Walk 2: Limehouse walk to Island Gardens

Walk 2

LIMEHOUSE walk to ISLAND GARDENS

2 hours

The Docklands Light Railway (DLR) opened in 1987 in order to connect the office and housing developments in the reconverted Docklands with the City. The docks were served originally by a railway running between terminals at Minories and North Greenwich on a viaduct. Passenger services on this railway stopped in 1926 but the DLR uses the 1840 viaduct between Limehouse and Westferry.

There had been plans to build a London Underground extension instead of the DLR, but the government was short of funds in the 1980s and preferred a cheaper solution. Because the old train line ran on a re-usable viaduct, a tram concept (the solution used in Croydon) was considered inappropriate. The original line was a very cheap system: standardised, short platforms, automatic driving with just a service agent to control door closure. The system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note:

This route connects in Limehouse with DLR walk 1 and with Fenchurch Street network walk 1. It connects in Westferry with DLR walk 5, in West India Quay with DLR walk 4 and in Island Gardens with DLR walk 3. It will also connect in Canary Wharf with Underground Jubilee line walks 7 and 8.

This route does not visit all of Canary Wharf because I decided to do part of this on the Jubilee line walks.

LIMEHOUSE

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Limehouse DLR station

 

The old train station opened in 1840 under the name Stepney and was renamed Stepney East in 1923. It was then replaced by the neighbouring train station located on the Fenchurch Street line in 1926. When the DLR opened in 1987, both the suburban train station and the new DLR stop were renamed Limehouse.

The picture shows the DLR part of the complex with the two lift shafts and the access staircases in drab grey. There is no DLR building or ticket office. There is a station for the suburban trains but it is integrated in the viaduct arch and of no architectural interest.

Exit the station and walk East along the DLR viaduct towards the Basin

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DLR viaduct over Regent’s Canal

 

The viaduct is a particularly old railway viaduct as it was completed in 1840 for the new dock railway to North Greenwich. You can see that railways were still a technological novelty because Parliament chose a specific width for the rails that was not used anywhere else in Britain. The importance of a standard gauge was only understood about 30 years later when competing companies realised that it made sense to offer services combining two networks. An other exotic peculiarity of the dock railway is that it was hauled by a rope, considered as efficient at the time as coupling carriages to a steam engine.

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Limehouse Basin

 

The viaduct arches have a very long radius, but this was not difficult to build as long as you did not need to carry very heavy loads. The arches are lined for safety reasons by iron fencing and this was interestingly an important selling proposition because it made the train ride more confortable than brick wall fencing as it was less prone to causing wind funnelling and reverberating noise.

Walk around Limehouse Basin crossing two canals

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Footbridge over Regent’s Canal

 

Limehouse Basin was a dock used primarily to transfer goods from seagoing vessels to canal barges. One of the canals was Regent’s Canal, opened in 1810 in order to bypass the river Thames and the congested inner London harbour for goods carried from the Midlands to the export docks. The canal is bridged for pedestrians and cyclists by an interesting suspension bridge, one of several in the area. You will note that the shape is not a straight line, possibly for fun and aesthetics, possibly in order to avoid resonance effects.

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Limehouse Basin developments

 

The walkway then passes at the foot of a large development from 2003. This was one of the first luxury flat developments to opt for a shape reminiscent of ships’s prows. This proved to sell well due to the spacious balconies and inspired a series of later developments, for example in Wandsworth. With seven levels, the buildings are a little lower than those built later on in the Canary Wharf area.

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Footbridge over Limehouse Cut

 

The second canal is the Limehouse Cut, first opened in 1770. It was a very useful shortcut for canal barges bringing cargo from East Anglia into London as it made it possible to avoid the winding, tidal lower Lea river and the long detour past Greenwich. The canal carried primarily grain from Essex and Suffolk. Like most infrastructure in the 18th and 19th century, it was a private venture, quite profitable in this case.

After crossing the second canal L along the canal

R into the park, cross the length of the park

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Kiosque in Ropemakers’ Fields

 

The small park is called Ropemakers Fields as this was an open space near the dock where ropes were repaired. There are references to this location both in Samuel Pepys in 1664 and in accounts of a visit by the tsar of Russia in 1871. The park has a small sculpture referring to ropes. It is a nice green space because it is unusually hilly, making good use of ground excavated for the construction of a road tunnel under Limehouse.

 

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Ropemakers Field

Cross Narrow Street and take the path under Duke Shore Wharf towards the Thames (it is marked as the Thames Path).

When you reach the river, you can pause for a view because this is a very good location at the apex of a river bend, offering good views both towards Wapping and towards Deptford.

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View upstream towards Wapping

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View downstream towards Deptford

 

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Limekiln Dock seen from the footbridge

The path leads to an inlet of the Thames called Limekiln Dock. It was actually the mouth of a small creek and served a number of warehouses now converted to the ubiquitous luxury flats. Because some people own mooring rights in the dock, urban planners had to plan a footbridge that would lift when necessary. I don’t think this happens at all, but tracing and compensating the owners would probably have cost more than the bridge features.

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Footbridge over Limekiln Dock

 

There is an interesting technical comment on this suspension bridge on Internet http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2011/08/london-bridges-11-limekiln-dock.html. I am less shocked than this gentleman and find the bridge quite convenient and not that ugly.

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Limekiln Dock at low tide

If you have the time, you can walk a short distance on the walkway along the inlet to enjoy a different view. I was surprised that you lose very quickly the feeling of wide open spaces you might get along the river. At the back of the dock, you actually feel much more like in a courtyard.

Cross the basin on the footbridge, continue along the Thames around a development

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Development in Westferry

 

The development is one of the most striking designs along the Thames Path. The spindly steel tower set off the building can apparently be used as a set of balconies, but I suppose they are way too windy to be enjoyable most of the time. In addition, the tower has pointy spikes at the top that remind me much of either a crown of thorns or Sauron’s stronghold in the “Lord of the Rings”. I suppose it is not meant as an allegory of the behaviour of rapacious investment bankers, rogue traders and self-serving consultants, but who knows ?

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Crown of Thorns development

L into the cycle path merging into Three Colt Street

R Milligan Street

R Limehouse Causeway for

WESTFERRY

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Westferry DLR station

The station opened in 1987. The name comes from Westferry Road, a road running west of the docks to the ferry for Greenwich.

