Author Archives: Leigh Hatts

Sean Fletcher’s River Walks film

Sean Fletcher’s walk down the River Lea on BBC1’s River Walks features the newly opened Walthamstow Wetlands at Tottenham where he says it “feels like we are in the middle of nowhere” having just left Tottenham Hale Station.

The film shows how the reservoirs have are not just concrete pools but have delightful wooded banks and beaches.

Sean looks across it from the Engine House which has a good cafe.

Then he walks across Walthamstow Marshes’ grasslands to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where he explores the Bow Back Rivers fed by the River Lea.

At Three Mills, Sean meets architectural writer Dan Cruikshank who knows the area very well after years of exploration.

Afterwards there is a brief waterside diversion to a splendid pumping station before Sean heads for a lighthouse at the river’s confluence with the Thames.

It is maybe a pity that Cody Dock does not get a mention but then there is so much more to see on the eight mile walk which could easily be enjoyed over two days.

The 30 minute programme can be seen on i-player until Monday 7 January.

BBC1 River Lea film with Sean Fletcher

Three Mills is visited by Sean Fletcher

Sean Fletcher is walking from Tottenham to the Thames on BBC1 next Monday.

He will explore the industrial past and look to its future.

River Lea will be shown as part of the River Walks series in the BBC1 London region at 7.30pm on Monday 10 December.

Each region is having its own programme so at the same time Olly Smith will be seen walking along Hampshire’s River Itchen on BBC South and JB Gill will be following the River Stour through Canterbury on BBC South East.

Sean Fletcher filming on the Lea Valley Walk

Sean Fletcher on the towpath

Rye House book

Phil Holland’s book

Phil Holland, who has worked at Rye House and knows it intimately, has written a book about the moated and allegedly haunted gatehouse.

Rye House and its lovely pub with its 400 year old windows is a popular stop on the Lea Valley Walk.

Only the early 15th-century gatehouse survives from the house. By the time JMW Turner painted it in 1973 the linked buildings comprising the stately home appear to have been replaced by weatherboarded constructions.

The saved gatehouse became isolated 1970.

Phil has undertaken very impressive research and come up with plenty of new facts.

Something not highlighted before is that Rye House was the home of Katharine of Aragon’s lady in waiting Maud Parr. Her daughter Catherine, brought up in the Lea Valley, became Henry VII’s sixth wife.

The book also claims that Elizabeth I stayed as a princess maybe on her way upstream to Hatfield.

The Rye House Plot which was never attempted, although the mastermind was hanged, is explained.

There is an exhaustive chapter on the incredible Great Bed of Ware which was on view at Rye House during the 19th century. It had resonance to visitors being mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Lord Byron and Charles Dickens. Today we can add former poet laureate Andrew Motion although the bed is now in the V&A Museum.

This book without doubt adds greatly to our knowlege of the Lea Valley’s history.

The Rye House: An investigative History by Phil Holland is published by Redshank Books; £9.99.

The Larder at Walthamstow Wetlands

Wetlands cafe terrace by flood channel

A new but already popular place for lunch at Tottenham Hale is the cafe just inside the Walthamstow Wetlands entrance.

This is opposite The Ferry Boat inn which has long been an option for lunch.

The new cafe is located in a pumping station built in 1894 to pump water through the vast reservoirs which can now be visited free of charge. There is also a shop and you can go upstairs to look at the view.

The cafe is run by The Larder which is responsible for the very popular cafe at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow.

Soup is £5.90 and jacket potato £6.90. You must look to cakes for the pudding choice. The coffee, Union Coffee, is good.

The Engine House cafe is open daily 9.30am–4pm.

Looking up inside the cafe

Awaiting Meridian Water

Looking north at the Meridian Water site

Stonehill Business Park, also known as the Lea Valley Industrial Estate,  is slowly disappearing to make way for Meridian Water development.

The industrial estate is immediately south of Lea Valley Viaduct and at present this half a mile is the least attractive on the entire Walk.

Clearance is ahead on the east bank whilst the west side is at present untouched with huge redundant sheds standing silent in long grass and high bushes.

The Leaside Cafe, which used to open at 6am, stands closed and isolated.

The Meridian Water residential plan for the area covers both banks of the river with new bridges planned. One will lead direct to a new railway station due to open next year. This will be  a replacement for the now almost inaccessible Angel Road Station to the north which is hemmed in by the flyover approach.

