District Tube line walk 15: Dagenham East walk to Upminster

Walk 15
DAGENHAM EAST walk to UPMINSTER
3 1/2 hours

This line was originally a suburban train line that opened in 1885. District line trains started to run on the line after a junction was built in 1902. The suburban trains continue to use the line but they do not stop between Barking and Upminster.

Routing note: This walk is quite long. If you wish nonetheless to extend it, the most convenient combination is with walk 14 in Dagenham East.

My route crosses several open spaces away from paved paths. You may wish to wear sturdy footwear and avoid the walk after a period of heavy rain.

DAGENHAM EAST

Dagenham East Underground station


The station opened in 1885 together with the train line and was originally called plain “Dagenham”. The station was renamed in 1949 because of the renaming of Heathway station to “Dagenham Heathway”.

The original building was demolished when additional platforms were built in 1932. The present building is a plain brick box like several stations built in the same year although it has a subtle element of decoration in form of a stepped roof cornice. Simple geometrical shapes were fashionable with architects while the choice of material is probably due to cost savings during the Great Depression.

Exit the station and turn R
Very soon L into the open space along the train line (Beam River Nature Reserve)
Walk past the lake to the next footbridge over the tracks

Beam River Nature Reserve


Beam Valley Country Park extends primarily south of the train line towards the Thames. It is open land that was never built upon to a large extent and the main economic activity was gravel pits exploited for construction purposes. There are a few paths, either paved or not, but they do not seem to have been planned in order to offer an organised visit through the country park and are primarily geared towards linking the footbridge with the next built-up areas.

Cross the tracks
After the footbridge, continue straight ahead to the Eastbrookend lake (ignoring a path that turns R into the nature reserve).

Eastbrookend Country Park


This part of the Beam River valley is heathland rather than gravel pits but actually belongs to the same set of open spaces. When you come closer to the lake, you enter Eastbrookend Country Park, opened to the public in 1995. The word “park” points to an artificial landscape and it was indeed landscaped. The intention was to convert abandoned land into a valuable nature reserve by artificially creating an appropriate landscape of lakes and undulating grassland.

Slightly to your left towards the Eastbrookend Discovery Centre.

Eastbrookend Discovery Centre


The centre was built in 1997 as a showcase for best practice in environmental construction using the technology available at the time. It was called the Millenium Centre due to the unescapable year 2000 hype until a more neutral name appeared more logical. My picture shows the wooden paneling used on part of the building, a very innovative idea at the time. You can also see a few solar panels included at a time when they were quite inefficient and dreadfully expensive.

Eastbrookend Country Park


I have read that the centre has an exhibition on the nature reserve but my experience with such centres is that opening hours are often very restricted and that they are primarily catering to school classes and organised groups. There was no network of paths when I walked through the area but a circular path has apparently been marked since and may help you.

Lake in Eastbrookend Country Park

You have an alternative here. If the ground is waterlogged, turn R on the paved road that gives access to the Centre. When you reach the cemetery, follow the cycle path along the right fence. It joins an other section of The Chase. Turn R at the end in order to reach Harrow Lodge Park.

The Chase Nature Reserve


If the ground is walkable, turn R before reaching the Millenium Centre and walk into The Chase Nature Reserve. You walk more or less parallel to both the train line and a paved cycle path, but both are too far away to be seen.
When you reach the brook, walk R downstream along the brook until you find a small footbridge shortly before the train embankment.


I give you a number of pictures because I like the winter atmosphere and the wilderness impression. Most are taken in Eastbrookend Country Park but the two last ones are taken in The Chase Nature Reserve. This is the section directly along the Beam River. Experts rate it an outstanding location because it has a particularly undisturbed population of birds taking advantage of the lakes in the former gravel beds. As my pictures show, you cannot come easily close to the lake and birds because of the marshy ground. The nature reserve also has 1% of the total British population of the very rare black poplar tree.