The station is a plain glass awning with a covered staircase up to the platforms. The lift shaft has a decorative panel but it is not really an artistic achievement.

R Westferry Road (the main highway into Canary Wharf)

Shortly before the tunnel portal L into Ontario Way

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Luxury hotel on Westferry Road

 

Just before turning left, you can have a short look at the bulky building opposite. It is actually a large hotel between apartment blocks. The hotel is the most luxurious in the area and has a rather weird roof. The curve may remind you of Egyptian temples and was apparently inspired by celebrity designer Philippe Starck. This kind of reference was popular in Art Déco buildings in the 1930s, usually on a somewhat smaller scale. When it stands at the top of an otherwise boring huge building, it feels a little like an artificial gimmick. The temple effect is more convincing when you see the building from the other bank of the Thames, hence my second picture.

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Egypt-on-Thames

Ahead to the walkway along the basin

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Former dock entrance gate

 

The basin is a small section of the original West India Dock as most of the basins were filled in in order to enable construction of the Canary Wharf towers. The neo-classical gate with a ship at the top, called the Hibbert Gate, was the main entrance to the dock and was built in 1803; what you see is a copy as the original was damaged by bombs and later by vandalism. The ship at the top is an interesting wrought iron decoration and is a typical cross-Atlantic ship from the 1800s, when the London Society of West India Planters and Merchants built the dock for its trade in sugar, tobacco, slaves and spices with the colonies in the Caribbean.

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West India ship in the 1800s

L around the basin, soon turning R and passing in front of the former warehouses

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Former West India Dock offices

 

The first building, now a restaurant called The Ledger Building, was not a warehouse as you can guess looking at the neo-classical portico. As the name says, the building from about 1803 was the accounting office of the West India company. Most of the former warehouses have been converted into restaurants as well, a sensible use considering the huge potential of hungry office workers. In Europe, this would be more limited as it would be just lunch trade, but the London cultural incline to go out with your office colleagues after work as well is very helpful for pubs and restaurants in business districts.

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Converted warehouses around West India Dock

A few of the warehouses have been converted into a small shopping centre and I took advantage of this opportunity to take pictures of the structure inside with a grid of wooden posts.

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Inside a warehouse conversion

 

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North Basin of West India Docks

 

The docks were allowed by an Act of Parliament in 1799, which was unusual as it was normally cities that planned harbours. This was both an attempt by the West India company to show strength against anti-slavery campaigners and a necessity because Parliament gave the new dock a monopoly for goods from West India over 20 years. The expected profit from this monopoly was necessary to convince investors at a time when wars against France made people wary of investing in maritime trade. The dock was sold to the Port of London Authority in 1909, became unused in the 1960s and derelict by 1980.

 

 

WEST INDIA QUAY

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West India Quay DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 as the junction between the two DLR lines from Tower Gateway and from Stratford but is now often bypassed by the trains from Westferry. It had to be rebuilt in 2009 because the designers had not accounted for the strong wind funnel effects caused by the tall towers in Canary Wharf. The station is located at the top of a steel viaduct cantilevered above an ornamental basin.

The awnings and staircase are the standardised DLR design.

Turn around on the quay along the basin towards the footbridge

L across the footbridge over the basin

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Footbridge across the North Basin

 

The footbridge is not really necessary as the detour around the basin would not be considerable, but it shortens the way between offices and pubs. The bridge is 94 meters long and can be opened in the middle. It looks like a floating bridge because the original planning was to tow it away in case of developments in the area, but it is now fixed to the ground. I find that the shape and colour do not fit well with the warehouses although other people like it. For a very good technical discussion of the bridge, see http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2010/12/london-bridges-6-west-india-quay.html.

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Footbridge for office workers

 

L Fisherman’s Walk (the walkway along the waterside)

R underneath the DLR viaduct

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Station and shopping centre entrance

 

The entrance to the shopping centre in which the DLR station is integrated is somewhat strange. On the one hand, the low ceiling caused by the DLR tracks gives you the feeling of an undignified entrance into a subterranean parking lot. On the other hand, the flight of stairs and the symmetrical aluminium lift shafts point to an important activity inside, a convention centre possibly.

CANARY WHARF

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Canary Wharf DLR station

 

The station opened in 1991 and has an interesting design as trains stop between two platforms, enabling you to alight on either side, and do open doors on both sides. I know very few places where this is the case, probably because it makes checking on the doors before departure more complex. The station is often used as a terminal.

The station is squeezed between two office buildings and is accessed through a shopping centre but it has a striking elliptical canopy. It is best seen from a train, standing at the front. This is usually possible as most trains don’t have drivers.

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Canary Wharf station canopy

Continue underneath the DLR tracks to the waterside

L on the walkway along the Basin, continue along the water turning R twice

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Canary Wharf station seen from the Middle Basin

 

From the other side of the basin, you see the station a little better. This basin was the middle dock (originally the Export Dock) and is much smaller than its original size. It is little more than a water-filled courtyard for the tall towers around it. My picture shows the stock exchange ticker on one of the façades. I am not sure why you would wish to do that as a decoration. It is not exactly relaxing.

L underneath the DLR tracks

HERON QUAYS

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Heron Quays DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 but was relocated in 2002 in order to fit below an office building. It is extremely close to the neighbouring stations, showing the concept of a light railway. Were it not for the viaducts and basins, it would actually work equally well as a tram line.

The station is distinctive, the tracks being embedded into a large cylindrical tube. The tube does not stand on normal pillars, it is suspended from oblique steel pylons. I have no idea why this was deemed necessary or appropriate.

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DLR tracks suspended on oblique pylons

Continue underneath the DLR tracks to the next basin

L on the walkway along the basin to the footbridge

 

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South Basin of West India Docks

 

The South Dock was built much later than the two other ones, namely in 1860. It is wider and longer in order to accommodate the larger ships that had become usual. For this reason, it is also the only dock that is still connected with the Thames and it is used very occasionally by visiting ships, in particular for official visits by foreign navies, the dock being wide enough to enable turning.

R across the footbridge over the basin

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Footbridge over South Basin

 

The South Quay footbridge is very useful considering the size of the basin. It is again a suspension bridge, held by an oblique steel pillar. This is considered more elegant and original than plain vertical pillars but I was not too impressed. You may wonder why one end of the bridge is unnecessarily higher than the other one, making inconvenient stairs necessary. This is because the bridge was longer and symmetrical until part of the basin was filled in to provide more room for office towers and shopping centres. Again, here is a link to a technical discussion of the bridge: http://happypontist.blogspot.lu/2010/11/london-bridges-5-south-quay-footbridge.html.

