Walk 19: Gunnersbury walk to Richmond

Walk 19: GUNNERSBURY walk to RICHMOND

2 1/2 hours

The train line opened in 1869 as a link between the main line from Southwest England and the main lines from the Midlands via Willesden Junction. It was therefore primarily a freight line. The train company did see some passenger potential and offered connections between Richmond and the Hammersmith area. This was to become later the District Line of London Underground.

Routing note: This route connects in Gunnersbury with Overground walk 18 and will also connect there with London Underground District line walk 3. It connects in Richmond with Waterloo network walks 5 and 6.

The route follows the Thames Path or a comparable riverside walkway over a long distance. Most of the walkway is paved, but sturdy shoes remain advisable.

The time indication does not include a visit of Kew Gardens, partly because this is such a huge area and well-known attraction that you are likely to spend a full day there on an other occasion anyway. I nonetheless included comments on the gardens within this route as it is the most logical walk where to do so.

This route does not visit Richmond itself as I have chosen to do this on Waterloo network walk 6.

GUNNERSBURY

 

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Gunnersbury station

 

The station opened in 1869 on a train line that was built with two spurs, one joining the present District line and one continuing to Acton. A third spur enabled connections towards Brentford via Kew Bridge. The first spur became a branch of the Underground District line in 1877, the second spur is the present Overground line although passenger services did not start before 1905 and the third spur closed in 1932. The station was called “Brentford Road” at the start but the name changed to Gunnersbury already in 1871.

Gunnersbury is one the very few stations in London where suburban trains and Underground carriages use the same platform. This is normally not very sensible because Underground trains have different power and braking requirements; in addition, they run much more frequently and this makes train services difficult to include without causing delays.

The original station building looked much like the one in Acton Central but was demolished in the 1960s in order to build the ugly office building that towers above the gloomy entrance of the present station, a plain block of concrete hidden behind the office building.

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BSI Building in Gunnersbury

The letters BSI on a corner of the building remind you that the building houses (together with numerous commercial companies) the British Standard Institution, a public body responsible for establishing national standards in areas like technology and quality management. The institution is now called usually BSI Group because it operates as the profitable monopoly provider of numerous compliance certificates (it is a “distributing non-profit corporation”, in other words a company that has to pay all its profits to the government as its owner).

Exit the station on the E side (marked “Grange Road”)

R on the public footpath along the train line

 

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Cathedral of the Holy Royal Martyrs

At the end of the road, you might see a blue dome with golden stars peeking over the trees. This is the Russian Orthodox Church in Exile for London, built in 1999. It is officially the Cathedral of the Dormition of the Most Holy Mother of God and Holy Royal Martyrs, which tells you that this church is catering to Russians exiled at the end of the Tsarist regime in 1917 and that it did not recognise the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate during the communist era.

R across the train line on the road bridge (Wellesley Road)

Directly L on the public footpath along the train line marked “Chiswick Village”

The path crosses under a major highway

At the end L into Chiswick Village, the road turns later R

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Estate called Chiswick Village

The “village” is actually a road, which is a strange way of naming things. It passes along a large estate also called Chiswick Village. The estate was a commercial development catering to the middle class, not a council estate, but flats are reasonably affordable due to the traffic noise. The small green in the middle of the estate was planned as a playground for children, but most flats in this part of London are buy-to-let properties and many tenants are young professionals.

L across a train line using a footbridge

Ahead Brooks Lane (a paved lane rather than a real road)

L Thames Road

very soon R Ship Alley (a narrow footpath passing under a house)

R on the riverside walkway called Strand-on-the-Green

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Old houses on Stand-on-the-Green

This is a delightful path along the river passing a row of stately 18th century houses (numbers 56 and 70 are listed monuments). They were built by people who wished to be near the royal palace of Kew, such as suppliers to the Court or artists, and the houses are still popular with university professors, journalists and creative professions. The path passes the one or other pub with a terrace overlooking the river, definitely a popular place to go in summer.

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Overview of Strand-on-the-Green

 

Strand on the Green was actually a village with many residents working on the river as fishermen or ferry operators. You still see the one or other boat. As you can see on the picture, the Thames goes out a lot at low tide. You should be aware that it can rise quite high and flood the walkway, in which case there is a parallel road on higher ground behind the riverside houses.

 

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Kew Bridge from Strand-on-the-Green

 

The riverside walkway ends at Kew Bridge, built in 1903. It is one the busiest bridges in the suburbs because it is part of a Circular Road linking the suburbs. The original bridge was a private bridge charging toll, opened in 1759 to give easier access to the royal palace at Kew. The bridge was first built in wood, which proved cumbersome to maintain, and replaced after 30 years by a stone bridge.

 

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Kew Bridge

 

The public authorities bought it in 1873 for two reasons: the toll booths made traffic slow and the owners objected understandably to new Thames bridges being built even when this made otherwise perfect sense in terms of town planning. The 1903 reconstruction is considered one of the handsomest road bridges in London and is a listed monument.

Cross the Thames at the next opportunity using Kew Bridge

L Kew Green (the road along the open space)

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Kew Green

 

The green itself is bysected by the main road from the bridge. Both parts have lovely houses of moderate height hidden in greenery and this is correspondingly a very expensive neighbourhood. The pond at the eastern corner of the green was used to water horses.

 

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Kew Green pond

Ahead Wattcombe Cottages (the narrower, left fork at the end of Kew Green road)

At the end L on the footpath to the riverside walkway

R (downstream) along the riverside

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Thames reach near Kew Bridge

Just after passing under the train bridge R on the public footpath along the tracks

The footpath runs between the train line and a well protected complex of buildings. When you arrive at the end of the footpath, you can detour left to the flashy, modern entrance of the building. This houses the National Archives, relocated here in 1977. There is a small exhibition gallery in the building and entrance is free but the exhibits will appeal primarily to specialists. The only items I found really interesting were the late 11th century census documents called the Domesday Book.

Otherwise, at the end of the footpath R crossing under the train line on Mortlake Road

L Leyborne Park

L Station Approach

KEW GARDENS

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Kew Gardens station

The station opened together with the train line in 1869.

The station building is a listed monument as it is the original Victorian structure. The train company obviously expected heavy traffic from visitors of the Botanical Gardens considering the size of the station in what was a very rural area. As the arches are in the same somewhat drab grey than the walls, the overall effect is not very exciting, particularly compared to contemporary stations like Acton Central. The awnings are quite nice and the platform is very well maintained with planting reminding you of the Gardens.

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Only pub located in a London Underground station

The station is one of the very few trains stations in London where London Underground and suburban trains use the same platform. This is cumbersome for engineers due to the different power supply systems and carriage size.

With the station to your back, walk towards the main road following the signs for the Botanical Gardens. You are initially on Station Parade

Ahead Lichfield Road

 

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Kew Gardens and Palace

The road ends opposite the main entrance to the botanical gardens. As mentioned in the routing notes, the gardens are a major attraction worth a full day. Like many London attractions, the entrance fee is very high (15£ for one visit, 72£ for one year), but you could argue that this is reasonable considering the very large number of attractions within the grounds. Look at http://www.kew.org for details. If you include a visit of the gardens in the walk, I suggest you leave the gardens after your tour at the Elizabeth Gate, located at the northern end of the gardens, rather than at the main gate.

 

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Pizza slice flower display

The gardens took over from a pleasure garden and a collection of exotic plants started in the 1770s around the royal palaces of Richmond and Kew. When the royal family moved away from these palaces, the gardens were transformed into a publicly-owned botanical garden. Such gardens are known to have already existed in medieval Italy, usually in connection with university hospitals, but Kew can be considered nowadays to be the most highly regarded institution of its kind in the world. This is due both to the legacy of an Empire spanning the world and to the well-known love of Englishmen for gardening.

 

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Kew Gardens alley with pagoda

Taking advantage of the fact that I have many pictures of the botanical gardens, I am able to show you a selection of the attractions contained within. The virtual tour starts at the main gate and runs more or less clockwise. I am aware that some sections are not covered.

The “Temple of Bellona” is one of a number of park follies built for the royal park around 1760 and relocated later on in convenient spots. Garden follies were very often built in the neo-classical style at the time.

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Temple of Bellona in Kew Gardens

The “King William Temple” is another neo-classical garden folly, but it was built much later for Queen Victoria who wanted in 1837 to commemorate King William IV. The planting around the temple includes palm trees and lavender as this is the Mediterranean section.

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King William Temple in Kew Gardens with Mediterranean Garden

The Pagoda was built in 1762 when anything Chinese was seen as wonderfully exotic and an absolute must. The King logically had a particularly tall pagoda built. It was so tall that many visitors declined climbing inside, feeling the structure might topple.

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Kew Gardens pagoda

The Japanese landscape is made of three gardens inspired by traditional Japanese gardening with some typical elements like a river of pebbles and higher gray stones symbolising the paradise.

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Rhododendron in Kew Gardens

The structure in the middle of the garden was salvaged from a world exhibition in 1910 and is a smaller copy of a temple gate in Japan.

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Japanese landscape in Kew Gardens

Queen Charlotte’s cottage was originally a pavilion in the Richmond Palace zoo but was later converted to a retreat for the Queen in the 1770s. It was only given to the botanical gardens in 1898. Royals very often wished a quiet cottage to escape on occasion from the constraints of court life and very well-known examples include Marie-Antoinette’s “Hameau de la Reine” in Versailles and Queen Astrid’s atelier on the grounds of Laeken palace in Brussels.

