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MONKS AND MAMMOTHS ON THE MERIDIAN

A stroll from historic Waltham Abbey along the River Lea to industrial Ponders End reveals many interesting surprises.

Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290), first wife of King Edward I, died near the city of Lincoln. Her body was transported to London. The journey took twelve days and nights. Each night, her body rested somewhere along the route. These resting places were later remembered by a series of carved ‘Eleanor Crosses’, one placed in each stopping place. On the tenth night, Eleanor’s remains rested in the church of Waltham Abbey in Essex. This is now west of the present-day Epping Forest, but was once within it, when the woodland was then known as ‘Waltham Forest’. This stopover was later commemorated by the placing of an Eleanor Cross at the place now known as Waltham Cross.

Waltham Abbey ruins Gateway

Waltham Abbey ruins Gateway

The station at Waltham Cross makes a good starting point for an exploration of an area that once contained the largest Augustinian monastery in Britain.

If those who were accompanying Eleanor’s corpse were to revisit the Waltham (the name means ‘weald’ [or ‘forest’] ‘home’) area today, they might still recognise a few things, but would be surprised to discover that what was a rural parish in their time is now a suburb of London.

The Small River Lea at Station Rd

The Small River Lea at Station Rd

A busy road lined with occasional recently-built edifices runs east from Waltham Cross Station to the ‘town’ of Waltham Abbey. After a while it crosses a bridge with balustrades (rebuilt 1924), under which flows the Little River Lea (or ‘Lee’), a tributary of branch of the larger River Lea (or ‘Lee’). Beyond this, a little further east, the road leaves Hertfordshire and enters Essex. The boundary between the counties is the River Lea and its various channels including The River Lea Navigation (see below).

entering Hertfordshire

entering Hertfordshire

Entering Essex

Entering Essex

Waltham Abbey is the settlement in Essex immediately to the east of Waltham Cross. In the 7th century AD, its locals were converted to Christianity, probably by Mellitus (died 624), bishop of the East Saxons and first bishop of Saxon London. In about 1030 AD, Tovi the Proud, King Canute’s standard bearer, built Waltham Cross’s first parish church. Tovi had lands in Somerset. It is said that when a ‘wondrous’ cross was found there, Tovi had it placed in a cart to be taken to Glastonbury. However, the beasts drawing it, refused to move. When they were next asked to transport the religious object to Canterbury, they still refused to budge. When Tovi thought of Waltham, where he had built himself a hunting lodge, the creatures eagerly moved the cross to that place, and that is why he built a church there, The Church of the Holy Cross.

The town’s history is detailed in “Waltham Abbey Chronology” by R & B Sears (publ. 2000). In 1059, after Earl Harold (later King Harold II) was cured of paralysis at Waltham, he erected a Norman church on the site of Tovi’s. This became the nucleus for an abbey. When King Harold died at Hastings in 1066, he was buried in front of the high altar of his Waltham Abbey Church. After the assassination of Thomas à Becket in 1170, the repentant King Henry II enlarged Harold’s church and founded an Augustinian priory, Waltham Abbey, beside it as partial penance for Becket’s death. A small town grew up around it.

Waltham Abbey was the last of the monasteries to be ‘dissolved’ by King Henry VIII. This happened in 1544. Just over sixty years later, in 1604, Guy Fawkes bought gunpowder (for treasonable purposes) from the Waltham Abbey gunpowder factory. For many centuries, Waltham (for example The Waltham Abbey Mills, founded 17th century) and various other places (see below) along the River Lea have been associated with the manufacture of explosives.

Highbridge Str

Highbridge Str

The Old Courthouse

The Old Courthouse

Highbridge Street retains the appearance of a typical old-fashioned, small country town. Number 31 bears the date 1704. It is named The Old Courthouse. It faces the site of a newer courthouse, which was destroyed by a V2 missile in 1945. The town was hit by many enemy weapons, probably because of its proximity to the explosives factories in the Lea Valley. The Town Hall is further east along the street, almost opposite the west front of Waltham Abbey Church. The brick municipal building trimmed with white stone was erected in1904. It was designed by WT Streather, who had been surveyor for a suburb of Bournemouth before joining Waltham’s council. The tower above the main entrance and the roof of the meeting hall behind sport attractive ‘fin-de-siècle’ mansard windows.

Waltham Abbey Town Hall

Waltham Abbey Town Hall

Rear of Waltham Abbey TownHall

Rear of Waltham Abbey TownHall

Almost opposite the Town Hall, there is a small tourist information office, where its friendly staff plied me with free information leaflets, and sold me a couple of interesting local history booklets. A small building next to the northwest corner of the Abbey Church is The Rectory. Part of it, the western section, was already built by the 15th century. The part nearest the church was added in the 17th century.

Waltham Abbey Church rectory

Waltham Abbey Church rectory

A path runs north (of the west side of The Rectory) along Cornmill Stream to a bridge that crosses it. The path it carries leads to the ruins of the main entrance of the former monastery grounds. The smaller of its two stone gothic arches was for pedestrians. The larger one was for vehicular traffic. The weathered remains of two stone heraldic crests can be seen on either side of the larger arch.