River Beam


Cross the river and turn L, walking now upstream along the same river.


Keep in sight of the road until you reach a traffic light


R Elm Park Avenue


Detour R along Broadway towards the Underground station

ELM PARK

Elm Park Underground station


The station opened in 1935 on the existing Underground line due to increasing real estate development in the area.

The building is a plain brick box, an even simpler and cheaper version than the 1932 designs used elsewhere on the line.

Otherwise L (away from the train line) on St Nicholas Avenue
Soon L Northwood Avenue


R into a footpath between houses (near house number 53)
The footpath ends in Harrow Lodge Park
Walk R towards the boating lake, then along the lake to the dam
Cross the lake, then R along the northern bank of the lake

Boating lake in Harrow Lodge Park


Harrow Lodge Park is the small remaining part of a large country estate that started to be developed as early as the 1900s. The developer who owned the estate realised wisely that large-scale development in nearby Dagenham in the early 1930s was likely to raise the notoriety and value of his own area and waited a few years. The present park was donated to the borough in 1936 although most amenities were not built before the late 1940s due to World War II.


The borough planned all typical amenities of the time such as a paddling pool, playgrounds and fields for specific sports. One major amenity that needed significant investment was the boating lake opened in 1956 after damming the local river (the Ravensbourne, a confusing name as there is an important river with the same name on the right bank of the Thames in Lewisham). A swimming pool was added also in 1956 taking advantage of the now reliable supply of water from the lake.


The park remains a major feature of the suburb with public buildings like the sports centre concentrated at the upstream end of the park. But government restrictions forced boroughs to give up many park amenities in the 1980s and even flower beds and formal gardens were often abandoned. Relaxed restrictions and involvement by local volunteers enabled the borough to set up a rather pretty “secret garden”. You might note the height of the planting beds, making them more convenient for gardeners but also more accessible to handicapped people.

Secret garden in Harrow Lodge Park


It is actually planned as a “sensory garden”: visually impaired people can easily smell and touch the plants and they can listen to the small fountain in the middle of the garden. You should not think that such gardens are the fruit of a recent attempt to compensate for discrimination against handicapped persons. They go back to about 1960 and were advocated with particular regard to people who had gone blind as soldiers or bomb victims during the war. Most of them fell victim to cost savings in the 1980s.

Follow the brook upstream staying within the park until you reach the third footbridge
R on the paved cycle path across the brook, leaving the park
Ahead The Avenue

Typical street in Hornchurch


The area around Hornchurch station is the one area on the present walk where you have to bear with longer sections along roads. This is due to the fact that the neighbourhood was planned by one single developer who obviously found it logical to plan many houses around the station and the less profitable activities like parks further away. It was also not customary to plan footpaths away from the roads in the 1930s, this would become more popular with the garden suburb movement precisely as a reaction against the somewhat boring rows of bungalows and terraces. One thing that is unusual for London and shows that you are indeed in an outer suburb with lower ground prices is that a significant proportion of the houses have only a ground floor and sometimes even a sizeable front garden.

At the end R Station Lane (you must walk for a significant distance along this road both before and after the station)

Art Déco detail in Station Road


I noticed on a few commercial buildings touches of typical Art Déco decoration from the 1930s such as the tiered window framing on the picture. I noted the broken outline of the flats above the shops with open-air galleries in front of some rooms. This was unusual in commercial areas as balconies over a main road are not too attractive, but it is a testimony of how even developers took seriously the idea of maximising access to fresh air in flats. Many council estates of this period have similar open-air galleries linking the flats.

Public house in pink Tudor style


I was amused by the modest size and original name of the public house near the station. As you can see, it is built in a sort of mock-Tudor style but the wooden beams are painted pale pink rather than the normal black. This particular public house also offers something else than pints and football match watching – it has evenings of clairvoyance. By the way, the size of the building is due to the fact that it was built as the only hotel in the new neighbourhood.