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Detail of the footbridge

 

L South Quay Walk (the walkway along the basin), turns R and ends at the DLR station

While walking here, I noticed unusual walkway lighting. The elaborate light metal shining silvery reminds of Art Déco and the shape is somehow reminiscent of a lighthouse. I wonder who managed to convince the local developer to pay for such lamps and why lighting at other Canary Wharf location is so different.

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South Basin walkway lighting

 

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At the back of office buildings

 

 

 

The view from the walkway towards the towers is not uninteresting. It is so to speak the back side of the business district, where tower owners did not need to invest in any decoration or beautification of their massive, utilitarian, profit-maximising schemes. The view north contrasts with the view east towards the Thames. In this direction, open spaces and the large water expanse give a very different feeling.

SOUTH QUAY

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South Quay DLR station

 

The original station opened in 1987 between sharp curves and had to be relocated in 2009 because platforms could not be lengthened at the original location.

The new station is a glass rectangle enclosing the line where it crosses a basin. This led engineers to cantilever the access staircases over the side of the basin and is an elegant, one-off solution.

Cross under the DLR tracks to the following basin

R on the walkway along the water, soon turning L towards the South

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Fountain near South Quay station

 

In the corner of the basin, I found an enjoyable fountain, one of several water features in the Canary Wharf area. This is striking as water features are not much in favour with boroughs normally, being more expensive to maintain and to keep clean. What strikes me clearly is how popular this fountain would be in a suburban park and how forlorn and ignored it is in a business district.

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Plantation architecture on Millwall Inner Dock

 

The area behind the fountain on the west side of the basin is being developed and will include two smaller urban parks, but you will have to explore on your own once this is all finished. Following the basin walkway, you will be more attracted currently to the view over the water. The low building along the water is a set of restaurants but it does not try to imitate warehouse architecture. The many balconies look more like shopping centres in tropical countries and the central pavilion might remind you of plantation houses. I don’t know if the planners tried to think of West India.

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Sleek and blocky office building in Millwall

 

There is a huge block of offices in the background. The façades are fully covered in reflective glass, which has been trendy in the 2000s. You can compare with the towers from the 1990s you passed before, where steel girding was more conspicuous. Also, the block does not have a single tenant, so that it is not branded and remains a huge mineral element. Not ugly, just a little cold and foreign. Looking at the picture, I am reminded a little of a power station. The power of money and greed ?

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Many windows on Millwall Inner Dock

 

The next building along the yonder side of the basin is a strong contrast to the previous one. It might be an interesting idea on paper to have all these white window surroundings poking through the brick background, but it is tiresome on such a scale and the upper level looks like a cheap factory hall, not like a posh penthouse. In addition, the slick blue front of the previous building does not harmonise at all with the overloaded window game.

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Pepper Street drawbridge and fortress

 

Further along, when you approach the drawbridge that you will be using, you cannot help but notice the playful architecture halfway between a warehouse and a medieval castle. Very artificial but fun to look at. The path across the small development is a bit sad, I think it would have been nicer to spread more neighbourhood shops at ground level rather than to concentrate them into a small shopping centre at one end.

L Pepper Street, a pedestrianised road crossing the basin

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Pepper Street

 

The road crosses the basin on a drawbridge called Glengall Bridge. It is inspired by Dutch drawbridges and might remind you of a well-known painting by Van Gogh of a similar bridge located in the Provence. Some opening bridge was necessary because there is a marina in one corner of the basin that can be accessed from the Thames only through this opening. The design is as artificially playful as the rest of the development.

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Data centre overlooking Millwall Dock

 

The view south from the drawbridge shows much lower buildings except for one. The large glass building with a somewhat strange triangular feature facing the water is not a hotel or an office building. The modern shapes hide the largest data centre serving Canary Wharf. There is a long tradition in London of hiding technical facilities behind reasonably impressive façades and you pass very imposing telephone exchanges from the 1930s in several London suburbs.

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Millwall Dock looking towards Canary Wharf

Detour ahead if you want to go to the next station

CROSSHARBOUR

t33-crossharbour-station_bThe station opened in 1987 and was renamed “Crossharbour & London Arena” in 1994 in order to advertise for a nearby sports and exhibition centre. The centre was a commercial failure and the station name was shortened again in 2006. The station is occasionally used as a terminal, using sidings.

The awnings and staircase are the standardised DLR design.

Go back to the basin and continue walking south as before, but now on the other (eastern) side of the basin

Continue all the way to a small footbridge. Do not cross the footbridge, continue south along a narrow basin called Clippers Quay

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Clippers Quay marina

 

This is officially a marina, but I saw no boats moored and pictures taken more recently don’t show boats either. It might be a private marina linked to the local development, the lack of demand for moorings being then linked to the demography of the residents. On pictures taken in sunny weather, you get a feeling of Auckland or San Francisco Bay, but pictures taken in the usual cloudy weather help understand why the sailing lifestyle does not catch in Canary Wharf.

At the end of the basin L on Spindrift Avenue

Soon L on a footpath for

MUDCHUTE

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Mudchute DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 on an old train viaduct and was relocated at the entrance of the tunnel when the DLR was rerouted in 1999 in order to cross the Thames towards Greenwich. The station was to be called Millwall Park after the nearby green space, but there was a notorious Millwall Football Club at the time with serious hooliganism problems so that local residents feared to be associated with the club. The name Mudchute comes from the mud dredged from the basins and deposited on wasteland in this area.

The platforms awnings are standard DLR issue and are not very visible as the station is in a cutting.

Cross the DLR tracks above the tunnel portal

Ahead along Millwall Park on a partly paved path called The Globe Rope Walk

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Mudchute Farm

 

The name of the path comes from a rope factory located here until 1971. Ropes were made by twisting the strands with a machine that was moved along the needed length, so that a long straight path was needed.

The path marks the limit between two parks, Mudchute Park and Millwall Park. Mudchute Park to your left was wasteland where dredging rubbish accumulated for about 150 years.

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Mudchute Park

 

Local authorities were tempted to use the ground for a council estate in the 1970s as this location within the derelict docklands was of no interest to private developers. Local residents feared the disruption and successfully pointed to the lack of public means of transportation. In the end, the open space was converted by a local association into an urban farm. You can walk around for free and girls will like it as there are many horse paddocks. Judicious planting also led to the park becoming a protected natural area, thwarting development.