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Queen Charlotte’s cottage in Kew Gardens

The woodland around the cottage was to be kept a wilderness according to the wishes of Queen Victoria and the somewhat remote location within the park enables one of the best bluebell shows in London in the appropriate season.

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Bluebells in Kew Gardens wilderness

Rhododendrons were a Chinese plant according to popular opinion in the 1770s and were therefore as fashionable as pagodas and tea pavilions. A new craze for rhododendrons started in the 1850s when plant collectors could travel more safely to Nepal, their main motivation being to multiply the collected plants and sell them at a very high price to people who tried to impress their neighbours with novelties. The display at Kew is nice in season but cannot compete with Dulwich Park.

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Rhododendron dell in Kew Gardens

Minka House is an authentic Japanese farm house built without nails on stone slabs in order to withstand earthquakes. It was donated by a Japanese heritage association in 2001 and is now used as the centrepiece of a bamboo garden started in 1891. Bamboos are something of a problem in parks because they grow very quickly and crowd out neighbouring plants if not kept in check.

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Minka House in Kew Gardens

The Queen’s Garden was developed in the 1960s as a logical backdrop to Kew Palace which is from the 17th century. It shows the kind of garden that was fashionable at the time with wrought iron gazebos and sculptures, both stone and bronze. The planting includes only flowers grown at the time and it is very striking to realise the very limited choice of colours. The first large family of colourful plants to be imported was tulips coming from Turkey, but this did not really start before the 1700s.

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Queen’s Garden in the 17th century style

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Queen Anne’s Garden

The “secluded garden” was created in 1995 as a sensory garden to show that plants are also interesting to smell, feel and hear. There is a rather funny sculpture in the middle that looks from afar like undone washing-up. It is actually a fountain made of an incredible number of intricately planned slates of different shapes.

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Slate fountain in Kew Gardens

The Princess of Wales Conservatory is possibly the attraction in Kew that is most similar to more modest botanical gardens like those in Paris and Frankfurt. It is a set of low glasshouses dedicated each to plants from a specific climate. This is always very interesting to visit as you tend to forget until your next visit how exotic they are.

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Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Waterlily House is a small glasshouse built in 1852 in order to recreate the climate of the Amazon rainforest because this was necessary in order to display the giant waterlily that was the pride of the garden at the time. In the end, the glasshouse was used for other plants as the Victoria Amazonica did not thrive as intended.

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Waterlily House in Kew Gardens

The Palmhouse is considered the most impressive Victorian glasshouse still standing. Numerous magnificent glasshouses exist in Europe, but they were often built a little later. Don’t miss the very striking perspective from the end of the structure. As the name says, the building shelters palm trees as well as a number of typical food plants like cocoa and coffee. This arrangement is similar in most botanical gardens.

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Palm House in Kew Gardens

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Side view of Palm House

At the back of the Palmhouse, there is a small lake with a very formal balustrade, clearly a reminder of the royal garden in the 18th century. An elegant statue adorns the lake as was customary at the time. There is a similar arrangement at Hampton Court.

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Pond in Kew Gardens

The Georgian house at the other end of the lake is one of several exhibition galleries in the gardens (all included in the overall price, which is better than in Paris). The first idea to include a museum in the grounds dates back to a suggestion by King George IV in 1820. In this particular building, the managers show how plants have been used in other civilisations for music instruments, sculptures and even medical devices.

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Original Kew Gardens museum

Now that you have toured the gardens, I give you a few other pictures just for the fun of the nice shapes and colours

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Araucaria in Kew Gardens arboretum

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Quiet corner of Kew Gardens

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Wisteria in Kew Gardens

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Cacti in Kew Gardens

 

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Main entrance to Kew Gardens

 

Assuming you do not visit the gardens, you can still admire the entrance gate. The imposing structure dates back to 1868 and shows that the managers expected a large number of visitors. The gate stood originally elsewhere but had to be relocated when the train company decided unexpectedly to locate the train station at a different place, closer to the existing hamlet of Kew. There are several other gates nowadays, two of which you will pass later.

R Kew Road walking along the Kew Gardens wall

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Tea shop on Kew Road

 

There is a nice building at number 288 in the road. It looks like a traditional pub but is actually a tea and cake shop with the delightful name “The original maids of honour”. I read later that maids of honour are traditional small pastries served with afternoon tea and named after the ladies-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn, who supposedly like them (the pastries, not necessarily the ladies).

L Kew Green, the road turns R at the end of the green

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St. Anne’s Kew

 

The church dominating the centre of the green is St Anne’s, built on land donated by Queen Anne in order to cater for the court staff. The original 1714 building was much extended in 1770 and in the late 19th century. The most interesting part from outside is the entrance portico, a late Georgian neo-classical structure from 1822 with the typical columns and balustrade. The nave of the church inside is also neo-classical and is worth a short look if the building is open.

 

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Nave of St. Anne’s church

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Duke of Cambridge’s House

 

Number 37 Kew Green is a substantial house with a neo-classical portico that should remind you of royal porticos such as the one giving access to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace. This is not surprising as the house was the residence of the Duke of Cambridge, the seventh son of King George III. He had it rebuilt in 1840 and it is now the art gallery of Kew Gardens. The entrance on Kew Green is used when people hire the building for a grand wedding.

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Elizabeth Gate of Kew Gardens

 

At the back of the green, you find a second set of grand gates for the Botanical Gardens. The pillars are particularly ornate and the somewhat excessive display of scrolls, flowers and faces on the urns points correctly to a neo-baroque structure from 1846. The gate was commissioned when the gardens became a public park in order to offer a more conspicuous entrance as most visitors used boat services and arrived on the river Thames at the time. The name Elizabeth refers to Queen Elizabeth II’s jubilee.

 

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Duke of Cumberland’s House on Kew Green

 

Number 57 Kew Green is a large complex of buildings that I do not find very attractive to look at. The central part was the residence of the Duke of Cumberland, fifth son of King George III and future King of Hanover, for a short period in 1830. It is now used for the offices of the Kew Herbarium, one of the largest collections in the world of plant material used for scientific studies. The word herbarium sounded to me a little like an activity intended for children to do “something sensible” during summer holidays, but the wording “collection of plants” would be confusing in English.

L Ferry Lane, an access road towards the riverside

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Kew Herbarium

 

Ferry Lane passes the back of the Herbarium and the storage facilities towering above the road are quite impressive. The collections are extremely sensitive to humidity and light, so that the climate control facilities are even more exacting than in historic libraries. The north front of the buildings is made of wood, which is an appropriate gesture for a herbarium. It is a material I have not seen used much in London because construction timber is scarce in Britain unless it is imported, a big difference to southern Germany, eastern France or Scandinavia.

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Kew Palace

 

L on the riverside walkway for about 1 3/4 mile until you reach Richmond Lock

At the start of the walkway, you get a good view of the garden front of Kew Palace, also called the Dutch House. It is one of the oldest royal palaces as the building dates back to 1631, but only became a royal property in 1728 when the Prince of Wales, who had been left in Hanover since age 7 and knew his family little, wished an independent residence near enough to Richmond Palace.

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Kew Palace seen from Ferry Lane

 

It remained a subsidiary building of the other palace until the early 19th century and was given to Kew Gardens in 1898, but it is managed independently. This means that you have to pay twice to visit, once to the Botanical Gardens for access and once to the Royal Palace administration for the house itself. There is not much to see inside as the building has been empty for a very long time.

 

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Kew Palace seen from the garden

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Costume dancing at Kew Palace

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Development in Brentford

 

Walking on the Thames Path is a very good way of seeing buildings on the other side of the river. The first conspicuous set is a recent development with the kind of glassy penthouse apartments familiar from the Docklands. The river Thames is particularly wide here because it corresponds to the mouth of the Grand Union Canal. It was an extremely busy junction in the early 19th century until Regent’s Canal enabled an easier access to factories in North London and to the Docks.

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Syon House

 

A bit later on, the bank opposite becomes wooded until you see a sizeable palace. Syon House strikes me as being a particularly forbidding mansion. The outer appearance dates back to construction in 1547 and is therefore interesting to compare to Hampton Court palace which is from about the same period. I have never visited the mansion because I did not expect it to be very different from properties I could visit cheaper as a member of the National Trust. The mansion is particularly well known for a number of rooms decorated by leading architect Robert Adam, for whom it was the first major commission.

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Kew Gardens seen from Thames Path

 

On your own bank of the Thames, you can have a look to a section of Kew Gardens not protected by a wall. It is still protected against trespassers by a ditch. The banks on my picture are usually empty because this part of the botanical gardens is far from the main attractions and primarily interesting for the collection of trees.

 

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Thames Path in Kew

 

 

The section after the viewpoint is the wildest on this route, partly because it is very far from any access by car. After heavy rains, it is also the main section where you might get mud on your shoes. The path runs for about a mile between the river and a golf course. There is a small risk that the path might be flooded, which happens a few times a year due to spring tides.

 

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Thames Path along the Kew golf course

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Park pavilion belonging to Syon House

 

The elegant neo-classical pavilion you see at one point on the opposite bank of the river marks the limit of Syon Park. I am not sure whether it was a pavilion used for intimate high tea afternoons, but this would be the most logical use. It looks like it was built around 1800.