Waltham Abbey ruined Gateway from outside

Waltham Abbey ruined Gateway from outside

North side of Waltham Abbey Church and rectory

North side of Waltham Abbey Church and rectory

Monastic figure by H Stylianides

Monastic figure by H Stylianides

Passing through the arches, one enters a large park containing some remnants of the abbey. In addition, there is a fine view of the north side of the church with its mixture of Romanesque and gothic windows. Standing in the middle of a lawn, there is tall wooden sculpture, carved from a single oak trunk in 1992 by Helena Stylianides. It depicts a hooded monastic figure.

The Stoney Bridge

The Stoney Bridge

Northeast of the sculpture, another small bridge traverses the Cornmill. Cross this, and follow the stream a few yards eastwards to reach a metal fence which encloses the remains of a 14th century stone bridge (restored in 1902), the Stoney Bridge. It was built to carry carts coming to and from the monastic farm of Waltham Abbey without having to pass through the walled precinct of the monastery.

A  wall of Abbey House, formerly the Chapter Hse

A wall of Abbey House, formerly the Chapter Hse

Returning from the bridge back towards the church, we reach the long wall, part of what was once Abbey House, and before that the north wall of the Chapter House of the abbey. Following the dissolution of the abbey in 1540, Anthony Denny (1501-1549), one of Henry VIII’s favourites and a member of his Privy Chamber, leased (and later purchased) the lands of the abbey. Denny not only built Abbey House (demolished 1770), but also set up a mill (on a tributary of the Lea), which used to supply Henry VIII with gunpowder.

Outer entrance to cloisters

Outer entrance to cloisters

East end of Waltham Abbey Church and Harold Stone

East end of Waltham Abbey Church and Harold Stone

A 12th century archway in the north wall leads through a short passage into what used to be the abbey’s cloisters. I could see no remaining evidence of the cloisters. Standing where the cloisters used to be, one gets a good view of the east end of the abbey church, or, at least, what remains of it. The church that stands today, the parish Church of the Holy Cross and St Lawrence, is about one third of the length of the original abbey church (see below). The external features of the east wall of the parish church include elements that were once part of the interior of the larger church before it was truncated. For example, the rose window is surmounted by an almost semi-circular stone arch, now part of the external wall, which must have been a Romanesque arch supporting part of the long nave of the earlier longer church.

The Harold Stone at Waltham Abbey

The Harold Stone at Waltham Abbey

A few feet east of the parish church, there is a small upright stone, the so-called Harold Stone, which stands behind a larger horizontal stone bearing a carved inscription. This tells that the Harold Stone marks the site where King Harold is said to have been buried in 1066. It stands behind the place where the high altar stood in the 11th century. Now outside the body of the existing parish church, this simple monument still attracts wreaths with personal messages to King Harold written on labels attached to them.

Waltham Abbey Church west front

Waltham Abbey Church west front

Waltham Abbey Church

Waltham Abbey Church

Norman pillars Waltham Abbey Church

Norman pillars Waltham Abbey Church

The parish church is well-worth entering. Its nave and aisles are survivors of the once longer nave of the much larger Norman church that was built between 1090 and 1150 AD. The circular pillars, some of which are carved with zig-zag chevrons or spiral helices, support Romanesque arches on either side of the nave. There is a fine Tudor funerary monument to the Denny family at the south-east corner of the church, and close to this some other old funerary sculptures.

Ceiling detail Waltham Abbey Church

Ceiling detail Waltham Abbey Church

In 1860, the church was extensively restored under the direction of William Burges (1827-1881), who reconstructed Cardiff Castle and built one of Kensington’s most curious buildings, the Tower House in Melbury Road. The spectacular painted ceiling above the nave was created by the artist and one-time President of the Royal Academy Edward Poynter (1836-1919). Its diamond-shaped panels contain various symbolic images as well as the signs of the zodiac.

Burne Jones windows Waltham Abbey Church

Burne Jones windows Waltham Abbey Church

Poynter’s contemporary, the pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) designed the stained glass in the rose window above the high altar. Each of the seven smaller circular windows depicts one of the Seven Days of The Creation. The central, larger window, depicts a seated crowned regal figure with a halo. He holds an orb and behind him there is a group of figures, some with musical instruments.

Market place Waltham Abbey

Market place Waltham Abbey

Green Dragon Inn Market Sq

Green Dragon Inn Market Sq

Welsh Harp Inn

Welsh Harp Inn

I visited Waltham Abbey on a Tuesday, which has been market day since time immemorial. Several market stalls (selling clothes, shoes, food, stationery, and tools) were crowded into the small market square at the western end of Sun Street. On one side of the square stands the half-timbered Welsh Harp Inn whose structure dates from the 16th century. The Green Dragon pub, whose windows were boarded up on my visit, was built in the 19th century on the site of the Market Hall (and an earlier Moot Hall, where the Abbot held courts of justice in mediaeval times).