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Millwall Park

 

Millwall Park to your right was supposed to be used for developments in the 1860s, but the plan fell through due to a financial crisis and the ground became the neighbourhood park, including typical amenities like a bathing pool. The park was damaged by bombs in 1940 and was kept afterwards as the somewhat plain open space it is now. The borough also agreed to the park being used to dump the construction debris from the DLR tunnel as raising the ground made sense in order to help limit flooding risk from the Thames. The result was that the soil is bad quality and cannot be used for much more than informal sports grounds or open air fairs.

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Woman and Fish in Millwall Park

 

You might be surprised to find a sculpture in the park. The “woman and fish” is a recent replica of a vandalised drinking water fountain that was originally in Stepney. The original was by Frank Dobson, one of the leading 20th century British sculptors, and compares easily with works by other artists of that period like Maillol. I thought the present sculpture is marble but it is actually bronze.

At the end of the paved path R in order to keep within the park

You can now see the conspicuous shapes of the DLR station

ISLAND GARDEN

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Island Gardens DLR station

 

The station was originally a simple platform for the DLR terminal on the old train viaduct when it opened in 1987. This changed to an underground station when the tunnel under the Thames was built for the DLR extension towards Greenwich in 1999. Original plans called for a simple platform in a cutting like in Mudchute, but local residents managed to get a proper station built. I actually often used this station as an introduction when bringing foreign visitors to Greenwich so that the residents were right in pointing to the special location justifying an effort.

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Elegant shapes of Island Gardens station

 

The new station has an interesting design as there was room to make an architectural statement. Seen from the park, it has a double set of rounded roofs on steel pillars, the interesting point being that the two sets are inverted in opposing directions. It is just a geometrical game but quite harmonious. Seen from the road, the entrance is an airy hall between strange towers with rounded ends, those being the aeration shafts for the tunnel under the Thames.

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Walk 1: Bank & Tower Gateway walk to Limehouse

Walk 1

BANK and TOWER GATEWAY to LIMEHOUSE

2 1/2 hours

This section of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) is primarily a conversion of an old railway serving the London docks that had been closed in 1966 when the docks in this area were abandoned. This railway opened in 1840 and used the exact alignment of the present DLR but the stations were different: Minories (now Tower Gateway), Leman Street (between 1877 and 1941), Cannon Street Road (between 1842 and 1848, replaced by Leman Street station), Shadwell & St George’s East (between 1840 and 1941, now Shadwell) and Stepney East (between 1840 and 1926, now Limehouse).

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DLR train in Tower Gateway terminal

 

There had been plans to build a London Underground extension instead, but the government was short of funds in the 1980s and preferred a cheaper solution. Because the available train line ran on a viaduct, a tram concept (the solution used in Croydon) was considered inappropriate. The original line between Tower Gateway and Limehouse opened in 1987 and was a very cheap system: standardised platforms, automatic driving with just a service agent to control door closure.

Considerable traffic growth due to many banks relocating staff to the former Docklands combined with bad connections at Tower Gateway led to the construction of a spur to Bank through a very deep tunnel connected with London Underground. To sit at the front of the train when it enters the tunnel is an interesting feeling.

The system was operated by a private company for 25 years and is now operated by a 70% subsidiary of the French government-owned railway SNCF.

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DLR tracks near Tower Gateway terminal

 

The differences between suburban trains and light railways are obvious in terms of optics. The DLR has advantages compared to a train line:

– services can be more frequent due to much shorter braking distances

– the trains can turn at tight corners as they are articulated

– the infrastructure is much cheaper to build as the weight of the carriages is much lower

– operating costs are lower as there are no unionised drivers, just service staff that needs little education and can be paid the minimum wage

There are also disadvantages:

– Capacity per train is lower even though platforms have been extended later, causing potential overcrowding at rush hour

– Services are slow due to the many stops and smaller electrical motors

You need to be aware that Oyster pay-as-you-go cards are accepted as if you were on a bus but that they malfunction frequently depending on where you change to the DLR. You might be charged unexpected amounts.

Routing note: There are frequent large construction sites in the City of London and some of the passages I suggest might be blocked for the duration of the works. It is easy to find parallel passages and you do not really need a map to find them.

This route will connect in Bank with London Underground Central line walk 7, with Northern line walks 10 and 11, and with the Waterloo & City walk. You can connect to London Overground walk 3 in Shadwell but the stations are clearly apart. Finally, this route connects in Limehouse with DLR walk 2 and with Fenchurch Street network walk 1.

BANK

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Bank station entrance

 

The DLR platforms at Bank opened in 1991 underneath the existing London Underground stations and the way to the exit appears impressively long and convoluted with a number of stairs and elevators. Surprisingly for a railway connecting the City with an airport, the first step away from the platforms is an uncomfortably long flight of stairs.

A station building had originally been intended in 1900, but this would have forced the demolition of a church and the railway company was only allowed to use the crypt as an entrance. As a result, the station is entirely underground with no building above.

Take the exit towards Bank of England and turn into Prince’s Street (leads North from the crossroads)

This street runs between the Bank of England and the head office of a large commercial bank. The main hall of the commercial bank is a seriously imposing covered courtyard and is worth a look. You may not take pictures for obvious security reasons but you can enter the premises as it is a normal retail branch.

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Bank of England (rear view)

 

The Bank of England building is an entirely different story. The institution itself dates back to 1694 but the present building is from the 1920s. It is by a leading architect of the period who was actually working mostly in the Colonies (South Africa and India), and it is a typical example of imperial bombast with oversized neo-classical elements. The best view is from the corner of Prince’s Street with Lothbury.

 

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Curtain wall of the Bank of England

 

You do not see much of the building from the streets as it is hidden behind a curtain wall broken only by armoured steel gates. The walls were built after a riot had managed to vandalise offices of the bank in 1780. This is somewhat ironical as the Bank of England prides itself on having a particularly transparent monetary and supervisory policy.

 

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Set of doors of the Bank of England

The head offices of central banks in other large countries are much more representative buildings, be it the Banque de France, the Bundesbank, the European Central Bank, the Banca d’Italia or the Nationale Bank van België. There are no security problems as central banks don’t normally keep valuable reserves in the headquarters – except in London.