 

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Isleworth seen from the left bank of the Thames

 

 

 

The neo-classical pavilion gives way to the village of Isleworth, which is included on one of my Waterloo network walks. The church is All Saints Church, a rare riverside church as this implies it was not in the centre of the village. The original church was burnt down by schoolboys in 1943 (who also committed arson in nearby Hounslow and were possibly inspired by reports on big fires in the City of London after bombings). The tower is the original 14th century section while the nave was rebuilt in 1970 in a modern style.

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Richmond Lock

 

You are now reaching the end of the wilder section when you see Richmond Lock. The lock was built in 1894 to ensure sufficient depth in the river Thames above Richmond. Because of the way the embankments were built in central London from the 1830s on, the tide moved much faster and much more forcefully than before, so that the river nearly dried up above Richmond at low tide and flooded at high tide. The residents petitioned for more than 50 years before Parliament decided to build the lock.

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Richmond Lock

 

As it is not a weir with a lock but a set of sluice gates (needed to let water through upstream as well as downstream), it was necessary to built a walkway giving access from above. Parliament sensibly decided to make a full footbridge out of the walkway but you will notice that the design is really unusual in that there are two parallel and independent footbridges. There was a toll for crossing the footbridge as it was seen as a sort of sightseeing excursion.

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Entering Old Deer Park

 

 

You are entering here Old Deer Park, a large open space kept empty because it is used as a flooding plain in case of particularly high tide. It was a hunting ground close to Richmond Palace from the 1600s onwards. When the court moved away, it was left empty until a large part of it was turned into a golf course. The remaining part was used for funfairs. Because the open space is located between a highway, a golf course and the Thames with only one little car park, it tends to be a quiet area.

 

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Old Deer Park flooded by a spring tide

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Obelisks in Old Deer Park

 

You might notice several obelisks in the park, one nearer to the Thames and two nearer to the highway. They were used by the King’s Observatory, located close nearby in the middle of the present golf course, and enabled precise alignment of instruments when watching planets and stars.

Ahead across Old Deer Park Recreation Ground, the path nears a major highway and leads along it to a footbridge across the road

R on the footbridge

Ahead on the narrow access road, merges into Park Lane

Ahead on a narrow footpath between taller brick buildings

Cross the road for

RICHMOND

 

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Richmond station

 

The station opened in 1846 as the terminal for a new train line from Clapham Junction. The line was extended as early as 1848 towards Staines. A junction opened in 1869 offering services towards Gunnersbury.

The Gunnersbury line tracks work normally as a terminal so that the platforms for the 1846 and the 1869 lines are fully separated. Changing trains in Richmond on an Oyster pay-as-you-go card can therefore cause unexpected charges because of the unclear touching instructions and intransparent software.

The station building is sizeable, as befits an important town like Richmond. It was built in 1937 in a moderate Art Deco style. The many large windows meant to give much light into the concourse are typical of the style. You will be a little surprised to note that you go down stairs into the concourse when entering the station from the road. It is usually more convenient to have stairs only for platform access.

 

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Walk 18: Willesden Junction walk to Gunnersbury

Walk 18: WILLESDEN JUNCTION walk to GUNNERSBURY

2 3/4 hours

The train line was first built in 1853 from Willesden Junction to South Acton, the aim being to link the different main lines and to bypass central London. This was planned primarily as a freight railway although a number of different passenger services were tried with limited success as the area was very rural. The line was extended in 1869 from South Acton to Gunnersbury and Richmond, providing a link to an additional main line.

Routing note: This route connects in Willesden Junction with Overground walks 7 and 8 as well as with Euston network walk 2. It connects in Gunnersbury with Overground walk 19 and will also connect there with London Underground District line walk 3.

WILLESDEN JUNCTION

 

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Willesden Junction Overground station

 

 

 

The original Willesden station was built further west in 1841 on the main line from Euston and remained in use until 1962. When the Overground line via West Hampstead opened in 1860, Willesden became a junction. An additional junction was added in 1863 towards Clapham Junction, also using Willesden. It was sensible to join the Hampstead line with the Clapham line, which was done in 1869 and provided a bypass line for freight services around central London. The present Willesden Junction station opened therefore in 1869 on the viaduct of this bypass line and was called for technical purposes “Willesden Junction High Level”.

The station itself was rebuilt in 1956 and shared a common building with the Low Level station from then on. The Low Level station itself was rebuilt later on, so that the former common building can be considered now as the actual High Level station building. It is a functional brick house with a steeped roof and has no pretence to architectural interest, being mainly a functional interchange and much less a destination where a landmark building would make sense.

Exit the station through the access road passing the Underground station building

L Old Oak Lane (going south)

Cross the canal and then go directly L down the stairs to the Canal towpath

 

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Grand Union Canal near Old Oak Lane

 

The canal is the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal, built around 1800 to provide a link between industry in the Midlands and the consumers in London. The original canal joined the Thames where the water flow was uncertain and tidal, so that the Paddington Arm enabled easier transportation to central London. It was used both for goods traffic and for passengers until much faster railways made canal boats only sensible for less urgent bulk goods. The canal remained extremely busy until the 1950s because it connected to a canal bypassing central London on the way to the Docklands. It is now an extremely quiet backwater, even more so than Regent’s Canal or the Lea Navigation.

 

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Paddington Arm through former Old Oak Common

 

The canal bisects an ancient common, Old Oak Common, and Parliament sacrificed over time other large chunks of it to railway sidings as it was conveniently located near both the Euston and Paddington main lines. Part of the depot is now used for Eurostar trains, but most of the depot is now derelict and surplus to requirement. A slice of land near the canal was left to develop as a small nature reserve with a very nice birch wood.

 

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Old Oak Common nature reserve

Natural birch forests are rare in London because this is a pioneer tree growing on rubble, dry land where it accumulates soil until is it replaced by long-term trees like oak and beech. Birch is not particularly attractive to birds and insects but it is important in the succession of natural landscapes.

 

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Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm

 

Train companies kept to unused sidings forever because they have been heavily polluted at the time of steam locomotives, so that either the train company as the seller of the land or the developer as the buyer faces unknown and potentially dismal cleaning-up costs. Development of the Old Oak area may become attractive if the Crossrail project goes through with a station in Old Oak as developers could attract affluent City of London buyers to luxury flats on the former rail depot site, the large number and high price of such flats paying probably for the cleaning-up costs.

Follow the canal towards the east (towards the train line bridges) to the next road bridge

 

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Scrubbs Lane moorings

 

There are only few boats moored along this section of Paddington Arm, primarily because there is no segregated basin and no convenient road access. This is likely to change if the one or other former factory can be converted to luxury flats.

R up the stairs on Scrubbs Lane

R into Wormwood Scrubs Park

 

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Wormwood Scrubs playing fields

 

This really large area of grass with occasional hedges and few trees has an interesting origin. As the rest of the former Old Oak Common, it was bought by the Government in 1879 in order to have sufficient space close to the central London barracks for military exercises. As the land was not needed constantly, it was kept a common with the special provision that the Army could close it off when needed. Although it is hardly ever closed off for maneuvers nowadays, the Army still owns it and can use it. This explains why there are no amenities that might make it more of a park or nature reserve. There have been many attempts over the year to discuss developments in some areas, but campaigners have been able to defeat nearly all of them.

 

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Wormwood Scrubs looking East

 

Crossing the open space is a special experience because it is indeed one of the largest unlandscaped open spaces in London along with parts of Epping Forest and areas in Northolt. There are occasionally isolated gentlemen wandering about with no apparent purpose and I have been wondering whether they are plainclothes policemen checking that no one is having inappropriate intentions regarding the inmates of the nearby prison.

Follow more or less the train line until you reach the end of the common

L Old Oak Common Lane

R across the Underground line using the subway

R Long Drive (not Brunel Road !)

L The Bye

 

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The Green in East Acton

 

The short road ends at a regular open space called imaginatively “The Green”. It was the centrepiece of a suburb developed in the late 19th century, East Acton. The streets surrounding the green are all pleasantly leafy with some open grassy spaces, which makes it a forerunner of the garden city movement. There are no remarkable houses or monuments along these streets, but the going is pleasant and traffic keeps to a few main thoroughfares.

 

Ahead across the green into St. Andrews Road

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Green space in St. Andrews Road

Ahead across the dual carriageway into Glendun Road

Ahead Bromyard Avenue

 

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Perryn House estate

 

The road runs between allotments and an estate from the 1920s called Perryn House after the manor that stood here in the 19th century. On maps, you can see that the borough kept large chunks of land for sports grounds and allotments when the suburb was developed. This foresight was unusual, particularly compared to developments around Wembley, Leyton or Dagenham. Nonetheless, you don’t really see all the open spaces because there were no public footpaths across them, so that they are enclosed and leased to private operators or included in fenced school premises.

 

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Bromyard House

 

Bromyard Avenue divides at one point but both arms come together soon afterwards. Afterwards, you cross a section of Acton set aside in the 1920s for official housing. Bromyard House directly along the avenue is a particularly austere example with a mighty entrance porch and no other ornamentation whatsoever; this is understandable as it was built for the staff of the Ministry of Pensions and not for the open market. It was later used as military headquarters and finally sold to a developer. Because of the unassuming outside, flats actually sell for a halfway affordable price.

R Beech Avenue (following the small sign to “The Vale Community Centre” as there is no road sign)

Go at the end to the main road keeping the same direction

R into Acton Park, cross the park diagonally to the North-West corner exit

 

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Acton Park

 

Acton Park is not very large, but it is one of the most enjoyable smaller borough parks in London. Part of it was originally a common until the borough enclosed it to prevent further digging for brick clay, a very common problem in the mid-19th century. The main part was the garden of a property replaced by almshouses in 1811.