Sun Str and The Sun Inn

Sun Str and The Sun Inn

Drain 33 Sun Str

Drain 33 Sun Str

South Place

South Place

The Sun Inn on Sun Street is a timber-framed building that was already standing in 1633; it has been enlarged considerably since then. Its next-door neighbour, now an estate agent, has a clapboard façade. The drainpipe of number 33 Sun Street, now Kalik Coffee House, has a picturesque feature decorated by a fleur-de-lys and two thistles. The short South Place leading off Sun Street, has some pretty cottages dating back to the 17th century. The double cottage (it has two adjoining roofs) at the south end of the Place was occupied by a farmer in the 17th century. He farmed the open land, which was, in his time, immediately south of his home.

Former police station Sun Str

Former police station Sun Str

Epping Forest District Museum

Epping Forest District Museum

Number 35 was built as a police station in 1874. It is now no longer used for that purpose. Its neighbour is the town’s library. This is adjoined to a half-timbered building, which houses the small but excellent Epping Forest District Museum. Much of the half-timbered house, first built in about 1520, has been restored, but the rooms of the museum, which are part of that house display parts of its original wooden structural elements: doorways, fireplaces, and timber beams. The building has been beautifully restored and conserved, skilfully blending original elements with new features including a lift for handicapped visitors.

The first floor Epping Forest District Museum

The first floor Epping Forest District Museum

Lucien Pisarro in Museum

Lucien Pisarro in Museum

Amongst the numerous exhibits, several caught my attention. On the top floor, there is a painting by the impressionist Lucien Pisarro (1863-1944), who first visited the UK during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), and then returned to settle permanently in London in 1890. Just after he married (in 1892), he lived in Epping between 1893 and ’97. The painting depicts the garden of his house in Epping, where his daughter the artist Orovida Camille Pissarro (1893-1968) was born.

Museum. Possibly Edward III

Museum. Possibly Edward III

There is a carved stone head on the floor below. This was carved in the 14th century, and was originally in the Abbey’s Chapter House. It is believed to be a portrait of King Edward III, who was a patron of the Abbey, which he visited often. According to the museum label the beard and hair of this sculpture bears traces of the gold that used to cover the whole piece.

Museum -  part of pannelling from Waltham Abbey

Museum - part of pannelling from Waltham Abbey

The ground floor contains some elaborately decorated wooden panelling (dated about 1526) that has survived since the demolition of Waltham Abbey. It is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, which has lent it to the Epping Museum.

Mammoth tusk found Waltham Abbey

Mammoth tusk found Waltham Abbey

The oldest exhibit in the museum is in a cabinet on the wall of the main staircase. Dated roughly 12,000 BC, it is the curved tusk of a woolly mammoth, which was discovered near Waltham Abbey. It is believed that these beasts roamed around today’s Lea Valley during the ice ages.

The museum has a pleasant little garden decorated with a large mosaic. From the garden, there is a good view of the east end of the museum, which, although restored, looks like it must have done several centuries ago.

Lea Valley Church

Lea Valley Church

Facing the eastern end of Sun Street, there is a brick building trimmed with white stone and topped with a tiled steeple supported by slender columns. This was built in 1902 for the Methodists (Wesleyan). In 1974, it became a Roman Catholic church, and then later it became the Lea Valley Church (see: https://www.leavalleychurch.org.uk/), which is neither Methodist nor Roman Catholic (nor Church of England).

Greenwich Meridian line Sun Str

Greenwich Meridian line Sun Str

Returning westwards along Sun Street, we reach a mosaic that stretches almost the width of the pedestrianised roadway. A red line runs in the middle of it from north to south. This marks the path taken by the Greenwich Meridian, which separated the east from the west. Along with Greenwich, the town of Waltham Abbey has at least one thing – the Meridian – in common with Accra in Ghana. According to recent measurements, the line of the Meridian may, really, be some 334 feet east of its present accepted position (based on observations made in 1884) at Greenwich (see: The Daily Telegraph, 20th October 2017). The Waltham mosaic was constructed before this discovery.

Leaving Waltham Abbey along Highbridge Street, we pass an undistinguished looking modern (yellow and red) brick building facing the large traffic roundabout. This is the current ‘avatar’ of the Francis Greene Alms-house. The original alms-house on this spot was built by Francis Greene in 1626. It was rebuilt in 1818, and survived until 1945 when it was destroyed by a German V2 missile. The present building replaces the post-war building, which was constructed in 1953.

Francis Green almshouses: old memorial stone

Francis Green almshouses: old memorial stone

'WD' stone Just west of Francis Greene House

'WD' stone Just west of Francis Greene House

The alms-house stands on a corner plot separated from its neighbour by a small street, Grove Court. The brick wall on the western corner of Grove Court and Highbridge Street is of recent construction, but it includes a much older corner stone (not brick), which bears the letters ‘WD’ separated by an upside down ‘V’. This resembles, but is not identical to, the letters carved on stones by the War Department (after 1954, the Ministry of Defence). On old large-scale Ordnance Survey maps, a surveying benchmark is marked close to the position of the stone that I spotted.