Ahead Moorgate

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Basildon House on Moorgate

 

Basildon House at 7 Moorgate is a late 19th century office building. It is a good example of Victorian neo-baroque with Palladian triangles above the windows and a very conspicuous optical grid through a heavy horizontal cornice in the William Kent style and heavy columns to stress the vertical. In the 1930s, architects were to reject this grid appearance in favour of stressing either the horizontal or the vertical but not both.

 

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Medieval style on Moorgate

The building used by the Europe Arab Bank at the next street corner is a striking contrast. It is neo-medieval in a manner seldom seen on so large buildings. It stresses horizontal lines (which is not very gothic) with the only vertical accent being the corner tower. Because decoration is concentrated on the tower and smaller scale, it is much more balanced than Basildon House. It feels solid rather than bombastic.

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Lighthouse on Moorgate

 

The last interesting historical building on Moorgate is a neo-Renaissance palace used now by the Habib Bank. There is a delightful corner sculpture showing a lighthouse. This is linked to the fact that the building was erected in 1914 for the account of a maritime insurance company.

Turn R into a narrow passage at the foot of the lighthouse (Moorgate Place). The passage turns R

 

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Institute of Chartered Accountants

 

The impressive neo-Renaissance building along the second part of the passage houses the Institute of Chartered Accountants, an association founded in 1870 to improve standards in a profession that was seen at the time as not very competent and prone to manipulations. Accounting fraud is very well alive and extremely dangerous nowadays, but most critics agree that it is seldom due to incompetence of accountants, rather to the criminal intent of top managers.

 

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Neo-baroque façade on Great Swan Alley

 

The building from 1890 is considered one of the finest late Victorian neo-baroque structures. There is a little too much decoration, but there is a clear division between the levels with the vertical being only stressed at the top level where it counts more. The elaborate frieze is also well integrated. The architect is John Belcher and the statues and friezes are by leading sculptors of the period.

at the end L Great Swan Alley

R Copthall Avenue, turns L

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Drapers’ Hall

 

Looking R to the end of Throgmorton Avenue (actually more a quiet dead end private street controlled with gates), you see the late 19th century brick building of the Drapers’ Guild with a front reminiscent of Jacobean palaces. The livery company is officially called simply “The Master and Wardens and Brethren and Sisters of the Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Mary the Virgin of the Mystery of Drapers of the City of London”. Drapers were among the most influential traders in medieval England and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a member of the company, as are a number of Royals both British and foreign. Pictures on Internet show the reception rooms as being among the grandest in London, but it is very difficult to visit them.

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Drapers’ Garde,

 

The small garden at the corner of Copthall Avenue with Throgmorton Avenue belongs also to the Drapers’ Guild. Considering land values in the City, the small patch of greenery indeed proves considerable wealth. It was originally the garden of a mansion bought by the guild in 1543 as their new seat. When it is open, it provides pleasant sitting with no noisy traffic in sight. There are several mulberry trees in the garden; this has been a tradition since the drapers followed the lead of the king in encouraging the local silk industry around 1600, mulberry trees being essential for providing the necessary raw material.

L Throgmorton Avenue

Directly R Austin Friars (initially a pedestrian passage)

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Dutch Church in Austin Friars

 

The church in this passage is the Nederlandse Kerk Londen, built for the Dutch calvinists after World War II to replace their old chapel also located here but destroyed by bombs. The present building dates back to 1954 and is a simple combination of concrete blocks as there was not much money available for reconstruction at the time. The church is very important in the Protestant tradition as it the oldest Protestant church in Dutch language, being recognised in 1550 at a time when the Low Countries themselves were still officially Spanish and catholic. The building is not normally open outside of services and is very plain according to pictures, as you can expect from a strictly calvinist Church.

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Garden of the Nederlandse Kerk Londen

There is a small garden at the side of the church with a statue of a monk. This refers to the former owner of the area, a convent of Augustinian friars who settled here around 1269. The order put a strong emphasis on a modest way of life and spiritual exercise; it developed a very strong tradition of teaching and scientific work.

(Ahead) Pinner’s Passage (under a building)

R Old Broad Steeet

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Typical City labyrinth

You are clearly in the core of the business area of central London with a very intricate maze of passages under and around modern glass buildings of all sizes. This is a specialty of London as most contemporary business areas like Canary Wharf and La Défense tend to have skyscrapers isolated in the middle of wide, bleak, empty spaces. Some of those passages appear unused and don’t lead anywhere useful. This is the case of the network of staircases at the back of tower 42.

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Tower 42

 

Tower 42 was not named after the street number (it is at number 25) but after the number of levels as there is an expensive bar at level 42. It is one of the highest skyscrapers in London (183 m) and was built originally in 1980 for a bank. When the tower was built, there were many discussions about allowing such tall buildings in the City but greed won, also because developers promised in exchange to keep some of the traditional buildings around. The tower is a good example of the rather uninteresting design of office buildings in the 1970s, attention being paid at the time only to the technical challenges of the height and not much to the external appearance.

L Adams Close / Adams Court (a pedestrian passage under a building snaking first L then R passing a courtyard)

I could not take a picture because this is a private property, but this is one of the passages I found particularly enjoyable in the City due to the internal courtyard. There are many somewhat overpriced restaurants for City bankers inside.

L Threadneedle Street

L Bishopsgate

Follow Bishopsgate until you reach St Ethelburga church

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St Ethelburga on Bishopsgate

 

This is one of the few medieval parish churches still standing in the City of London, but only the tower dates back to the 15th century because the rest of the church was destroyed by a terrorist attack in 1993. Interestingly, the terrorists (the IRA) warned the police and detonated the bomb on a quiet Saturday, trying to avoid casualties. This is a striking contrast with terrorism connected to the wars in Irak and Syria.

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Intercultural pillar in St Ethelburga

 

The church was rebuilt as a “Centre for Reconciliation and Peace”, managed by a charity encouraging intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The courtyard garden is definitely worth sitting for a few minutes. It is full of very intricate symbolic details combining in a subtle way European and Islamic motives. The walls of the garden are broken by windows in a gothic shape but with wrought iron designs like in Northern Africa. The mosaics on the ground have centered designs as usual in Europe, but use geometrical patterns like in Morocco. The ornamental pillar combines scrolls reminiscent of Irish crosses with lions from Islamic al-Andalus.