 

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Old trees in Acton Park

The park opened in 1888 keeping the mature trees from the garden, explaining why there are less boring plain grass expanses than in many parks built on farmland. The park had all the usual Victorian attractions such as ponds (filled in for security and maintenance reasons in nearly all parks nowadays), a bandstand, a rhoodendron dell, a bandstand, a bowling ground with a pavilion, an elegant lodge for the warden and of course ornamental flower beds.

The borough has been able to keep or renovate a significant portion of these attractions. When I took the pictures in 2009, the borough had a competition to beautify trees and the results were quite amusing.

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Tree for veterans in Acton Park

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Tree with marbles in Acton Park

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Tree with face in Acton Park

A larger tree sculpture in a corner of the park is a memorial to an old elm tree, the tree having fallen victim to the elm plague.

 

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Re-use of a dead elm tree in Acton Park

The present rhododendron dell is modest, the bushes being too small to be impressive yet.

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Rhododendrons in Acton Park

 

The formal garden is interesting in terms of design, geometrical beds reminding a lot of Art Déco gardening in the 1930s, while the planting is dominated by low-maintenance grasses and evergreens rather than by flowers. This makes me recommend the park in winter, when the park appears pleasantly less bare, rather than in summer, when you miss the colours.

 

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Formal garden in Acton Park

The café is the former bowling pavilion and is a rather nice cottage; it also dates back to the 1930s and was fortunately not replaced by some ugly concrete structure.

 

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Acton Park pavilion

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Goldsmiths’ almshouses

 

On the road along the north side of the park (East Churchfield Road), you can see from the park a long brick building on both sides of an elegant chapel building in the middle with a rounded portico and a royal coat of arms. As a somewhat conspicuous inscription says, this was built by the guild of goldsmiths in 1811, making use of a bequest by Mr Perryn, whose name we saw before with Perryn House. The building was a set of almshouses and part of the present park was its garden. In line with expectations in the early 19th century, the residents were supposed to be ostentatiously religious, going to church twice on Sundays.

Cross the train line for

ACTON CENTRAL

 

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Acton Central station

 

The station opened in 1853 together with the train line under the simple line “Acton”. The name was changed to the present version in 1925 because of confusion with other Acton stations (on the Paddington main line and on several Underground lines). The station has a few peculiarities such as having changed fare zones (it is now in zone 3 but was originally in zone 2).

It is also one of very few stations in London where the trains have to switch from overhead power supply to third rail power supply, implying a longer time in the station and occasionally a short power outage in the carriages. The reason for the different power supply is that the line beyond Acton Central was electrified in 1880 using the system of London Underground (at the time just a suburban railway that intended to send trains to Acton Central) while the section north of Acton Central was electrified later with the system used on the main lines in order to enable seamless goods traffic.

 

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Platform in Action Central station

 

The original station building has been converted into a restaurant, but it is still easy to recognise. It was a substantial Victorian building with neo-medieval arches and a small baroque balustrade at roof level. The style is quite typical for the time if you compare for example to Greenwich train station. The station has also kept its original platform awning with an ornate valance.

Continue on Churchfield Road going West

 

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St Mary’s Acton burial ground

 

Towards the end of the road, you pass the parish burial ground, now a sort of nice little, quiet park since Parliament forbade burials in churchyards in the 1880s in order to limit what was thought as health risks, in particular groundwater contamination. The parish church itself is a little further on the other side of the market place. It is a standard Victorian building and I did not bother taking a picture or visiting.

At the end of the road L along Market Place/Road before reaching the parish church

Ahead Church Road

 

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Baptist Church on Church Road

 

The baptist church for Acton located on this road had a lovely white and baby blue front. The clearly neo-classical architecture makes me think it might have been built in the early 19th century, but I found no details on this.

R Avenue Road

L Park Road East entering South Acton estate

L into the parking lot past Ludlow Court and Barwick House, continues as a paved path. The path should merge into Strafford Road

 

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South Acton estate

 

South Acton estate is a large council estate built in the 1960s in the form of towers and bars. Like many other estates, it declined in the 1980s when industries closed, laying off many workers and giving immigrants from the Empire no jobs. The government started to worry seriously about crime levels, drug gangs and ethnic strife after incidents in the early 2000s and finally gave the boroughs the authority and some funds to redevelop the estates. Wikipedia amusingly mentions that previous antisocial behaviour linked to drug and alcohol abuse has been partly replaced by “illegal sex orgies”. I have not read of this particular problem in other estates.

 

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Open spaces in South Acton estate

 

Like in many estates planned in the 1960s, the high-rise buildings enabled a large network of interconnected green spaces and playgrounds at ground level. Now that policing of estates improved significantly, walking through estates can therefore be quite pleasant and green compared to boring Victorian terraces. The borough intended to demolish and redevelop most of the estate, this being financed by additional buildings set on car parks and former garages, but progress has been slow.

R Bollo Bridge Road

soon L Palmerston Road crossing the train line

SOUTH ACTON

 

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South Acton station

 

The station opened in 1880 on the train line linking the Acton Central bypass line with the Richmond main line. As the operators clearly intended to keep the bypass line as a pure freight line in order not to lose passengers, South Acton was served by a branch of London Underground District Line. Passenger services to Richmond only started in 1905 and the District line gave up its own services in 1959.

The original station building was the one for the District line and has been demolished. There was no need afterwards for a real station building in this minor station but the nice platform awning and valance in the style of those in Acton Central are still to be seen on the northbound platform.

Very soon after the footbridge over the train line R into Weston Road

R Bollo Lane crossing the first train line

L Stanhope Way, the access road into a private office centre called Chiswick Business Park.

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Landscaping in Chiswick Business Park

 

This particular business park is a flagship development set on the site of a former bus depot. It was designed by a leading urban planning company belonging to the Richard Rodgers group and is indeed more elegant and interesting than most business parks in London. The particular selling point is the landscaping with an extensive water feature in the middle.

 

 

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Water feature in Chiswick Business Park

 

The individual buildings are rather low rise and are not the usual boxy glass cubes as they have canopies that can be used to lower the impact of the sun in summer and therefore to use air conditioning less often. All these characteristics come at a price and the business park caters to upmarket tenants in industries like IT and media. The business park can be crossed but it is private and you might be asked by security staff to refrain from taking pictures. I asked permission from the public relations officer. Since 2014, the property is owned by a Chinese investor.

 

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View of Chiswick Business Park

Walk past the ornamental pond to the south exit of the business park

R on the main road and very soon L past the office building for

GUNNERSBURY

 

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Gunnersbury station

The station opened in 1869 on a train line that was built with two spurs, one joining the present District line and one continuing to Acton. A third spur enabled connections towards Brentford via Kew Bridge. The first spur became a branch of the Underground District line in 1877, the second spur is the present Overground line although passenger services did not start before 1905 and the third spur closed in 1932. The station was called “Brentford Road” at the start but the name changed to Gunnersbury already in 1871.

Gunnersbury is one the very few stations in London where suburban trains and Underground carriages use the same platform. This is normally not very sensible because Underground trains have different power and braking requirements; in addition, they run much more frequently and this makes train services difficult to include without causing delays.

The original station building looked much like the one in Acton Central but was demolished in the 1960s in order to build the ugly office building that towers above the gloomy entrance of the present station, a plain block of concrete hidden behind the office building.

 

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Walk 17: Leyton Midland Road walk to Barking

Walk 17: LEYTON MIDLAND ROAD walk to BARKING

3 hours

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

 

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Leyton Midland Road station

 

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

 

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Leytonstone High Road station

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

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Gospel Church in 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

 

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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.

 

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Wilderness in Wanstead Flats

 

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.

 

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Wanstead Flats

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Wanstead Flats after rain

 

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.

 

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Path in Wanstead Flats

 

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

WANSTEAD PARK

 

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Wanstead Park station

 

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

 

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Pentecostal Church on Sebert Road

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

 

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Gate of 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.

 

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Monument in Manor Park Cemetery

 

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

WOODGRANGE PARK

 

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Woodgrange Park station

 

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

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Former pub on Romford Road

 

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

 

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Wanstead Flats East

 

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.

 

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City of London Cemetery

 

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.

 

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Romford Road in Little Ilford

 

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.

 

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Roding River in Ilford

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

 

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Ilford Hospital

 

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.

(photo T49)

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Courtyard of Ilford Hospital

 

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

 

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Neo-Renaissance bank building

 

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.

 

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Neo-Greek bank building

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Former film theater in Ilford

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Art déco on Ilford High Road

 

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.

 

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Ilford Library and museum

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”.

 

 

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School building in central Ilford

 

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.

 

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Purple church on High Road Ilford

 

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.

 

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Sikh temple in Ilford

 

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.

 

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Former Ilford Crown Court

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St Mary’s Great Ilford

 

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

 

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South Park in Ilford

 

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.

 

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Lake in South Park

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

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Loxford Water

 

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

 

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Lake in 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.

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Flower beds in Barking Park

 

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.

 

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Lake roundabout in Barking Park

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Formal garden in Barking Park

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

 

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Fish and fishing nets in Barking

 

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.

BARKING

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Barking station

 

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.

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Walk 16: Walthamstow Queens Road walk to Leyton Midland Road

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

 

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Walthamstow Queens Road station

 

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.