The western end of Highbridge Road is the bridge crossing the River Lea Navigation. The River Lea, which rises in the Chiltern Hills near Luton, flows mainly through north-east and east London, and joins the River Thames at Trinity Buoy Wharf (described elsewhere) near Canning Town. Along much of its course, the Lea divides into various separate channels, some of them narrow clogged-up streams and others much bigger.

During the 16th century, efforts began to create a navigable channel along the course of the Lea. The civil engineer John Smeaton (1724-1792) was largely responsible for designing what is now called the River Lea Navigation, work on which was completed by 1771. Smeaton’s work, effectively a canalised part of the river, ensured that there was a wide enough channel that always contained sufficient water to keep it deep enough for vessels to navigate its length. Modifications and improvements on his canal have been made subsequently. A good footpath runs alongside it.

Waltham Town Lock

Waltham Town Lock

The Waltham Town Lock is just north of the bridge to which Highbridge Road leads. It is surrounded by the greenery of the southern end of the Lea Valley Regional Park. I explored the part of the Lea Navigation (‘Lea’) that flows from this lock southwards towards that at Ponders End.

Waltham Town Lock house

Waltham Town Lock house

River Lea Navigation Entrance to small dock near Station Rd

River Lea Navigation Entrance to small dock near Station Rd

Just south of the bridge on the western shore of the Lea, there is a currently disused brick building (whiteish bricks with occasional rows of red bricks). This was the lock house built in 1878 beside the old Waltham Town Lock (see: http://www.leeandstort.co.uk/Waltham_Town.htm). The latter was removed in 1922, when the present lock was built further north on the other side of Highbridge Road. A short footbridge crosses the watery inlet to a small dock next to the disused lock house. Before WW2, this dock had its own travelling crane for loading and unloading goods. Now, it is being converted into a water feature for a new housing development.

Pumping station near Waltham Abbey

Pumping station near Waltham Abbey

We next pass a Water Board water treatment plant whose grounds contain an elegant yellow brick building with stone trimmings. It has tall circular arched windows and a porch supported by pillars with Doric capitals. This was built as a pumping station, constructed in the late 19th century (between 1884 and 1898, according to detailed maps).

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking west

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking west

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking east

River Lee Navigation M25 crossing looking east

A little further south, the canal and its footpath pass beneath a large bridge that carries the busy traffic on the M25 London Orbital motorway. There was a pitched tent and a vandalised car as well as various bits of junk under the bridge. Although I saw no one, this encampment had the look of still being in use. South of the bridge, the Lea flows through open countryside. To the west, there is the vast expanse of Ramney Marsh. To the west, there is a wide swathe of uninhabited land separating the Lea from a housing estate.

Ramney Marsh from River Lea Navigation

Ramney Marsh from River Lea Navigation

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock cafe

River Lea Navigation Ramney Marsh Lock cafe

Ramney Marsh Lock was first built in 1768, and rebuilt several times since then, the last time being 1902. Parts of the supports of the footbridge across the lock consist of blocks of Portland stone recovered from the old Westminster Bridge, which was demolished in about 1862. The footbridge leads east to the Narrow Boat Café, at which I did not stop. A map surveyed in 1895 shows that there was a nitro-glycerine factory on the land east of the lock. For years, this area was used for testing munitions, but now it has been rendered safe for all. Its presence is remembered today by naming the open land, now a public open space, ‘Gunpowder Park’.

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Just south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

South of the lock, the canal was lined with moored barges, electricity pylons, and occasional small canal-side gardens, often quirkily decorated. After passing the stone supports of a demolished bridge that once carried pedestrians and a large-bore pipe over the river, a stream branched off from the Lea at the northern point of a slender island.

Remains of bridge  south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Remains of bridge south of Ramney Marsh Lock River Lee Navigation

Northern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Northern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Southern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

Southern part of Government Row River Lee Navigation

On its west shore there are rows of identical terraced two-storied houses built of brick along a road named Government Row. These were once homes for workers at the Royal Small Arms Factory, which was behind them to the east. The factory was opened in 1816. It produced rifles and other small arms for the British Army throughout the 19th century. Its products included the famous Martini Henry and Lee Enfield rifles, as well as the Sten (Shepherd, Turpin, and Enfield) Gun. The factory and its site closed in 1988. Since then, a housing development has been built on the land behind Government Row.

Enfield Lock looking north

Enfield Lock looking north

Enfield Lock seen from the north

Enfield Lock seen from the north

Enfield Lock is situated at the southern end of Government Row. This was first built by 1722. The present structure was built in 1922. It is located next to the Lee Conservancy headquarters. This organisation was founded in 1868 to look after (maintain) the Lea Navigation, to keep it clean and navigable. The lock house at Enfield Lock bears a sign that states it was built in 1889 by the Conservancy. The headquarters of the organisation is immediately south of the lock on the Lea’s west bank. It is housed in a low brick building (cruciform in plan, built 1907) with a reddish tiled roof with a small centrally-located clock-tower surmounted by a weather-vane.

