Walk 17: LEYTON MIDLAND ROAD walk to BARKING
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. At the Barking end of the line, there is an additional junction enabling trains to reach Ilford rather than Barking, but this junction is not used by passenger trains under normal circumstances.
Routing note: This walk connects in Leyton Midland Road to Overground walk 16. It connects in Barking with Fenchurch Street network walks 2 and 3. It will also connect there to Underground District line walks 14 and 15.
A significant part of this route uses unpaved paths through Wanstead Flats. Some of these paths may be muddy after rain, so that sturdy shoes are advisable. There is an alternative walking on roads along the perimeter of the common, but this will be a bit longer and less nice. My walking time also does not include visiting the borough museum in Ilford, but this should not take you more than 1/2 hour.
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.
If you reach the station on the northbound platform, cross under the train line and turn R into Midland Road. If you arrive on the southbound platform, walk down the steps and you are already on Midland Road.
Take Midland Road towards the south
In this road, you can easily see that the train line is built as a viaduct with the arches being leased to commercial users. This scheme was used in Shoreditch and partly in Bermondsey in order to increase profit for the train company. In Leyton, the viaduct was more or less unavoidable because the suburb was already partly built up, preventing the train company from acquiring a wider right of way.
R Hainault Road passing under the train line
L Norlington Road
The road is a somewhat unattractive start to the walk, the nicer parts coming later. But it is a good reminder of the eastern suburbs until the 1980s with a mix of industrial premises, warehouses and modest terraces. I decided that the shortest route through the area was convenient enough as interesting parks would involve a considerable detour.
At the end L Rhodesia Road
Cross the main road into Madeira Road
At the end of the road R along the motorway to the footbridge
The motorway provides an important access into the East End from East Anglia. It was first proposed in 1903 but not planned more seriously before the 1960s, when authorities intended to build a network of interconnected motorways throughout the suburbs. As this involved the compulsory purchase and demolition of a significant number of houses, heavy protest erupted and the scheme was reduced to isolated parts. The one you cross here was opened in 1999 after no less than four public enquiries over the course of 20 years and a decision by the High Court.
Cross the footbridge, then L and directly R into Woodlands Road
L Granleigh Road
LEYTONSTONE HIGH ROAD
The station opened in 1894 together with the train line and was originally called only “Leytonstone”. It was renamed in 1949 because of possible confusion with the Underground Central line station located nearby. Because of competition fears, no interchange was provided between the two stations, as usual on this Overground line.
Like most train stations on this line, there is no station building, just a vending machine under a canopy on the platform and a container to house staff in emergencies.
R along the train line
L High Road
Soon R Ferndale Road
You might notice in this road the building of Christ Apostolic Church. The front is a little like an oversize version of the top section of Dutch canalside houses but is rather well proportioned. This is a so-called gospel church and this led to some residents of the area complaining about excessively noisy enthusiasm during the services. The residents soon found an additional cause for complaints because of the anti-social behaviour of late-night drinkers at a nearby pub.
Ahead into Wanstead Flats
The flats are a large area of semi-wild grassland and the southernmost section of Epping Forest. They were part of a royal hunting forest in the middle ages although people living in nearby villages had been able to graze cattle in the more open heath areas, contributing thereby to the open landscape. Threats by landowners to develop the forest led to Parliament tasking the City of London with managing the forest as a common in 1878.
One very important feature of Epping Forest for London residents is that it provides a nearly unbroken chain of large green spaces from Wanstead Flats all the way into Essex. There are very few paved paths through the Flats and they would actually destroy the feeling of wilderness.
During the Olympic games, police was allowed to install a temporary command centre on the flats against heavy protests. The defendants were very worried that a precedent was being created and used experience from other locations to predict that the police might be very tempted to keep the facility afterwards. In the end, the facilities were indeed taken away.
Cross the open space turning slightly R in order to cross the road across the common without coming close to the built-up areas left and right
Continue in the same direction until you reach a second road across the common
R Centre Road
Ahead Woodford Road passing
The station opened in 1894 together with the train line. The name is a misnomer as the station is near Wanstead Flats and not at all near Wanstead Park. The word “Park” sounded better to the developers who owned ground in this suburb. The station is relatively close to a station on the train line from Liverpool Street to Romford, but no interchange was provided in order to avoid competition between the two operators.
Like in most train stations on this line, there is no station building, just a vending machine under a canopy on the platform and a container to house staff in emergencies.
L Sebert Road crossing under a train line
The church on this road has the peculiar name “A Radical Church”. This denomination is part of the Pentecostal movement, stressing direct experience of God manifested through spectacular behaviour like speaking in tongues. The name could have been chosen because a church named ARC is likely to appear towards the top in alphabetical lists, but I am possibly only being mischievous. The very imposing building reminds of methodist churches in the 19th century and the architecture reflects very clearly antique designs with the rounded arches, central gable and strict symmetry.