 

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Overview of platforms with long ramp

 

 

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.

 

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Lighthouse Methodist Church

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

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Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum

 

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.

 

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St James Park Walthamstow

 

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

 

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Black Path (northern end)

 

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).

 

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Black Path (southern end)

 

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

 

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Lea River 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

 

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Riding school in Leyton Marsh

 

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.

 

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Overview of Walthamstow Marshes

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

 

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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.

 

 

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Walkway between former 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.

 

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Nature throne in Middlesex Filter Beds

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

 

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Lea River

 

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

 

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Leyton 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

 

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Leyton train depot

 

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)

 

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Leyton Jubilee Park

 

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.

 

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Leyton gasometers

 

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

 

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Etloe House

 

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.

 

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Leyton almshouses

 

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.

 

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Leyton parish Church

 

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

 

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Tulips in 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.

 

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Coronation Gardens with bandstand

 

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Coronation Gardens fountain

 

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.

 

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Coronation Gardens maze

 

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

 

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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.

 

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Playground in Jack Cornwell Park

 

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Brooks Farm Gate

 

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

 

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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

 

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Leyton Midland Road station

 

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.

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Walk 15: Harringay Green Lanes walk to Walthamstow Queens Road

 

Walk 15: HARRINGAY GREEN LANES walk to WALTHAMSTOW QUEENS ROAD

2 hours

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

 

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Harringay Green Lanes station

 

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

 

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New River Path in Harringay

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.

 

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New River

 

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.

 

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New River near Seven Sisters Road

 

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.

 

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Manchester Gardens

 

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.

 

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Telephone exchange on Seven Sisters Road

 

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

 

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Pavement labyrinth

 

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

SOUTH TOTTENHAM

 

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South Tottenham station

 

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)

 

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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.

 

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Lea Navigation near Markfield Park

 

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

 

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Lea Navigation with marina footbridge

 

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.

 

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House boats on the Lea Navigation

 

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

 

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Coppermill Footbridge with pub

 

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

 

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Overview of 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

 

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Walthamstow Marshes

 

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

 

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Pumping station in the former copper mill

 

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.

 

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Drinking water reservoir

 

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.

 

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Walthamstow water works

 

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.

 

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Flood channel of the river Lea

 

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

BLACKHORSE ROAD

 

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Blackhorse Road train and Underground station

 

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

 

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Stoneydown playground

 

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.

 

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Stoneydown Gardens

Cross the park ahead

R Pretoria Avenue

 

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Dutch gables in 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.

 

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Villa at the end of Pretoria Avenue

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)

 

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High Street Walthamstow on a quiet afternoon

 

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.

 

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Former Walthamstow film theatre

 

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

 

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Green space on Netley Road

 

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

 

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Walthamstow Queens Road station

 

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).

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Overvoew of platforms with long ramp

 

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Walk 14: Gospel Oak walk to Harringay Green Lanes

Walk 14: GOSPEL OAK walk to HARRINGAY GREEN LANES

2 hours

Most of the train line opened in 1868 as an attempt by the operator of the Lea River railway to get access to Westminster rather than only to its normal terminal in the City of London. This would involve a tunnel under Mayfair and was rejected by politicians who feared inconvenience in this elegant and influential part of London. As a result, the train company ended the line at Kentish Town.

In order to hopefully attract travellers from the western suburbs, the company built a junction to Gospel Oak in 1888, but this was closed again in 1926. The problem with the Kentish Town terminal was congestion on a line much used by freight trains and British Rail switched the line terminal in 1981 again from Kentish Town to Gospel Oak. This was an inconvenient interchange and passenger traffic was low until service improved in the 2000s.

Interestingly, although the line was connected with all the main lines it crossed, there are no convenient interchange possibilities with any of those.

Trains stopped originally at additional stations. Between Gospel Oak and Upper Holloway, they stopped at Highgate Road. This station opened with the train line in 1868 and closed in 1915 due to staff shortages during World War I. Trains then stopped from 1872 onwards at Junction Road (originally called “Junction Road for Tufnell Park”) but the station closed in 1943 due to overwhelming competition from a nearby Underground station. Between Upper Holloway and Crouch Hill, trains stopped at Hornsey Road. That station opened in 1872 and closed in 1943 due to wartime cost savings. Traffic was too low to justify reopening the station after the war.

Routing note: This walk connects in Gospel Oak with Overground walks 5 and 6. It connects in Harringay Green Lanes with Overground walk 15.

GOSPEL OAK

(photo T1)

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Gospel Oak station

The station opened in 1860 on a new train line between Camden and Willesden and was called originally “Kentish Town” although it was located rather far away from that neighbourhood. The name was changed in 1867 when the present Kentish Town West station opened with more believable credentials to the name Kentish Town. The name Gospel Oak comes from an oak tree marking the boundary between two parishes and being popular with open-air preachers. The tree disappeared already around 1800 but the name remained.The new line towards Tottenham was opened in 1888, but there was no actual junction because competitors prevented this out of fear that freight traffic might use the new route to their detriment. As a result, passengers had to change trains. The line from Tottenham was closed in 1926 because trains from Tottenham were routed directly to Euston terminal. This arrangement was changed again in 1981 due to congestion problems with the line from Tottenham starting again from Gospel Oak.

There is no real station building at street level, my picture showing rather the pillar of the railway viaduct. Architects cleverly set a large glass window into the brick pillar in order to give more light inside. The actual station building is a modest shed on the platform.

Exit the station and turn L passing under the railway line. You are on Gordon House Road

 

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Estate on Gordon House Road

 

The area suffered significant bomb damage in 1940 due to the vicinity of important railway installations. Reconstruction after the war was driven primarily by cost and the street landscape is indeed not very attractive. The estate on my picture was worth a short look for the staircase casings.

R Highgate Road

 

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Highgate Studios

 

Highgate Studios on this road was a wallpaper factory before being converted to office space. The only reason it is called “studios” is because the marketing advisor of the corporation who owns it hopes to attract tenants from the creative industries.

L Burghley Road, turns first L then R

At the end R then L into Tufnell Park Road

L Campdale Road

You can either walk along the road or within the sports grounds along it

 

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Tufnell Park Playing Fields

Tufnell Park Playing Fields is just a plain open space available for sports.

At the end R Foxham Road passing along Foxham Gardens

 

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Foxham Gardens

The gardens are a small neighbourhood park, just a strip of greenery with a wooded hedge at the back.

At the end R Yerbury Road

Very soon L Rupert Road

Ahead into Whittington Park, cross the park to the main road at the other end

 

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Whittington Park

This park is the main neighbourhood park with the usual amenities in terms of playground and sports. I did not notice flower beds, sculptures or other attractions, although some websites mention a topiary cat at the entrance.

L Holloway Road (the main road) passing

UPPER HOLLOWAY

 

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Upper Holloway station amenities

 

The station opened in 1868 together with the train line.

As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. There was a ticket office in the 19th century but it has been demolished. The most interesting detail is the extremely long ramp giving access to the platforms for pushcarts and wheelchairs.

 

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Platform access in Upper Holloway

 

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St Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church

 

Further on along Holloway Road, you pass a rather massive Roman Catholic church. St Gabriel’s has a blind wall to the main road because of traffic noise. The side wall is broken through a set of two glass cubes crowned in a faintly medieval manner. The minimalistic design is of a type popular in the 1960s. The inside is austere, particularly the rather unattractive ceiling.

R Elthorne Road

Ahead Holland Walk, the main path across an estate

 

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Zoffany Park

 

Near the middle of the estate, the walkway passes small Zoffany Park. There is also a secluded, quiet open space connected with the park at one corner. The difference between the two is that an open space has no fences while a park has fences and a few bits of playground equipment.

 

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Scholefield Road Open Space

Continue on Holland Walk

 

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Path across Holland Walk estate

Ahead Courtauld Road

Ahead into Elthorne Park

 

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Silver birches in Elthorne Park

 

This is one of the nicest parks in the borough of Islington and it does have unusual features. One I found particularly lovely is the silver birch glade because the white trunks are wonderfully set off by the dark green laurel bushes. It is one of the few colour schemes in London parks that also work in winter. In the middle of the glade, there is an interesting bronze sculpture that seems inspired by the Amerindian totems of the West Coast of Canada. I get an idea of a beaver and a frog, but I may be wrong.

 

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Totem sculpture in Elthorne Park

 

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Entrance to the Peace Garden in Elthorne Park

 

In addition to the birch glade, Elthorne Park has an enclosed Peace Garden set up in the 1980s when there was a strong movement against nuclear weapons and the East-West rivalry. The garden may be closed because of occurrences of vandalism and drunkenness; if open, it enables you to look at strongly geometric paths and beds with rose bushes.

 

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Rose garden in Elthorne Park

Exit the park at the same place and walk towards the main road

Cross the main road into Shaftesbury Road (past the conspicuous Shaftesbury Tavern)

at the end R Crouch Hill passing

CROUCH HILL

 

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Crouch Hill station

 

The station opened in 1868 together with the train line.

As with many stations on this line, there is no actual station building, just a canopy on the platform for the vending machine. You can still see the former station building, a nice little pavilion in typically Victorian yellow bricks.

 

 

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Former dairy depot in Crouch Hill

At the end of Crouch Hill road, you pass a peculiar building called the Old Dairy. The façade is delightfully ornate with baroque scrolls, neo-classical columns and lovely frescoes depicting grazing, milking, cooling and delivery of milk. Technically, the frescoes are made in an Italian technique consisting in applying first plaster and then scraping away whatever is needed to make the design appear. Above the building, two fanciful turrets add an oriental feeling.