Enfield Lock Lee Conservancy 1907

Enfield Lock Lee Conservancy 1907

A Swan and Pike Pool River Lee Navigation

A Swan and Pike Pool River Lee Navigation

The charmingly rustic Swan and Pike Pool, an old dock surrounded by trees and joined to the Lea by a short channel, is opposite the Conservancy, across the water. The Pool was “…once a bathing pool and a turning point for barges that serviced the nearby Gunpowder Mills” (see: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/). It is named after a pub, the ‘Swan and Pike’, which existed close-by until the early decades of the 20th century. This hostelry existed as an isolated structure in the marshes lining the Lea Navigation before the 19th century and the construction of the small-arms factory (see: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol5/pp212-218).

Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Out of curiosity I decided to explore south along the Lea to Ponders End Lock, a distance of just over two miles. Take it from me that unless you are fascinated by electricity pylons there is not much point walking along this stretch of water. Immediately south of the Conservancy, there are several modern factories. For most of the distance, the Lea is bordered to the east by the high grassy bank of King George’s Reservoir. Constructed between 1908 and 1912, it was opened by King George V. It is the largest of London’s reservoirs. The steep bank of the huge reservoir is grazed by sheep. I also saw horses wandering amongst the pylons in the muddy fields between the water-storage area and the Lea. The west side of the Lea is bordered by vegetation which conceals various industrial concerns.

Sheep on the reservoir slopes  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Sheep on the reservoir slopes Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

A sculpture  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

A sculpture Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Apart from a group of Geese that landed in the water with balletic precision, and one barge travelling slowly, there was little of interest to see. At one point, I came across four small metal sculptures by the footpath. Why they were there is not clear to me. As with the path north of Enfield Lock, I met with several other walkers and some cyclists, but far less than I had encountered above that lock. Eventually, I reached Ponders End Lock, a double lock with two parallel lock chambers. The lock was first built there in the early 18th century. The second chamber was included as part of a rebuild done in the 1950s. Canal users now have the choice of using the newer mechanised lock or the older manually operated one.

Ponders End Lock looking north

Ponders End Lock looking north

Between the lock and Ponders End railway station, I passed a small square bungalow with neo-gothic windows. This building on Wharf Road was once part, an entrance lodge, of the former Wright’s Flour Mill. It was built in the early 19th century. There had been mills on this site since the 16th century, maybe since the Domesday Book’s era. George Wright took over the mill in 1870. Originally water-powered (by the River Lea), it was later run by electricity when the waters of the Lea were diverted to fill the nearby reservoir.

Mill Lodge, Wharf Rd, Ponders End

Mill Lodge, Wharf Rd, Ponders End

When I was about ten years old, I managed to persuade my grandmother, then in her seventies and visiting from South africa, to join me on a series of bus journeys using a Red Rover. This ticket, costing six shillings (30 pence) in those days, allowed its holder a whole day’s unlimited usage of London Transport’s red buses. Granny and I set off from Golders Green, and after a few hours ended up in Ponders End, which looks no more attractive today than it did then. Having reached this place, which neither of us had ever heard of, we decided that enough was enough, and then returned to Golders Green. This is how I felt many decades later having reached there from the far more attractive Waltham Abbey.

Waltham Abbey, which still resembles a small country town far from London, is now a part of the city. Its well-preserved historic centre is surrounded by modern housing. The River Lea and its various channels supply London with water, now via the reservoir, and earlier via the New River. It has been one of London’s important transportation arteries, which has served industry in the past (before motorised road transport and the railways), and is now a valued leisure facility. Exploring the area described above brings one into contact with many aspects of history from prehistoric times until today: from wandering mammoths to mammoth motorways.

Reservoir slope  Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Reservoir slope Between Enfield Lock and Ponders End

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 14:51 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged monastery lee essex enfield pylons locks lea explosives hertfordshire waltham_abbey river_lee pre-raphaelite Comments (2)

TO THE LIGHT HOUSE, with apologies to Virginia Woolf!

East India Dock Basin, London City Island, and Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Trinity Buoy Lighthouse lantern

Trinity Buoy Lighthouse lantern

For those literary types, who are hoping that this about Virginia Woolf, please forgive me because it is not. I thought that her 1927 novel's title would make a great heading for this essay, which is, in case you are becoming worried about its relevance, about a lighthouse - the only such structure on the River Thames. First, let me set the scene!

Bow Creek  today: map

Bow Creek today: map

The River Lea is a tributary of the River Thames. Rising in the Chiltern Hills northwest of London, it winds its way southeast into Hertfordshire, and then southwards through east London. It joins the Thames in Poplar. At the point where the Lea enters the Thames, stands the only lighthouse on the River Thames. Erected in 1864-66, it stands in an area known as ‘Trinity Buoy Wharf’.