Ahead into Manor Park Cemetery
The cemetery is a commercial venture owned by the founding family since 1875. This is unusual as most 19th century cemeteries were later purchased by the boroughs or by large corporations. It is one of the few London cemeteries with two entrances, so that you can indeed cross the grounds as part of a walk. If you are interested in funeral traditions, you might pay attention to several interesting monuments inspired by African traditions.
Cross the cemetery on Centre Drive to the eastern exit
Ahead Whitta Road
In order to visit all stations, you need to go here on a detour. If you are not interested in collecting stations, just continue ahead on Forest View Road
Detour: R across the train line
R Manor Park Road, the road turns L then R again
Ahead Durham Road
L Carlton Road
At the end R for a few steps on Romford Road for
The station opened in 1894 together with the train line. The station is relatively close to a station on the train line from Liverpool Street to Romford, but no interchange was provided in order to avoid competition between the two operators.
Like with most train stations on this line, there is no station building, just a vending machine under a canopy on the platform. But there is a somewhat surprising brick porch over the station entrance, probably in order to make it more conspicuous. I somehow get a faint feeling of Chinese pagodas looking at the shape of the porch.
Turn around on Romford Road, going now east
At the corner of Romford Road with Station Road, you cannot miss the rather grand building of the former Earl of Essex pub. The pub opened in 1902 in a particularly impressive building with all sorts of conspicuous and unnecessary ornamental elements. The pub closed in 2012 but finds no investor because it is a listed monument, making it difficult to adapt it to current gastronomy trends.
L Station Road crossing the train line again
R Forest View Road
As the road runs directly along the edge of Wanstead Flats, you can obviously use the informal path that runs parallel to the road. It is the very end of the Flats towards the South and East.
Cross Aldersbrook Road
Walk to the cemetery fence and take the public footpath directly along the fence. It is soon squeezed between the cemetery and a train line.
The cemetery is inconvenient for the purpose of a route along a train line as there is one single entrance, so that you cannot cross it and exit at the other end. It is supposedly the largest publicly owned cemetery in Britain and many important people were interred here in the 19th century so that many monuments are listed.
Exceptionally for a public London cemetery, it was not opened after Parliament forbade interments in churchyards, which happened in the 1870s, but already in 1854. The cemetery therefore has an entrance gate and chapels in pure neo-gothic style.
The footpath turns R at the end and passes a subway under the train line
L Aldersbrook Lane (not Daines Close)
Ahead towards the main road
L Romford Road
This is a noisy main road but there is no alternative because you need to cross a motorway and a river.
The river is the Roding River, one of the more important left-bank tributaries of the lower Thames. It is the same river you see when walking along the Underground Central line in Essex. The river is considered dangerous because it runs through heavy clay areas where heavy rain is washed out quickly into the stream, causing floods.
There is supposedly a Roding River path, but it has a large number of missing links and is only convenient between Ilford and Woodford, and even this only with a good map of public footpaths.
Ahead Ilford Hill
A surprisingly large number of flats were built over the last years along this road despite the heavy traffic. The traffic unfortunately makes it harder to enjoy the few older buildings. The most important one is Ilford Hospital, founded around 1140. It was a religious foundation and was transferred as such to a courtier after the Reformation under Queen Elizabeth I.
The last private owner gave it to the church of England in 1982. The hospital is made of almshouses around a chapel. All buildings were renovated a number of times, but the general feeling is still half medieval as the proportions were kept. It is possible to visit the chapel on a few occasions every year, but it is not a major attraction.
Ahead High Road
At the start of the road, the bank building on the corner is an interesting example of Neo-Renaissance from the 1900s. The turrets were very trendy and the architects might have been inspired by prints showing monuments in India. Further on after the pedestrianed area, you will see a very different example of bank building looking neo-Greek and very much inspired by early baroque English architecture. In any case, banks have always insisted on showing how solid they were – unfortunately, the 2008 crises showed that a neo-something building is no guarantee for sound business practices.
A little further on, the road becomes a busy commercial area with two former film theatres from the 1930s having survived. On the first one, the palmettos crowning the columns are typical. What is unusual is the frieze at the top of the building with a folded design of Tudor origin. In 16th century homes, affluent people who still could not afford tapestries to fend off the cold but had the wall covered by a wooden screen sculpted in this very folded design. The second Art Déco building is much simpler.
From the central square of the pedestrianised area, you can detour a few yards south to the town library in a rather ugly, boxy, black steel building from the 1980s. The library is interesting inside because it houses the Ilford borough museum. The contents are quite similar to those of other borough museums although I did find the choice of items illustrating every 20th century decade rather well done. Visiting these museums with a critical eye is interesting for showing what boroughs think is important to show in order to foster a culture of “living together”.