 

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Courtyard of St. Ethelburga’s

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Mosaic pavement of St Ethelburga’s

Turn around on Bishopsgate, going back south

L Great St Helen’s, a passage for cars and pedestrians under a building

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Great St. Helen’s

 

The church is one of the largest and most venerable parish churches in the City of London. It was also destroyed in the terrorist attack of 1993 and was rebuilt in a very austere, calvinist style. The street front shows the peculiar structure of the church, made of two parallel, equal naves. This is due to the fact that the church was part of a nunnery and that the nuns used one nave, closed off from the second nave used as the parish Church.

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Glimpse of Great St. Helen’s Inside

 

The church has a lively series of activities but they are meant for specific groups and it is difficult to visit the church itself. This is possibly due to the fact that the church has only weak links with Anglicanism and defines itself as “Conservative Evangelical”. My picture is taken through a window and hints at the large number of burial monuments for which the church is well known.

Cross the square in front of the church and walk along the right side of the church into Undershaft

Detour R along St Mary Axe to St Andrew Undershaft church

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St Andrew Undershaft

 

The church is very interesting because it is one of the very few medieval churches in the City of London that were not rebuilt. It dates back to 1532 and is an authentic example of the perpendicular gothic style, inspiring many Victorian architects. The name of the church comes from a maypole that was traditionally set up every year opposite the church. The tradition stopped in 1547 after a riot cut down the maypole shaft for being a “pagan idol”.

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Lloyd’s Building from St Andrew Undershaft

 

The street corner is useful to get views of several of the surrounding skyscrapers as they are usually difficult to see properly from directly beneath. My pictures show Tower 42, the Lloyds tower, the Willis building and of course the iconic “Gherkin” (officially plain 30 St Mary Axe).

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Swiss Re tower with St Andrew Undershaft

otherwise cross St Mary Axe and walk to the right of the round tower (the passage is called Brown’s Buildings)

 

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Gherkin tower

The tower was known originally as the Swiss Re tower after its main tenant (like Tower 42 as NatWest tower). It is 180 meter high and was built in 2003 on a plot that became available after a terrorist attack in 1992 destroyed the previous building.

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Curving shapes

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Top of Gherkin tower

 

Speculators tried to get permission for a 386-meter high tower, but this was considered really excessive and also slightly problematic in view of commercial aircraft flying relatively low over London. The tower was designed by a leading architect, Sir Norman Foster, and ushered the era of conspicuous skyscraper designs in London. The design remains iconic as very few towers use rounded shapes for fear of losing valuable space at the upper levels and the tower won the Stirling Prize in 2004. In recent years, specialists have started to criticise the all-glass hull of the building as being out of fashion and more difficult to maintain than a steel-and-glass structure.

(Ahead) Bury Street

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Holland House on Bury Street

At the corner of the street, Holland House is an exquisite Art Déco office building designed in 1916 for a Dutch shipping company. It is an extremely rare example of Dutch Art Déco in London, stressing vertical lines and playing with strong colour contrasts. The very tall windows were unusual at the time in Britain for offices as they were difficult to clean from soot caused by coal heating.

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Prow of Holland House

The corner of the building is marked by a very appropriate sculpture showing the prow of a ship plowing through the waves. It is the work of a Dutch artist. The building is also listed for its interior decoration, a supposedly magnificent work by leading designer Van de Velde, but the building is strictly private and the owner does not even post pictures of the inside on their website.

R Creechurch Lane

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St Katherine Cree

 

The church at the end of the street is St Katherine Cree, a guild church (rather than a parish church). The tower is a late gothic structure from 1504, the nave is the only Jacobean church in London and was built in 1630. This is reflected in the rectangular shape of the windows, a reference to Renaissance custom. You stand a good chance of finding the church open and it is definitely worth a visit.

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Stained glass rose in St Katherine Cree

 

The first striking element is the magnificent rose over the altar, kept in the Tudor gothic style. The rose is supposedly a smaller scale copy of that of old St Paul’s Cathedral as it was before the 1666 fire. The stained glass is an extremely rare original version from 1630. In line with protestant tradition, the design is mostly geometrical.

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Guild coats of arms

 

The ceiling appears surprisingly flat to our eyes but we are influenced by the many neo-medieval churches from the Victorian era. In medieval times, most churches were covered by flat wooden ceilings and the shape in St Katherine’s is therefore perfectly in line with tradition. It is just unusual for a stone ceiling as it demands a lot of experience from the masons. When the ceiling was renovated in 1962, the coats of arms of the guilds were added and provide colourful designs.

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Font in St Katherine Cree

 

The font is also an original Jacobean work with rather heavy neo-classical shapes. The shaft looks more like a guide to Roman architecture with designs piled according to size. There are a few monuments in the church, in particular the conspicuous memorial to Sir Nicholas Throgmorton, who navigated the very difficult politics between Henry VIII and Elizabeth I brilliantly and had a adventurous career as an Ambassador to France and Scotland, ending up in prison a few times.

 

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Monument to Sir Throgmorton

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Hartshorn Alley

L Leadenhall Street

R Hartshorn Alley (a very inconspicuous pedestrian passage through building no. 65)

Cross Fenchurch Street and continue ahead into the next passage

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Neo-Renaissance on Fenchurch Street

 

On Fenchurch Street, my picture shows a late Victorian building that is interesting to compare to two buildings you saw at the start of the walk because all three are neo-baroque. The Fenchurch Street building has a ground floor similar to the Institute of Chartered Accountants, but the first floor is less well designed as the many columns and the Palladian window surroundings overload the design. The top floor is neo-Renaissance with curiously recessed windows and small balconies reminiscent of France.

Ahead Northumberland Alley

R Crutched Friars

soon L Crosswall

R America Square passing underneath train tracks

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No.1 America Square

 

There is a conspicuous building at 1 America Square. It is primarily a conference centre and this justifies an entrance that draws visitors in. The architect clearly intended to refer to US Art Deco and the entrance is duly impressive. Looking from further away to the building, you see better how vertical lines are stressed. The protruding shape is meant to bring associations of speed, of steamships through the ocean or of fast cars, Art Deco being also about being modern and fascinated by the “age of machines”.

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Inspired by American Art Deco

L Hammett Street

Cross the road for

TOWER GATEWAY

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Tower Gateway terminal

 

The station was the original DLR terminal in 1987. It has become a secondary terminal since the more convenient terminal at Bank opened in 1991.