This very noisy flyover across the north end of the site leads to the Cook’s Ferry.Roundabout  which takes its name from the original idyllic crossing here.

But still delightful is the river downstream of the Meridian Water southern boundary at Chalk Bridge.

Here there is sudden relief as the Lea Valley Walk reaches the green Tottenham Marshes at a spot once known as Wild Marsh.

Looking west towards the new station

Arriva buses still on site

Path by river on Tottenham Marshes just south of development site

Opening date for new railway station

Meridian Water notice

The official notice confirming a new station in the Lea Valley appears in The Times today.

Meridian Water Station is due to open on Sunday 19 May next year.

This will replace Angel Road which is not very handy for walkers.

The new Meridian Water Station, between Ponders End Station and Northumberland Park Station, will be about 0.75 miles from the towpath.

The link will include a new footbridge just south of the Lee Valley Viaduct.

The planned station is intended to serve the Meridian Water development replacing Stonehill Business Park which the waker passes through before the surprising tranquility of Tottenham Marshes.

River Lea fabrics at Bow

Nunnery Gallery

An exhibition called Raw Materials: Textiles takes a new look at the Lea Valley’s industrial heritage.

The venue is the Nunnery Galley which is found down an alley in Bow. The building is the former St Catherine’s Convent dating from 1866. It was a Benedictine community although confusingly its cafe is called the Carmelite Cafe.

But it is good drop-in on the Lea Valley Walk: turn off at Bow and walk past McDonald’s.

The alley, which leads to the former convent garden, is opposite ancient Bow church on an island site in Bow Road.

The exhibition is a mixture of historic displays and modern artworks.

Nearby riverside Bromley Hall, a monastic house dating from the 12th century on the tidal Lea, was the centre of calico printing from 1680 to 1820.

On show are hand-carved printing blocks made from pear wood.

Calico and silk printing also took place at Waltham Abbey and West Ham. The Littler family was in charge of the operations which later transferred to Merton on the River Wandle in south-west London to become the Liberty factory.

A giant map shows the location of more calico works at Old Ford and West Ham Abbey as well as silk crepe manufacture at Ponders End and synthetic dyes in Hackney Wick.

Raw Materials is at The Nunnery Gallery until Sunday 24 June; 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday; admission free.

St Mary’s Church at Bow is open summer Saturdays 11am-1pm.

Bow churchyard

An 1885 design based on the River Lea by William Morris

Calico printing block

A 2018 design based on pressed flowers from the Lea river bank by Isabella Dunne

Limehouse buildings on At Risk register

The Accumulator Tower below St Anne’s

Historic England has added two historic buildings in Limehouse as being at risk and placed then on the 2017 Heritage at Risk Register.

St Anne’s Limehouse is at the climax of the Lea Valley Walk for those who stay by the navigation channel to end the route at Limehouse Basin. The church is on the final bend into the Basin.

This is a Nicholas Hawksmoor church completed in 1730. The church, being so close to not just the River Lea but the Thames, was a navigation landmark. Its clock is the highest church clock in London.

The building was known to Charles Dickens whose godfather lived in its shadow and more recently is featured in BBC TV’s Call The Midwife.

The church sadly qualifies for the at Historic England Risk Register because of water damage to the interior.

Less well-known is the nearby Accumulator Tower by the high railway line on the north side of Limehouse Basin.

The octagonal accumulator tower and chimney stack was built in 1869 by William Armstrong, inventor of the hydraulic crane.

This is the last surviving accumulator tower of three built in the canal dock. All were connected to a pumping station which fed water under high pressure into a hydraulic main that powered coal cranes.

The structure has suffered water damage, vegetation growth and now also has graffiti.

Green Flags for Lea Valley

The Lea Valley has won several Green Flag Awards both inside and outside the regional park boundary.

There are now flags from Wardown Park near the River Lea source to Bow Creek Ecology Park.

In between Rye House, Waltham Abbey Gardens, Tottenham Marshes, Walthamstow Marsh, Hackney Marshes and Millfields are among the winners.

Also included is Cedars Park, the former Theobalds royal residence, near Waltham Cross.

The Green Flag Awards, begun twenty years ago, are administered by Keep Britain Tidy.