 

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Frescoes on Old Dairy

 

The building dates from 1891 and belonged to a company initially incorporated in 1836, the Friern Manor Dairy Company. This was an innovative company that owned large farms in Northern London and delivered the milk daily through a network of depots like the one in Crouch Hill. It was considered very modern and industrial processes applied by them definitely did not look like those on the frescoes. This is a running tradition in the British food industry as beer, cheddar and biscuits are definitely not made in the way advertising might suggest.

Milk distribution was an important business until the 1960s because very few houses had refrigerators, so that milk had to be delivered daily before breakfast. Interestingly, there was no such tradition of delivering milk daily to households in most of Europe because milk was not part of the traditional breakfast there, any small quantity needed being readily available as powdered milk in tin cans.

L Stapleton Hall Road

On reaching an ivy-smothered subway, R up the embankment onto Parkland Walk

 

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Access to Parkland Walk

 

On reaching the walkway, you definitely feel like having escaped the big city traffic. The path uses a former railway line that ran for about 2 1/2 miles from Finsbury Park to Highgate. It was closed in 1954 because of competition from London Underground and could well have been converted into an expressway, as was often the case in the 1970s, but this could be prevented and it is now an important link within the Capital Ring network of paths around London. The path can be slightly overgrown in late summer and there might be some puddles after heavy rains, so that it even feels a little wild.

 

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Wilderness on Parkland Walk

At the end of Parkland Walk L on the footbridge across train lines

You cross here the main line from London King’s Cross to Scotland and this is a good spot for trainspotters.

 

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Trainspotting with Edinburgh-bound train

Ahead into Finsbury Park

 

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Perimeter Road in Finsbury Park

 

Finsbury Park was originally to be named Albert Park but Parliament changed the name in 1857. The name sounds strange as the part of London called Finsbury is actually much further south (close to the City) – it is said that the initiators of the park lived in Finsbury and thought it would be nice to be remembered in this roundabout manner. The park was built on the site of Hornsey Wood, demolishing a popular inn with amusements, and this caused quite a deal of complaints in the neighbourhood.

 

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Trees in Finsbury Park

 

The park was opened in 1869. It soon became a setting for important demonstrations such as pacifist rallies during the First World War. In the 1970s, the park was not well kept and became dangerous but significant improvements were done in the 1990s. It became a popular venue for open-air music events during a few years (Bob Dylan, Sex Pistols and Oasis played here).

 

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Autumn in Finsbury Park

 

My route remains on the perimeter road because I suggested visiting in detail on a King’s Cross network walk, but you can obviously explore if you have the time. There is a nice boating lake and a pavilion with a café in the middle of the park at the top of the hill. Other attractions for walkers include a few modest flower beds south of the lake and a number of beautiful mature trees on the slope north of the lake where my route leads.

L on the perimeter road, continue to follow the road as it goes downhill and turns right

The road passes near a canal (do not cross the canal).

 

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Endymion Road cricket ground

 

To your left on both sides of the canal, there were significant attractions. The North-East corner is still a cricket ground and is not accessible to the general public. The North-West corner was called the American Garden because of the trees that were planted there. It was also the rhododendron dell for the park. It is now plain grassland and trees like most of Finsbury Park and not really worth the detour.

After leaving the canal, you will reach a marked pedestrian crossing. There is a small signpost with a black arrow on yellow ground. Turn here L on the paved path to exit the park at Green Lanes Gate

L Green Lanes (the main road)

 

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Fox on Nature Reserve entrance gate

 

Before going up the embankment to the station platform, you could detour a few steps ahead on Green Lanes for the gate to Railway Fields Nature Park. This is a natural reserve set up on the site of former railway sidings. It is normally protected from vandalism by being kept closed but you can have a look at the very nice wrought iron gate. I took the picture at night on purpose at it shows a fox.

HARRINGAY GREEN LANES

 

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Harringay Green Lanes station

 

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.

 

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Walk 13: Canonbury walk to Stratford

 

Walk 13: CANONBURY walk to STRATFORD

3 hours

The train line was built as part of a line bypassing central London and linking the Midlands main line with the docks. The line was built in 1852 as far as the River Lea, where it turned south towards Bow and the docks. Passenger services ended on this line in 1944 because of war damage. A junction for freight traffic had been built between this train line and Stratford, using a new bridge over the River Lea built in 1854, but there were no passenger services. Between 1944 and 1980, the whole length of the line was therefore a pure freight line. The existing freight line was then upgraded in 1980 and opened for passengers.

Trains stopped at two additional stations for a certain period. A station called Mildmay Park, located between Canonbury and Dalston Kingsland, was in service from 1880 until 1934. It was closed because of cost savings during the Great Depression, the station being quite close to the two neighbouring ones. The other additional station was Victoria Park (originally called “Victoria Park & Hackney Wick”). It was in service from 1856 until war damage led to closure in 1943 and was located close to the present Hackney Wick station.

Routing note: This walk connects in Canonbury with Overground walks 4 and 5. It connects in Stratford to Liverpool Street network walks 9, 13 and 14. Il also connects there to DLR walks 4 and 7 and it will also connect there to Underground Jubilee line walk 10.

The time indication does not include visiting Hackney Museum or Sutton House. This may add 1 to 2 hours to your walking time. If the walk becomes too long, I suggest you make two shorter walks out of it with the interruption at Hackney Central station.

CANONBURY

 

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Canonbury station

 

The station opened originally in 1856 under the cumbersome name “Newington Road & Balls Pond” on the recent train line linking Camden with the Docklands. A junction was added in 1865 linking Canonbury with Shoreditch and using to a large extent the present Overground line. The 1865 junction was closed in 1986 and reopened in 2010. The station was renamed Canonbury in 1870 and moved by a few yards to the present location.

 

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Canonbury station with greenery

 

The station has minimal amenities and is little more than a small brick shed with control gates and vending machines.

The bridge is unusually wide and gives access on the north side to a crossroads with a small roundabout. This enabled the borough to set up banks among raised beds planted with grasses and shrubs. It is definitely one of the nicest station environments on the London Overground network.

Exit the station and turn L (north) on Wallace Road

 

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Grosvenor Square

 

This enables you to cross the nice landscaping around the crossroads. My picture shows a suspiciously Victorian building (the yellow brick building with triple window arches). It is now a private residence but it looks similar to the old Hackney Central Station building. It might therefore have been the original station building, but I was unable to find confirmation of this.

 

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Sickly colour scheme

There is a rather popular pub on the main street corner. The building is worth a short look because the pub obviously only owns part of the original property. When the publican decided to pain his façade in a somewhat weird mint green colour, the neighbours kept white painting on their sections of the building and the result is peculiar.

 

Ahead Petherton Road

 

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New River Path in Canonbury

 

The terraced houses along this road are expensive but not remarkable. What is unusual is the width of the road with a central reservation bearing two rows of trees and an unpaved path in the middle. This strip of greenery hides a water supply canal that was diverted to pipes in 1861 and the seepage into the ground before that date explains why trees grow well and why the ground was not built upon.

 

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New River in Petherton Road

 

The canal is called the New River and runs for nearly 30 miles from Hertfordshire to a reservoir in Islington. It was a commercial scheme opened in 1613 to supply London with clean water from the river Lea and is now part of Thames Water and therefore owned by institutional investors.

R Ferntower Road

Ahead along Newington Green

 

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Newington Green

 

Newington was a village that grew in the middle ages on the border between two manors, explaining why there is a place called “Stoke Newington”. There was also “Newington Barrow”, later called Highbury because it is on a hill. The green space was upgraded in the 1990s to a real neighbourhood park when local citizens convinced the borough to reorganise traffic in the area.

 

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Former China Mission on Newington Green

The most impressive building on the green is the massive complex now called Alliance House but still bearing the stone lintel with “China Inland Mission”. The organisation was founded in 1865 as a collaboration effort by several Protestant churches. Converting heathens was a very popular concern in imperial countries like Britain and the mission society therefore soon had the means to build huge headquarters here. The building looks Edwardian with a strange balustrade on top borne by columns. It has been converted to housing for students.

 

 

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Newington Unitarian church

A neighbouring building is also worth a look. The Unitarian church was built in 1708 as a place of worship for the many dissenters who lived in the area where they felt less threatened by government-sponsored Anglican ministers. It became very well known in the 1760s when the minister was Dr Richard Price, who was to become notorious for supporting the cause of Americans fighting for independence (they were non-Anglicans like himself) and for encouraging the French revolution leaders at the start in 1789-1791.

 

 

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Nice trees on Newington Green

 

On my picture, you can see a banner referring to the “birthplace of feminism”. This refers to the fact that there was a school for girls here in the late 1780s. It was led by Mary Wollstonescraft, who wrote a book in 1792 proposing the very unusual and upsetting idea that women were equal to men and that their limited involvement in public affairs was only due to their not being given the education they deserved.

The church building is rather austere with a very simple neo-classical front. Most protestant churches eschewed pompous displays of riches at the time, preferring to spend money on worthy causes.