HORNCHURCH

Hornchurch Underground station


The station opened in 1885 together with the train line.

Like in Dagenham East, the station building is from 1932 when additional platforms were added for the District Line. The design is very similar to that at Dagenham East.

Continue on Station Lane
L Hacton Drive
At the end ahead to the river Ingrebourne
L along the river (upstream)
. The paved path you are now on is both a marked cycle route (blue signs) and a marked long-distance path (green signs for the London Loop).
The path crosses a minor road, crosses the river later on and continues towards the pavilion of a football field.

London Loop along Ingrebourne River


The London Loop will probably be familiar to you if you enjoy walking. I seldom get opportunities to use it on my walks as it is a circular route around London while my walks are along train and Underground lines that are usually radial (starting in central London). In this particular section, the London Loop follows the Ingrebourne River, taking advantage of the fact that the flood plain of the river was not a sensible place for developers to invest in. The valley is not landscaped in a particular manner and therefore reflects typical nature reserve landscapes but I think it is not specifically listed as such.

Exit the open space and turn L on Bridge Avenue (still upstream parallel to the river, but there is no riverside path due to the football stadium. You have left the cycle route, but you are still on the well waymarked London Loop)
Detour at the end L along the main road for

UPMINSTER BRIDGE

Upminster Bridge Underground station


The station opened in 1934 on the existing Underground line due to increasing real estate development in the area.

The building differs from the 1932 designs. The plain brick box is complemented by an unusual octagonal tower over the ticket hall. This reminds a little of the celebrated designs used for some Piccadilly Line stations during the same period. There was some controversy about the best material for stations at the time. Bricks were cheap and experienced masons were plentiful and cheap to get because of the Great Depression. But concrete was seen as more modern, easier to clean and faster to build. Concrete won after World War II because of the shortage of skilled builders after the war.

You walk past a windmill near the station. It was in active use until 1943 and could be put back in working order but the local interest group has not been able to gather enough funds until now. There are occasional visits to see the machinery.

Otherwise R on St Mary’s Lane (leaving the London Loop marks)
R Boundary Road
At the end L Brookdale Avenue
Ahead Brookdale Close
Ahead into Upminster Park, cross the park and exit near the playground

Upminster Park


The area of the present park belonged to the parish until World War I. As the borough was interested in offering a recreation ground in the centre of the quickly growing suburb, they negotiated a purchase which took many years to agree on. The outcome was a bit unusual, the borough paid the purchase price over a period of 50 years starting in 1929.

The park was renovated a number of times over the years with some amenities coming and going. Obviously, sports facilities and a pavilion stayed throughout the years. A formal garden was inaugurated in 1949 but petered out over time and was replaced by some modest planting of hardy bushes.

L Corbets Tey Road (the main road past the parish church)

St Laurence’s Upminster


St Lawrence Upminster is a parish church with a long tradition as the very name of the suburb comes from the church (a minster is a main church in old saxon). The church was rebuilt in 1862 keeping the shapes of a gothic church but the tower is an actual medieval monument going back to the 13th century. It is deservedly a listed structure. I have read that there are a few interesting details inside the church, in particular the font, but it was closed when I walked through the area. I enjoyed instead the rather romantic and slightly creepy atmosphere of the churchyard with toppling graves and beautiful yew trees.

Ahead Station Road

UPMINSTER

Upminster Underground station


The train station opened in 1885 together with the main train line from London Fenchurch Street to Southend-on-Sea. A branch railway to Romford opened in 1893. District line services started serving the station in 1902 after a junction had been built near Bromley-by-Bow.

Upminster train station


The original station building built for the train company is still in use. It is a sizeable brick house that looks a bit like a large farm barn, very much in line with the surroundings in what was then a rural market town. A second building was added in 1932 directly on the road bridge to serve as a terminus for the District Line. This second building was replaced later by a commercial structure without any architectural merits. My picture is bad anyway but the building is not really worth more.

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