The platform is a lightweight shelter in cheapest steel and glass; the principle was to achieve the lowest construction cost possible back in the 1980s. The access to the station is simple but quite pretty with a rotunda bearing flags – you can notice that the choice of countries is very 1990s, ignoring Asia except for Japan and also ignoring Russia. The curved roof over the elevator is equally pleasant to look at and the overall scale is human-sized, a contrast to the surrounding office towers.

R Minories

(Ahead) Cross the busy main road towards the Tower of London, turn L and go down steps to the pedestrian walkway at the lower level along the moat.

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Tower of London seen from Minories

 

This is an unusual perspective on the Tower as you get the feeling that the buildings inside the compound are not much higher than the wall around them. The outer wall dates back to about 1285, some two centuries after the construction of the original keep. By then, the Tower was seldom used as a royal palace, more as a prison and as a threat to potentially unruly London residents. The use of the moat as a tennis club was very surprising to me as this feels like a slightly undignified use of a national monument.

L Subway under Tower Bridge Approach

Follow the signs for St Katherine Docks, turning R after the subway and very soon L again

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St Katherine Docks

 

St. Katherine’s docks were built in the 1820s on the site of a medieval hospital. The docks were very modern in that warehouses had direct access to the ships, avoiding traffic on a cluttered quayside. But they had little success as they accommodated only rather small ships. Nearly all buildings were demolished around 1970 and replaced by office and luxury residential buildings of limited interest.

 

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Historical ships in S Katherine’s Docks

 

The most interesting items in the present docks are the flotilla of boats and ships including a few historical coastal navigation ships moored alongside the hotel on the west side of the dock. Unfortunately, you can only see them from far away as the quay along which they are moored is part of the hotel grounds. Apart from the working boats, you will see a huge number of colourful pleasure craft. I think most of them are visiting boats but some appear to moor all year long, which must be a rather expensive option in this marina. The boats are at their best during the annual Thames Festival weekend.

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Development in St Katherine Docks

 

The apartment buildings along the north and east side of the basin were among the first reconversion projects in the London dock areas and they set the guidelines for many later projects in terms of height and sprawl. Whereas it was popular in the 1970s to have separate towers spread over an open space, urban planners advocated in the 1990s a feeling of courtyard and therefore long buildings on three or four sides. The concept proved very popular with affluent bankers worried about their personal safety as this made gated estates easy to organise. The council authorities who reviewed the St Katherine Docks application must be commended for their foresight in the 1990s, imposing rights of way and waterside walkways.

Follow the N edge of the two basins (called first Commodity Quay and later Sun Walk), then R along the eastern edge of the second basin

L away from the basin using the only available passage

R Thomas More Street, the road turns R at a crossroads

At the end L Wapping High Street

Soon L Redmead Lane

immediately L to the edge of the basin

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Hermitage Basin

 

This is Hermitage Basin, the upstream entrance of the Shadwell / Wapping dock complex. There were warehouses along the basin but they accommodated only smaller ships and closed as early as 1909. The end of the basin is marked by a nice sculpture in the shape of a looping rope. Apparently, the artist meant the part inside the loop to be illuminated in a specific way, but I have never seen this as it uses too much electricity.

 

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Rope sculpture in Wapping

Continue into the cycle route and footpath along Hermitage Basin

Follow the cycle route as it crosses the canal and passes under a road

Continue along the canal, turning L with the canal when it branches off

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Wapping Ornamental Canal

 

Wapping Ornamental Canal is not an actual canal from the Docklands era. When the Wapping docks were demolished in the late 1970s, they were completely filled in and built over. As the estates are all gated and as there were no roads across the area due to the past as basins filled with water, the planners found it sensible to plan for a path across the area. This was beautified through the ornamental canal. In order to keep the water not too dirty, the water is aerated by pumps and flows naturally down low steps from east to west.

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Side arm of Wapping canal

 

The canal divides into two arms in the middle of Wapping, the side arm being a dead end. The houses along the side arm have some walls covered in slate, an expensive and unusual covering for London. You would expect this rather in areas heavily exposed to snow and rain driven by high wind, like in Wales and Cornwall. The railings along the canal are quite expensive but necessary because of the size of the canal; similar schemes in Rotherhithe were built later with a much narrower and shallower canal in order to save on railing costs.

The canal turns R again, continue on the cycle route passing under a footbridge and later under a road bridge

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Estate facing Tobacco Dock

 

The canal passes between an estate and a derelict shopping centre called Tobacco Dock. The estate is an interesting example of a modern terrace imitating the alignment and the height of late Victorian terraces but without front gardens. The houses are oversize cottages with steep roofs, which is not done since about 2000 as it is more profitable to plan the top level as a penthouse apartment. The façade is broken by protrusions ornamented with coloured panels in cheap plastic covering, a style that was popular in the 1980s.

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Tobacco Dock fancy ship

 

Tobacco Dock is a failed shopping centre. Planners had hoped for customers from further afield but it attracted only local shoppers because of the suboptimal connection with London Underground. The main structure is a listed warehouse from 1811, one of the oldest in London, and belongs to a Kuwaiti investor. No convincing plans have been brought forward to make sensible use of the premises. The large ship moored in front of the abandoned area, the Three Sisters, is a fancy decoration item where developers had thought of putting a “piracy museum” in order to attract families to the shopping centre. An other, smaller ship folly was planned as a children’s playground. It is a pity that the ships are fake as they would indeed be popular with children if they could be relocated to somewhere more accessible.

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Eastern end of Wapping canal

After Tobacco Dock, the ornamental canal soon comes to an end with stepped ponds that enable the oxygenation of the canal water and help prevent algae growth.

At the end of the canal L along the edge of Wapping Woods, continues as a paved access way

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Wapping Woods

 

Wapping Woods is a strange name for an open space with isolated clumps of trees. When the docks were demolished, planners had more trees planted but the ground was rubbish from the docks. It was probably polluted and drained too fast so that only the hardiest trees were able to grow. Lessons were learned from this half-failure when a similar scheme in Rotherhithe led to the much more successful creation of Russia Dock woodland. This being said, the open space is a valuable patch of greenery in an area of London where this is scarce.

Ahead Dellow Street (you might have to detour to traffic lights R or L in order to cross the main highway)

R Cable Street

L Watney Street

SHADWELL

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Shadwell DLR station

 

The station opened in 1987 together with the DLR line and did not use the site of the old train station (located a few yards further east). The station is also clearly separated from London Overground Shadwell station, located a few hundred yards away.