 

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Working men’s club on Newington Green

 

A third interesting building nearly on the green is the “Mildmay Club”. It was established in 1888 as one of many clubs founded during that period to provide working class men with sensible activities in their leisure time rather than leaving them to get drunk at the next booze outlet as was too often the case in the East End. The club was founded by a cleric, as was often the case, and developed a particular interest in shooting, possibly with a thought to preparing men to fight in colonial and European wars. It is one of the very few such clubs that survived the television era. The building is unusual for a structure from 1900 in being modestly decorated with just a few baroque details.

Ahead Mildmay Road

Just after passing sports grounds R Boleyn Road

The connection with Henry VIII is due to the fact that one of his courtiers, the Earl of Northumberland, lived here in 1523 when he fell in love with Ann Boleyn and got engaged to her without asking first his father or his boss for permission. They refused and the Earl went on to sit later on the jury declaring Ann guilty of adultery.

L Gillett Street (the street sign points to “P31”)

Ahead through the plaza (this is Gillett Square)

 

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Dalston village square

 

The plaza has a very interesting history. It was developed in the 1990s by a cooperative of local residents with the help of the borough to provide a sort of “village square” to one of the most deprived areas of London and is actually the conversion of a derelict industrial site. The cooperative was extremely successful in attracting innovative architects and the Dalston Culture House on a side of the plaza is now recognised as an influential venue. My picture shows the plaza as being quite empty, which you can interpret as an oasis of quiet in a hectic and crowded part of London. Several of the buildings won awards for architecture or urban planning around the year 2000.

R Kingsland Road

DALSTON KINGSLAND

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Dalston Kingsland station

 

There was a station here as early as 1850, but it was connected to a railway linking Canonbury with a terminal in the City of London (Broad Street) and was relocated in 1865 to what is presently Dalston Junction station. The present Dalston Kingsland station opened in 1983.

The station building is a typical structure from the 1980s with a large glass front. The roof looks like corrugated iron with just a hint of a curve. The station is located on a busy main road with an increasing number of tall office towers, so that I would not be surprised if it were integrated one day as the street level of a building.

L on pedestrianised Ridley Road away from the station

Ahead to L Colvestone Crescent

 

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School in Colvestone Crescent

 

There is a school building at the beginning of the road on the left side. It is one of several schools founded at the end of the 19th century by concerned businessmen who wanted schools to teach more “useful” subjects like science rather than religion, latin and history. The debate does echo contemporary discussions about whether schools should prepare pupils for available jobs or should rather give them the keys to be a valuable part of civilised society. The school is now a normal borough school in a somewhat strange building that looks more like some kind of church hall.

 

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Church hall for St Mark’s Dalston

There is a real church hall further on in Colvestone Crescent. It belongs to St Mark’s Dalston, the local Anglican parish church. The church was built in 1866 and extended in 1880 in the typical neo-gothic style of that period.

Ahead Montague Road

 

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Montague Road

 

Like Colvestone Crescent, Montague Road is a surprisingly leafy road in what I expected to be some boring post-industrial terraced suburb. At number 62, a solemn house with a baroque balustrade on the roof and large arches at ground level is a former synagogue. It was built in 1902 and the synagogue closed in 1966 when the number of worshippers became too small.

 

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Former synagogue in Montague Road

 

There was a large Jewish community in the area from the 1880s until the 1950s. This was linked to Jews settling in the East End as the core of the garment trade when they arrived in Britain, fleeing pogroms in Russia. When their financial situation improved, they moved to the less industrial suburbs of Mildmay and Stoke Newington. After World War II, there was strong interest in migrating to Israel and some synagogues became impossible to maintain.

R Sandringham Road

R Wayland Avenue

Ahead Navarino Road passing over a railway line

L Wilton Way passing under a railway line

The road ends on a square in front of Hackney Town Hall

 

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Palm tree in front of Hackney Town Hall

 

The square in front of the town hall boasts two magnificent and rather unexpected palm trees. The main attraction is nonetheless the town hall itself, built in 1936. From outside, it is influenced by Art Déco with horizontal lines being dominant, but the windows and the balcony details are more eclectic. If you ask politely, you might be allowed to have a look inside at the main staircase and central lobby. This is definitely worth it as there are magnificent Art Déco light fixtures. You will not be able to enter the council meeting room except on Open Monument Day, so that I give you a picture of this as well. The ceiling light is stunning.

 

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Lights in Hackney Town Hall

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Ceiling light in Hackney Town Hall

 

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Staircase in Hackney Town Hall

 

Also on the town hall square, the glass building on Reading Lane houses the borough museum. It is not big but is worth a look if it is opened as it gives you interesting glimpses into the former industrial past of Hackney (eel pie making, hats…). It also explains in a very interesting manner why Hackney was so popular with non-conformists, dissenters and assorted reformers.

 

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Former Hackney central library

Opposite the town hall on the other side of Mare Street, the building with the copper domes and the pretentious colonnaded corner entrance was just the borough library. It was built in 1905 by the borough and this explains the pompous Edwardian style public authorities were very fond of at the time. The library was converted later to a music venue but the location is suboptimal with no tube station nearby, so that a new tenant is apparently being sought.

L Mare Street (the busy main road)

 

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Hackney theatre

 

You will soon reach the striking front of the Hackney Empire, built in 1901 on plans by Frank Matcham. He was the best known architect for music hall venues at the time and had delightful decorative ideas, so that each of his many designs is both amusing and distinctive. The Hackney one has towers with crowns but is otherwise mainly reminiscent of Renaissance details.

 

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Mare Street with library dome

Like most music halls, the theatre closed after World War II as audiences turned to cinemas and soon to television. It was long used as a rather undignified bingo hall and risked demolition but it was bought by a local initiative and restored by an efficient actor and manager. It is particularly well known for hugely successful pantomime productions. By the way, pantos are a typically British tradition that most Europeans find endearing but rather difficult to fathom. Europeans often associate men playing female roles with effeminate transvestite shows.

HACKNEY CENTRAL

 

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Hackney Central station

 

A station opened in 1850 nearby as “Hackney” and was relocated to the present place in 1870. It closed in 1944 when passenger services stopped on the line. The station reopened in 1980 under the present name together with the train line. It is linked by a long footpath with Hackney Downs station, providing an interchange with trains from Liverpool Street terminal, but the two stations are clearly separate and the footpath actually had been closed off for decades before being reopened in 2015.

The station building chosen for the new station in 1980 is a plain, rather small brick cube with a heavy cornice made of corrugated iron. This was practical, cheap and ugly.

 

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Former Hackney Central station

 

The former station building remains visible just after passing under the bridge. It has the typical Victorian design, being built in yellow bricks with triple window arches, and this building is the reason why I think that the building near present Canonbury station may well be the original station building. The old Hackney Central building looks very substantial because of its height but also because of the boxy cornice. The balustrade at roof level is less typical.

Continue on Mare Street passing the former train station and the former town hall.

 

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Former Hackney Town Hall

 

The old town hall was built in 1802 as the vestry and became surplus to requirements when the new town hall opened in 1937. It is interesting for not looking Georgian at all. It is inspired primarily by Italian town halls and palaces from the 16th century with just the portal being baroque. Both styles were hopelessly out of fashion by 1800. The present use of the nice little building borders on embarrassing as it is a betting shop.

R into the green space past the old church tower

 

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Tower of St Augustine Hackney

 

It is logical to expect the parish church near the former vestry. The church itself was demolished in 1798 because it was proving too small, but the tower was already the symbol of the village and continued to be used as the mortuary for the adjacent cemetery. It is now used by the borough for occasional exhibitions and opens once a month to enable you to climb to the top and enjoy the views. The tower is not spectacular in terms of architecture. The church was consecrated to St Augustine, an unusual saint in England, because the property belonged to the order of the Knights Templar whose patron saint was St Augustine. The parish switched to St John the Baptist by the mid-17th century.

Ahead to the parish church, walking around the church front for the cemetery

 

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St John-at-Hackney

 

The new parish church, St John-at-Hackney, opened in 1797. Unfortunately, most of the building burnt down in 1955 and the present structure is therefore only a reconstruction. I have been unable to look inside and the impression from outside is rather plain and massive. Surprisingly, it reminds a little of the Dulwich Museum except for the rounded entrances in the neo-Greek style. The architect was unhappy with being asked to design a building for 3,000 parishioners, believing that it was nearly impossible to design it so that everyone could hear the priest properly.

 

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Gardens behind Hackney Church

 

The churchyard had become overgrown after new burials were forbidden by law in the 1860s but this enabled the trees planted around 1800 to grow to magnificent height. The churchyard was then converted into public St John Gardens in 1894 with formal flower beds being planted in line with popular practice at the time. The flower beds disappeared later on but new ones were created in 1989 in the smaller part of the churchyard behind the church.

 

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Monuments from old Hackney churchyard

 

The more impressive monuments from the old churchyard were salvaged and set up in rows along the walls around the green space. This looks a bit formal and sad but you can learn interesting details by reading the information panels.

Leave the church park near the playground into Sutton Place

R Homerton High Street

 

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Entrance to Sutton House (NT)

 

At the start of the road, the forbidding brick building you see on my picture is actually worth a closer look. It hides the entrance to Sutton House, a National Trust property. As usual, you will need to check in advance in order to be sure that the property is open on the day you pass it. There is no ancient furniture inside but the house is well worth a visit because of the beautiful wood paneling.

It was used by a large variety of owners over the decades and the explanation panels are very well made. I was surprised to learn that house staff did live under the roof as you would expect, but that the cook was an exception, living next door to the kitchen (in order to limit pilfering ? or to be available for hungry guests in the middle of the night ?).