The River Lea makes two sharp turns just before it joins the Thames. Here, the Lea is called ‘Bow Creek’. Each of the curves flow around finger-like peninsulas of land, each of them almost an island. It is the last of these two peninsulas, which is the subject of this essay.

The reason I visited this area was to visit Trinity Buoy Wharf. Following instructions on the Wharf’s website, I disembarked from a DLR train at Canning Town Station, and headed for the new, bright red pedestrian footbridge that crosses Bow Creek onto a part of the peninsula that is being re-developed to become London City Island – a mini-Manhattan that will eventually consist of high-rise apartment blocks. Currently, it is a gigantic building site around which Bow Creek flows silently. When it is completed, I fear that like so many of the riverside estates east of Tower Bridge it will become yet another sterile dormitory area that only comes to life when its residents scurry to and from their jobs in the City.

Bridge across the Lea (Bow Creek) near Canning Town

Bridge across the Lea (Bow Creek) near Canning Town

The tide was out. The sun was low in the sky, highlighting the folds in the mudflats.

Bow Creek at low tide

Bow Creek at low tide

I was curious to know what existed before the developers of London City Island moved on to this peninsula almost completely surrounded by Bow Creek. An essay in The Survey of London (Vols. 43 & 44, published by London County Council in 1994) provides a good detailed history, which I will attempt to summarise.

London City Island map: under construction

London City Island map: under construction

The peninsula was one of the least accessible parts of Poplar by road. With the construction of the East India Dock Basin in 1803-6 at the base of the peninsula, it became even more isolated. At the end of the 18th century the peninsula consisted of two freehold estates: Orchard House and Good Luck Hope. The former, nearer the Thames, included what was to become Trinity Buoy Wharf; the latter to its north is where London City Island is being put up.

CITY ISLAND: Map showing old estates: Good Luck Hope and Orchard House

CITY ISLAND: Map showing old estates: Good Luck Hope and Orchard House

The former Good Luck Hope estate is that part of the peninsula onto which I stepped after crossing the slender new red footbridge. Its name goes back to at least the 14th century, when it was called ‘Godelockehope’ or ‘Godluckhope’. This ancient name persists in the existence of Hope Street that runs through what will be the new London City Island. At its southern end, Hope Street becomes Orchard Place, a street whose name recalls the Orchard House estate. In the 15th century, the land on the Hope was used for farming and fishery. By 1804, after a few changes of ownership, the Hope had been acquired by the East India merchant Sir Robert Wigram (1744-1830). He was a shipbuilder, businessman, and a Member of Parliament (for a few years). Later at the beginning of the 19th century, Wigram bought several pieces of the neighbouring Orchard House Estate. Until the 19th century, the Hope remained largely undeveloped. Thereafter, various industrial buildings were erected on it.

GOODLUCK HOPE in 1867: map in Nat. Liby. Scotland

GOODLUCK HOPE in 1867: map in Nat. Liby. Scotland

An Ordnance Survey map dated 1867-9, reproduced in the Survey and is also accessible on the Internet (http://maps.nls.uk), shows that these included a plate glass factory, an iron foundry, and an oil mill. All of this has disappeared, and is now being replaced by the new housing estate.

The Orchard House Estate, whose southern limit was the bank of the Thames, was located to the south of the Hope. This plot of land was also known as ‘Leamouth’. During the 16th century, this plot of land contained a moated property on which Orchard House and its orchard stood. Orchard House is believed to have been a public house (a ‘pub’) between the 18th century and the 1860s. The moat survived until the early 19th century. The name of the house that it surrounded has survived the destruction of the building (in the 1870s) and the passing of time. The street names Orchard Place and Street attest this.

BOW CREEK:  OS map 1870 to 1872

BOW CREEK: OS map 1870 to 1872

During the 19th century, the Orchard House Estate, like the Hope to its north, became used for industrial purposes including coopering. To its west, stands the former East India Dock Basin (see later). The eastern most part of the former Orchard House Estate is now the Trinity Buoy Wharf area. A lighthouse was built there first in 1852, and then demolished in the late 1920s. The surviving lighthouse was built between 1862 and 1864 for Trinity House (a corporation chartered by the Crown), which maintains all of Britain’s lighthouses. This one was used mainly to test developments in lighthouse technology. The two lighthouses were also used to train lighthouse personnel. Trinity House continued using the existing lighthouse for training purposes until 1988, when it shifted its operations to Harwich.

View from 'City Island' westwards across Bow Creek

View from 'City Island' westwards across Bow Creek

The scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) conducted experiments at Trinity Buoy Wharf. He had a great interest in the construction and operation of lighthouses, and conducted experiments at Trinity Buoy Wharf. His workshop, where he did experiments to develop electric lighting for lighthouse, was above the Cable and Buoy Store and still still exists. Faraday was appointed as Scientific Advisor to Trinity House in 1836, a position that he held for 30 years. According to an article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/london/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8516000/8516036.stm) on the internet, Faraday:
“… worked on the optical adjustments of lighthouse lenses, ventilation and improvements. He invented a new form of chimney for lighthouses which would prevent the products of combustion settling on the glass of the lantern. The result proved so successful that it was installed in all lighthouses run by Trinity House. This was the only invention of Faraday's ever to be patented.”