High Road leaves the town centre through a large roundabout. There is an interesting school building just over the roundabout, a typical 2000s structure with large panels in strong colours. Architects tried to avoid the usual “institutional” feeling of school buildings by including fancy elements like a curved wall or a roof borne by ultra-thin pillars. This is a little more expensive but looked affordable through public-private-partnerships.
Number 316 High Road is one of many churches in Ilford. The building has one of the most unfortunate set of proportions in the area and the pale purple colour is rather special. My picture shows very nicely how the complicated front with somewhat uncoordinated sets of curves is pushed against a sort of factory block. Of course, the unfortunate architecture says nothing about the warmth of the welcome.
For a strong contrast, you pass later on a sikh temple in the typical architecture of this faith. It is unfortunate that the neighbouring building is such an ugly construction and is higher. By now, you will have understood that I am not too impressed by the appearance of Ilford, the interesting buildings disappearing in a mass of boring structures.
R Buckingham Road
At the start of the road, you pass between the former crown court for Ilford and the parish church. The court is a restrained Art Déco brick building with a nice white portico bearing a typical “sunray” design.
The parish church is St Mary’s Great Ilford, built in 1830 and much extended later. The building is noteworthy for the strange mismatch between the nave and the choir. It is obvious that it was intended to rebuild the nave as well at the same height as the new choir, but that funds did not follow. The best example of such a situation is the French cathedral of Beauvais where the choir is the highest medieval choir in Europe but where the nave is completely missing.
L Green Lane
R South Park Road
L into South Park
The park was created by the borough in 1902 in order to offer some green space to the growing suburb, which explains why it is located a long way from the present town centre. The borough probably expected Ilford to grow closer to the parish church and therefore near the park. The main attraction is a rather sizeable lake feeded by a dammed brook. This is a feature found in several other parks of the Eastern suburbs whereas flower beds and bandstands are scarce. My pictures are distinctly underwhelming because of the time of the year I visited. The lake actually makes the park very enjoyable in spring (for the birds) and summer.
Walk around the lake, but you need to come back to South Park Road afterwards. There is a park exit at the SW corner of the park
Continue on South Park Road
At the end L Staines Road
After the river R South Park Drive
The river is Loxford Water, the brook that feeds the lake in South Park. The road runs along the brook for quite a distance but it is more pleasant with a bicycle than on foot because of the concrete and traffic noise.
Just after the parking lot R into Barking Park
Barking being the oldest town in the eastern suburbs, you might expect it to have been looking for a park early on, but it remained actually a village until the railway arrived and made the harbour commercially more interesting. The borough therefore did not need to invest into a park before 1888. In line with other important parks, it had all the usual amenities like a bandstand, a large number of flower beds (including a nursery), playgrounds and a boating lake. More unusual attractions included in the 1930s a miniature railway and an 18-hole putting green. The central borough lido was logically built in the park in the 1930s as well.
The lido closed in 1988 and many attractions had fallen into disrepair over the years, but some have been renovated around 2009 including the miniature railway. The flower beds are well kept but very geometrical and the design is a little less sophisticated than in some other suburban parks. One nice little detail is the roundabout sign on the duck island in the middle of the boating pond. You definitely don’t see this very often.
Walk along the lake but leave the lake later in order to turn L remaining within the park. This leads you to the main exit in the SW corner
R Longbridge Road
The road crosses a very large roundabout with a cute sculpture in the middle. It has the outline of two fish but look carefully and you will see that each fish is actually a fishing net with lots of tiny fish caught in it. This is a fitting reminder of the fact that Barking was the main landing harbour for the North Sea fishing fleet at the beginning of the 20th century. Until it became feasible to freeze fish directly on fishing boats, fishermen brought the catch intended for London every morning to this harbour. Prices were highest for the first arrivals and fishing crews had to fight hard to arrive in Barking before the competitors.
The station first opened in 1854 on the train line from Fenchurch Street to Dagenham and Tilbury. The direct line via Plaistow was added in 1858 and a train line to Upminster opened in 1888. The present London Overground line to Tottenham and Hampstead opened in 1894, the London Underground District Line trains arrived in 1902. All these lines continue to be available to travellers.
Because the station was such an important interchange, it was deemed sensible to rebuild it in 1960. I am not very enthusiastic about architecture from that period, but it was considered a masterpiece at the time: it is a listed building and it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1961. Its main title to fame is probably the protruding concrete roof that needs no pillars due to intelligent steel frames and an inclined roof. Despite the kiosks, you do get the feeling of a large, open, airy space inside.