 

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City Academy in Hackney

 

Where the street turns slowly left, you pass the extensive grounds of the City Academy. It was financed by the City of London, explaining why it is so impressive, and cost 30 million £ in 2009. As you can expect with such a patron, the school is selective and has a very good reputation. The building is typical for the period with large swathes of contrasting primary colours.

 

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Homerton parish school building

 

At 109 Homerton High Street, you pass a completely different school building, finished in 1884 for the parish of St Barnabas Homerton. The central building is quite reminiscent of scottish mock medieval castles, a style that was terribly in fashion by 1884 although neo-medieval fancies had already started with “Ivanhoe” by Walter Scott, published in 1820. The side building is neo-gothic in a more restrained manner.

R Barnabas Road

HOMERTON

 

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Homerton station

 

The station opened in 1868 on the existing train line and closed in 1944 together with it. It was reopened in 1985 a few years after the line itself.

The present building is a brick shed set up along the train embankment. Like in the neighbouring stations, the roof is an ugly corrugated iron structure.

Continue on Barnabas Road

 

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Baptist Church in Homerton

 

You are soon passing a church building with a rather unusual tower. It is a Baptist church built in the early 1960s after their original building had to be sold to the borough for the City Academy you saw before. The tower has a peculiarly steep roof that you would rather expect in the Swiss Alps where it would be needed to prevent snow from accumulating.

R Wick Road

soon L Bradstock Road

The road passes part of Gascoyne Estate, a very large council estate with a variety of buildings from different periods. Two of them are of particular interest from an architecture point of view. The long bar on the first picture is an unusual design for a London estate as the normal concept in the 1960s included cubic towers linked by elevated footpaths.

 

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Part of Gascoyne Estate in the Corbusier style

 

The bar reminds much more of designs by Le Corbusier, one of the most influential urban planners of the mid-20th century. He advocated bars rather than towers as this gives better opportunities for all flats to face south or west. He also advocated that such bars should be set on pillars, the area between the pillars being used for urban amenities like shops, kindergartens and youth clubs. Council planners found the ground level more useful for storage of council-owned equipment, also because shops proved reluctant to open in the middle of council estates. The housing bar on my picture even converted the ground level into private garages, which Le Corbusier would have found a perversion of his concept as preventing common amenities from being located near the flats where they are needed most.

 

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Part of Gascoyne Estate from the 1930s

 

A good deal further along the road, the other picture shows the typical design of English council estates in the 1930s. Apart from the lower building forced by the use of bricks rather than concrete, the obvious difference is that the access to the flats is along an outside walkway. This made more sense at a time when people were used to being seen constantly by their neighbours. The other difference is that the building is designed around an inner courtyard, a tradition going back to the time when there was only one communal access to water.

R Cassland Road

 

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South Hackney School

 

The building to your right all the way to the next crossroads is South Hackney School. It is an Edwardian construction from 1904 with the typical combination of reddish bricks and grey stone. It is also typical for the strange mix of decorative elements from all sorts of unconnected periods of architecture history, in particular Renaissance and baroque.

L into Well Street Common on the paved path.

 

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Well Street Common

 

The common is already mentioned in 1442 but most of it was actually farmland that was sold to developers in the 19th century. The area attracted mainly affluent residents and industrial development was limited to leather factories using the River Lea water. This population structure was to change after World War II. Many houses had been destroyed by bombs and owners decided to move to more rural suburbs while the borough was very interested in extending Gascoyne Estate to house the quickly growing working class population. Like with all commons, the amenities are very limited.

Near the playground L and again L, keeping to paved paths towards the eastern corner of the open space

Cross the road into Victoria Park

There is a six-paths crossing after the tennis courts. Turn half L towards Cadogan Gate, the football fields remaining to your left-hand side

 

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Victoria Park looking towards Canary Wharf

 

Victoria Park is a large park with an interesting history and several important attractions, but I will deal with it in detail on a District line walk. The present route crosses only a small corner and does not pass major amenities. You might notice on the picture that you can see the Canary Wharf towers from the park. It is one of the few places where you see them over a large green space.

Exit the park ahead on a footpath across the motorway

 

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Fishy footbridge in Hackney Wick

This is a rather funny bridge, the design of which reminds me of a fish or whale skeleton. It is also very convenient.

Ahead Wallis Road

HACKNEY WICK

 

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Hackney Wick station

 

The station opened in 1985 a few years after the train line had reopened passenger services. There was no station here on the old train line between 1852 and 1944 because Hackney Wick is located in the vicinity of the then Victoria Park station.

There is no real station building, just a small brick shelter on the platform and a particular large selection of advertising billboards lining the access ramp.

Continue on Wallis Road passing under the railway line

The road turns R (beware of not going ahead on Berkshire Road)

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Industrial area in Hackney Wick

 

The area continues to feel rather industrial with the odd abandoned warehouse. It is changing though with creative industries showing increasing interest due to good connections and cheaper rental prices than in overhyped Shoreditch.

Ahead on the footbridge over the River Lea

Go down the steps to the riverside footpath and follow the river south towards the bridge under the train line

Follow the riverside for an extended section until you reach a motorway flyover and a bridge over a side canal

 

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Hertfordshire Union Canal

 

Walking along the river, shortly after passing the first railway bridge, you reach a confluence of canals. You are walking along the Lea River towards the Thames whereas the canal branching off is the Hertfordshire Union Canal, a commercial venture trying to offer a shortcut between the Lea River and the Docklands, bypassing the unreliable and tidal lower Bow River. It did not turn profitable as traffic was too low and was included later in the Regent’s Canal network.

 

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Olympic Stadium from the river Lea

 

The view from the bridge just upstream of the canal confluence is interesting for the Olympic Stadium, now called the London Stadium. The building was no stranger to controversies, like with any large public building in Britain: the contract was awarded in 2006 not to the best bidder but to the only bidder who promised to fulfill the requirements. I guess any businessman would hear alarm bells if there is only one bidder… The building was often lauded for being ecologically sounder than many others (it uses much less steel and lighter concrete), but it was criticised for being unimpressive and in no way a landmark. After the olympic games, it was converted at great expense to a football stadium for Tottenham Hotspurs FC with some other sports events being staged on occasion.

 

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Flats for investment bankers near Old Ford

 

The large development opposite the stadium faces both canals. It is a complex of luxury flats very comparable to many buildings in the former Docklands. When industrial companies left derelict wasteland, it was first used by artists and creative professionals between 2000 and 2010. Now that is has been cleaned up and has gained a more glamorous reputation (under the name Fish Island), it is quickly being converted to a soulless accumulation of small, luxurious flats for bonus-toting Canary Wharf executives.

 

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Provider of smoked salmon

 

A bit downstream, you walk opposite a very modern industrial building housing the salmon smoking company Forman & Co. The small balcony with seats is part of an elegant restaurant catering to investment bankers.

 

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Lea River near Old Ford

You then cross a minor water (called the Old River Lea). The area is called Old Ford because this is more or less where the roman road from London to Colchester crossed the river Lea. The Thames was higher at that time and the lower Lea River was a marshy estuary, so that Old Ford was the first place one could cross the river. A bridge was supposedly built for the first time around the year 1100 in order to make access to the abbey at Barking easier, this being an important destination for Royals.

 

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Riverside industry in Bow

 

After Old Ford, the river Lea becomes more industrial, running between railway sidings on the left bank and light industrial premises on the right bank. The path continues all the way to a bridge over the next side canal, St Thomas Creek. The view from the bridge up the creek is interesting for combining the historical view -derelict warehouses- with the future -soulless, tall glass buildings.

 

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St Thomas Creek

Cross the side canal, then L along Stratford High Street (looking more like a motorway)

There are occasional opportunities to walk along the side canal you just crossed, but the footpath is not continuous and you will have to come back to the main highway.

 

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Stratford High Street

 

This section of High Street is unusual for London, particularly for an inner suburb, and reminds me more of a strip in America or of the outskirts of European mid-sized cities. It is a strange row of buildings that are not really ugly by themselves, but that are completely oblivious of their neighbours. The clash of shapes and colours can even be painful. In the middle, you have a very wide road that is almost impossible to cross except at rare traffic lights. It is a landscape that is not made for human beings, rather for car drivers.

L Carpenters Road

Soon R Jupp Road West

Ahead Jupp Road

Cross the underground line using the footbridge at the end of the road

L Station Street

STRATFORD

 

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Stratford interchange station

 

This very important interchange is one of the oldest train stations in London as it was opened as early as 1839. The first line to pass through the station ran from London Devonshire Street (a temporary terminal in Mile End) to Romford. The station has a very complex layout on two levels. The low level includes the terminal of London Underground Jubilee line and two platforms used by the DLR line from Canning Town to Stratford International.

 

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Jubilee Line platforms in Stratford

 

The high level includes the terminal of the DLR line to Canary Wharf, two platforms used by the London Underground Central line, two platforms used by London Overground trains from Canonbury and four platforms used by trains from London Liverpool Street towards East Anglia. There is an isolated platform at the rear of the station used as the terminal for train services towards Tottenham Hale. Interestingly, there are even two platforms that are unused as plans to run trains from London Fenchurch Street to Barking via Stratford in the 1940s were abandoned despite finishing construction.

The station was rebuilt several times due to the considerable extension of interchange possibilities. The current building is an imposing contemporary construction meant as a gateway for the 2012 Olympics visitors.

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