Navigation, but you don’t see it on this route.
If you do not visit the reserve, turn L just before the bridge continuing between the fence of the nature reserve and a former pitch and putt golf course
The golf course was turned into a relief campsite for visitors of the Olympic games in 2012. Local residents were very worried beforehand about the campers having noisy parties all night and suggested instead an organic golf course with planting selected to attract bees. I was unable to find clear information about what happened after 2012 and I walked through the area already in 2010.
Ahead across a train depot and a major highway using the long footbridge
The trains maintained at this depot might surprise at first sight as they include Eurostar trains although the train line you cross is nowadays a minor connection between Stratford and Tottenham Hale. The depot is indeed connected with the Eurostar tunnel near Stratford International station.
The path turns R after the footbridge on the edge of a large green space
On reaching a narrow road L on Marsh Lane (it is actually a cycle path as the road is blocked for cars)
The road bisects a large area of playing fields called the “Leyton Jubilee Park” to honor Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. It is not really a park, more an open playing field with allotments and a playground. From the park, you have a view towards two old rusting gasometers. They are completely unnecessary nowadays as gas is not needed for street lighting any more while gas for industrial and household purposes is delivered from natural gas via pipes.
Until the 1960s, most gas was actually produced from coal. Because it was dangerous to transport, it was produced close to the place of use and gasometers were to be seen throughout English suburbs. You might think it would make sense to demolish them and use the ground for other purposes, but the ground is usually heavily polluted and the utilities that inherited these facilities don’t need to pay for hugely expensive cleaning as long as they don’t try to sell the ground. I read of young daredevils making a strictly illegal fun out of climbing the crumbling gasometer structures.
Usually, the only way to get rid of the unsightly rusting behemoths is to have a developer pay for the cleaning of the ground, and they don’t like to do it as it is very difficult to assess beforehand how much it will cost and how long it will take, so that banks refuse to fund them for such developments. In some cases, local authorities agreed to take the risk and hope to re-sell the cleaned ground at a sufficient price to offset the costs, but this is very difficult in England where boroughs do not have autonomy on such matters.
Ahead Park Road
R Church Road
Number 180 Church Road is Etloe House, a grand mansion built originally in the 1760s. The present front towards the road is a nice example of early 19th century medieval fancy. The normal procedure was neo-classical Georgian, but the success of “Ivanhoe”, the novel published in 1820 by Sir Walter Scott, led to people looking for medieval inspiration and finding it in the very original residence built in the 1770s for Horace Walpole in Strawberry Hill. Etloe House was the residence of Cardinal Wiseman between 1858 and 1864, the first Roman Catholic archbishop named by the Pope after the Reformation.
Church Road reaches an important crossroads in front of the local fire station. Opposite the fire station, there is an overgrown churchyard and a long, low building. The churchyard is now a nature reserve and you cannot walk around. It does not contain remarkable monuments but I found it quite amusing to wander between the crumbling relics. The long building is built of flint with very tall, ornate chimneys. This looks very much like a Tudor construction but is actually a well made imitation from 1880. It is used as almshouses in abeyance with a bequeath from 1656.
The parish church at the end of the nature reserve cum churchyard is a complex combination of bits and pieces, but most of it is 19th century. I was unable to enter the building because it is normally closed after an instance of vandalism on an important work of art. Websites report that there are interesting medieval brasses inside.
Near the fire station, take Oliver Road (in the continuation of the northern part of Church Road). I am sorry this is a somewhat long section of uninteresting road until you reach the next park.
L into Coronation Gardens
The park was designed on ground bought by the borough in 1897 and opened in 1904. The local authority had checked parks in nearby suburbs and decided to orient themselves after the park in East Ham. The park was not far from the parish church, but this does not mean that it was in the centre of Leyton as the suburb had grown a lot towards the north and east and not at all towards the south and west due to the river Lea marshes. Despite not being centrally located, the park had no alternative and was very popular. Like many London parks, it was in bad shape in the 1970s and was refreshed in the 2000s. The trees do not look very old and were obviously replanted, probably after bomb damage during World War II.
The park is the only one in Leyton with formal flower displays and is well worth a pause. I love to take pictures of park flower beds and the colours are lovely although I must admit that the planting is not very sophisticated. The park also has an unusual and little known attraction, a well kept maze. The hedges are so low that it will not worry you much to let your child walk around inside. The bandstand is a more usual attraction as all parks had one until the 1950s.
Cross the gardens to the other end
L High Road Leyton
The road divides on both sides of a tall white building. Take the right-hand fork.
L Vicarage Road
R Farmer Road
Where the road turns R, continue ahead on a public footpath called Cooper’s Lane, soon turns L then R again into Jack Cornwell Park
The park bears the name of a boy who died aged 16 in a naval battle during World War I. It is a small green space but clever landscaping makes it look larger through a combination of clumps of trees, park furniture and slightly undulating ground. The park is remarkably quiet, being cut off from street noise by terraces all around it. The park also boasts one of the best playgrounds I have seen in London suburbs with an unusually large array of activities.
At the back of the park, a large gate in striking purple steel gives access to Brooks Farm, one of these educational farms used to show urban children which animals actually produce milk and meat. This particular farm is managed by a specialised school from the outer suburb of Enfield and is therefore freely accessible, which is exceptional for London.
Walk across the park to the only other exit which is on the north side
R Skeltons Lane passing under the train line
R High Road Leyton
L Abbots Park Road
R across Abbots Park
The park is less interesting than the two other Leyton ones. It is primarily a large playing field with sports grounds and tennis courts. It is also a bit tired and has no attractions like flower beds or sculptures. Being very central, it is popular and there have been occasional instances of so-called antisocial behaviour in the past.
At the other end R on Fletcher Lane in order to go back to High Road
L for a few steps on High Road
L Midland Road
LEYTON MIDLAND ROAD
The station opened in 1894 together with the train line and was originally called only “Leyton”. It was renamed in 1949 because of possible confusion with the Underground Central line station located in a completely different part of Leyton.
The original station building was destroyed by a German Zeppelin dropping bombs in 1915. The replacement structure was integrated into the train viaduct and was closed in the 1980s. Like in most stations on this line, the only remaining structure is a vending machine under a canopy on the platform. I did not pay attention whether a “temporary” container was also set up in order to provide shelter to station staff whenever needed; this would be the same arrangement as in Walthamstow Queens Road.