As usual on the DLR, there is no station building or ticket office, just a sign under the appropriate arch of the viaduct. The access hall is sheltered by an interesting set of coloured glass panels that makes you feel like fish in an aquarium.

 

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Shadwell station aquarium

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Shadwell DLR Platform

 

The platform is protected by a standard steel-and-glass awning.

Turn around on Watney Street

L Cable Street (following the same direction as before)

R King David Lane

R The Highway, cross the road at the next traffic light and continue in the same direction

L Garnet Street (there is also a pedestrian sign for “Shadwell Basin”)

Very soon L Newlands Quay (the road is unmarked but there is again a pedestrian sign for the basin)

Go to the edge of the basin and continue walking East (away from Garnet Street)

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St Paul’s Shadwell

 

The tall wall to your left is the buttressing wall of the parish churchyard. St Paul’s Shadwell was built in 1821 in order to replace the 17th century church that was too small considering the strong growth in population in the East End. Parliament paid for the construction because it was very worried that residents left without supervision from clergymen could become unruly. The nave is in neo-classical style, the tower refers to the previous church and is baroque. I have not read details about interesting monuments Inside.

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Shadwell Basin

 

Shadwell Basin at the foot of the church is the only part of the old Wapping dock complex that was kept as a basin. It is therefore very useful to sportsmen like rowers for whom the Thames is not always appropriate, but the water is not clean enough to swim in it. The basin was opened in 1832 and the present lock is from 1858. The basin became too small for standard ships by the end of the 19th century although warehouses continued to be used to some extent.

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Development on Shadwell Basin

 

The Shadwell docks were closed in 1969 and houses were built on three sides in 1989. The strong colours were popular at the time, as were the conspicuous arches at the ground level. The houses are not very tall compared to most riverside developments because the architects were asked to respect the scale of the derelict warehouses in order to keep a feeling for the actual size of harbour basins.

Follow the basin walkway turning R then L again to a road

L on the road and directly R on the footpath marked as Thames Path

The footpath leads along King Edward Memorial Park. The core of the park directly along the riverside is an elegant cylindrical structure in typically Edwardian white and red bricks. I noticed very nice cast iron grills. The structure is the ventilation shaft for the road tunnel linking Limehouse and Rotherhithe (not to be confused with the older train tunnel in Wapping).

I crossed it once by car and it is a somewhat frightening experience as the road is very narrow with sharp bends. The pavements on either side are nearly as wide as the road, the reason being that the tunnel was planned primarily for harbour traffic, i.e. horse-drawn carriages on the road and goods carried on wheelbarrows on the pavement. Because of the wide pavement, the tunnel can be used by pedestrians and cyclists, but it is very unpleasant to do so.

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King Edward VII Park

 

King Edward VII Park uses ground where a fish market had been built in the 1880s but had become derelict. Their Majesties opened the park themselves in 1922, which is a testimony to the importance it had in the very poor and very industrial East End. Apart from the obviously very pleasant views over the river, the park offers the usual number of sports grounds but also a particularly well planned green area that reminds more of an orchard than of a football ground.

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Flowers in King Edward VII Park

 

On a terrace overlooking the rest of the park, you can also find a few flower beds. The terrace is an interesting feature at the transition between Edwardian parks (pergolas with square brick columns overlooking formal flower beds) and Art Déco (making use of the natural ground features by underlining them in geometrical shapes such as terraces and round ponds).

 

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Ziggurat development

 

Continue on the riverside walkway. The first development after the park is a very massive building but has an interesting, unusual pyramidal shape. This is called a ziggurat after the antique pyramids of Iraq and was a popular shape for a short period in the 1960s, the idea being that it enabled a large number of flats to enjoy balconies and sunlight. The development is much newer (I guess 1990s) and this is a rare design nowadays because it is less profitable than a shoebox-style tower where you can pack more luxury flats for Canary Wharf bankers per valuable square foot of ground. The view from the river is particularly interesting as you can see that the riverside walkway stands on the old wharf – wooden, not concrete and steel.

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The Listed Building development

 

The next development along the riverside was built by the same developer at the same time. The scale and style are very different because this was a listed monument, a 19th century warehouse. I think it was not really worth listing considering how much it was changed and how little it reminds of an actual warehouse (as opposed to Shad Thames for example). The development has one of the stupidest names in London as it is called “The Listed Building” and the access road is called “The Highway”.

You are forced temporarily off the riverside into Narrow Street.

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Limehouse tunnel portal

 

Looking into a side street called Spert Street, you can see a towering white and pink structure with four green chimneys and a large sculpture on the side. This is just the portal for a road tunnel that runs for a little more than a mile under Limehouse in order to improve access into Canary Wharf from Central London. The chimneys are the exhaust vents. The sculpture is called “Restless Dream” and is by a celebrated Israeli artist who lives in London, Zadok Ben-David.

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Limehouse Lock

 

Continue following the Thames Path signs as they point to a riverside access a few buildings further

When reaching the lock for Limehouse Basin, turn L along the lock, then L again on the walkway along the basin

 

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Limehouse Basin

 

Limehouse Basin was opened in 1820 at the place where Regent’s Canal meets the river Thames. This made it extremely busy as seagoing ships would transfer goods here onto canal barges. The main cargo was coal for the North London factories and it declined slowly in due course due to competition from railways. Because it is the entrance to the canal network, it remained open to traffic throughout the 20th century. It is now used primarily as a marina.

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Limehouse Basin development

 

Several towers with luxury flats were built on the north side of the basin around the year 2000. They are supposed to have the shape of ship prows. The style sells well and has been reproduced on a much larger scale in other locations like in Wandsworth.

The walkway leads around the basin until it comes near the train viaduct

L along the viaduct for

LIMEHOUSE

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Limehouse DLR station

 

The old train station opened in 1840 under the name Stepney and was renamed Stepney East in 1923. It was then replaced by the neighbouring train station located on the Fenchurch Street line in 1926. When the DLR opened in 1987, both the suburban train station and the new DLR stop were renamed Limehouse.

The picture shows the DLR part of the complex with the two lift shafts and the access staircases in drab grey. There is no DLR building or ticket office while there is a station for the suburban trains, but it is integrated in the viaduct arch and of no architectural interest.

 

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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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