The reason for the wharf’s name is that in 1803 Trinity House set up a workshop for making and repairing wooden buoys. Later, iron buoys were both developed and repaired here. By 1910, the workshop employed 150 workers. Today, in 2017, many of the original buildings remain at Trinity Buoy Wharf, but alongside some exciting new additions, which I will describe later. No longer is this place a centre for maritime safety. Now it has been given a new lease of life. It has become an active creative arts zone.

I crossed Bow Creek by means of the new red bridge. Then, I walked along a path that threaded its way between the building construction sites on what was once Good Luck Hope. I was reminded of my only visit to New York’s Roosevelt Island, a strip of land parallel to Manhattan but quite peaceful in comparison to it because it consisted mainly of residential high rise buildings by the water’s edge and it was devoid of crowds. At the southern end of the future London City Island development, where Hope Street changes direction and becomes Orchard Place, I noticed two things of interest. One of them is an entrance to what remains of the East India Dock Basin, which I will describe later. The other is a curious sculpture.

Taxi/tree sculpture

Taxi/tree sculpture

This consists of a traditional London taxi (‘Black Cab’) which appears to have a tree growing up through its roof. The tree is an artificial sculptural construction made of metal. It was made by the artist Andrew Baldwin, who spent many years training as a master blacksmith and welder. The taxi/tree sculpture is a good example of Baldwin’s witty approach to artworks. There are some more of his unusual and original metal sculptures to be seen in the Trinity Buoy Wharf.

Beyond the sculpture, Orchard Place heads towards the wharf area, passing between industrial buildings some of which are still in use. Baldwin’s taxi piece is the first of many artistic visual delights lining the rest of Orchard Place.

Buoy and girl

Buoy and girl

One of the first is a giant metal buoy painted with the words ‘Trinty Buoy Wharf’. Behind it there is a large mural showing a woman’s face. On the same side of the road, there is a large mural depicting maritime creatures on a blue background.

Wall painting

Wall painting

This was painted by the artist Bruce Mahalski. A tree was growing through part of it. Further along the road, there are more entertaining art works to be seen. These include a huge model of a white fish suspended between two neighbouring buildings.

Suspended fish

Suspended fish

High above the road, a pair of shoes was suspended from a wire that crossed from one side of the road to another. I am not sure whether that was an artwork or someone’s idea of a joke.

Suspended shoes

Suspended shoes

Further along from this, I spotted a large, battered, spherical metal buoy that was suspended next to a wooden door, decoratively painted.

Painted door and spherical buoy

Painted door and spherical buoy

Finally, I reached the entrance to Trinity Buoy Wharf. To one side of it, there is another large buoy like that next to the wall painting of the woman’s face at the far end of Orchard Place. There is so much to see in Trinity Buoy Wharf that at least several visits are needed to do it justice. But, let me tell you my first impressions of the place having spent almost two hours there.

THE LIGHTHOUSE!

THE LIGHTHOUSE!

The whole place is dominated by the brick-built lighthouse that is attached to a warehouse like brick building. It is right next to an American-style metal and glass ‘diner’ called ‘Fatboy’s Diner’. Maybe, ‘Fat Buoy’s Diner’ would have been a more appropriate name!

Fat Boy Diner

Fat Boy Diner

Moored in Bow Creek opposite the diner and lighthouse, there is a red painted lightship, which is now the home of a recording studio.

Lightship used as studio

Lightship used as studio

The lighthouse overlooks an open space containing a car park and an artwork that emits sounds according to the state of the tide.

Tidal artwork and Canary Wharf  skyline

Tidal artwork and Canary Wharf skyline

Parallel to the lightship but on terra firma, there is a café, the ‘Bow Creek Café’, which faces the diner across the open space. A modern building housing the Royal School of Drawing also fronts the open space. Behind it, stands the Faraday School, a small independent primary school (for children aged 4 to 11 years) that was founded in 2009.

Royal Drawing School

Royal Drawing School

Trinity Buoy Wharf, a square-ish plot of land, is surrounded on three sides by water: to the north and east by Bow Creek, and to the south by the Thames. The views across the Thames are spectacular. The Millennium Dome can be seen in all its splendour. Beyond it, the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf rise from the horizon. In another direction, downstream, the cabins of the Emirate Airlines cable-car drift past from north to south and vice-versa.

Faraday  Effect hut

Faraday Effect hut

Close to the warehouse, to which the lighthouse is attached, there is what looks like a garden shed. There is a sign above its door that reads ‘The Faraday Effect’. This has little to do with the scientific phenomenon that bears this name, but rather more with what Faraday did to enlarge scientific knowledge. The inside of the shed is furnished with various objects and papers that are supposed to document the life and times of the great scientist who worked a few feet from this shed. I did not spend enough time in it to gain any insight into what Faraday contributed to the world.

Inside the Faraday exhibit

Inside the Faraday exhibit

The shed is next to a large warehouse, in which several artists (sculptors, I think) were working and chatting. This building used to be the Chain Store. It is attached to another building that contains spaces for performance art and training. These buildings characterise the present purpose of Trinity Buoy Wharf: an area dedicated to artistic pursuits.

Quirky sculpture

Quirky sculpture

A sign made with Lego bricks

A sign made with Lego bricks

Amongst the amazing things to be seen at the Wharf is what is known as ‘container city’. Enormous shipping containers have been put together and piled on top of one another to create buildings. Windows and doors have been cut into the containers to create offices and workshops. There are at least three of these container constructions. Many of the ends of the containers have been modified to create balconies.

'Container City': offices

'Container City': offices

Container City: view

Container City: view

Container City: another view

Container City: another view

Container City: balconies

Container City: balconies


Trinity Buoy Wharf is well supplied with sculptures. Many of these are by Andrew Baldwin.

A couple of lifelike human figure sculptures made in metal are suspended from the walls of a building, Trinity Art Studios, that faces the Bow Creek Café.

Staircase with sculptural figures

Staircase with sculptural figures

These figures, a woman and a man, appear to be holding up an outdoors staircase with their outstretched arms. I am not sure whether these figures are permanent or on temporary display, but they looked most impressive.

BOW CREEK CAFE

BOW CREEK CAFE

Of the two refreshment places in the wharf area, I chose to try the Bow Creek Café. I will save Fatboys Diner for a future visit. Bow Creek is housed in a shoe-box shaped building of contemporary design with huge plate glass windows looking out across the parking area. The café sits on the bank of the River Lea a few feet from where it merges with the River Thames.

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

Quirkily decorated inside, there are tables with chairs and a few really comfortable armchairs. A wide range of savoury snacks is available as well as hot and cold beverages. If you fancy something more substantial than a snack, then heartier dishes are on the menu. It is a lovely place to ‘chill out’.

Inside  BOW CREEK CAFE

Inside BOW CREEK CAFE

My first visit to Trinity Buoy Wharf was made on a weekday. A security man at the gatehouse told me that the best time to visit is in the weekends, when the place really lives up, and also it is possible to climb up the staircase in the lighthouse. Well, my first visit to the wharf, albeit on a quiet weekday, has whet my appetite for many more visits.

Trinity Buoy Wharf:  Trinity House crest

Trinity Buoy Wharf: Trinity House crest

I retraced my steps along Orchard Place until I reached the entrance to the East India Dock Basin. This entrance has curious looking gates, which I photographed. They are called the ‘Salome Gates’. It was only much later that I realised how special these gates are, and that I have a very vague connection with the artist, who made them.

East India Dock Basin: Salome Gates

East India Dock Basin: Salome Gates

My late mother was a sculptor. For a while, she worked at the Saint Martin School of Art in its sculpture department. While she was there, she worked alongside the late Sir Anthony Caro (1924-2013). I believe that Caro was one of the people who taught my mother how to weld metal. It was Caro, who created the ‘Salome Gates’, and when you look at them, it is easy to see that they are typical of his sculptural woks, most of which I admire.

East India Dock Basin:  looking west

East India Dock Basin: looking west

The East India Docks were built between 1803 and 1806 to allow docking of the large East Indiamen vessels, the largest ships in Britain’s merchant navy at the end of the 18th century.

East India Docks Basin:  Birds and DLR train

East India Docks Basin: Birds and DLR train

The East India Dock Basin was connected to the River Thames by a series of lock gates, which have recently been carefully restored. Separate short canals connected the Basin to each of two docks: The Export Dock and the larger Import Dock.

East India Docks Basin:   bird tracks in the mud

East India Docks Basin: bird tracks in the mud

During WW2, the Import Dock was drained for the construction of Mulberry floating harbours (used to disembark men and materials during the invasion of Normandy in 1944). It was never re-used as a dock. During that war, the Export Dock was badly damaged by bombs. Despite the damage inflicted by bombing, the East India Docks (Basin and Export Dock) continued to be used until the late 1960s.

East India Docks Basin: outer  lock gates

East India Docks Basin: outer lock gates

Now, all that remains is the Basin and a short stretch of the wall of an original building on the west side of the basin. This may be closely approached by walking along Newport Avenue in the housing estate west of the Basin. Today, the Basin, which has been tidied up with footpaths and lawns, has become a wildlife sanctuary. When I visited it, I saw some waterfowl, but, apparently, there is a great range of flora and fauna that can be observed by someone who knows what they are looking at!

By the time that I had looked at the Basin, I was becoming weary, but was a long way from any public transport. I could have retraced my steps to Canning Town, but instead I walked a short way upstream along the Thames Path until I reached what little remains, a mere memory, of Virginia Quay. It was from near here in December the year 1606 that 105 intrepid settlers set sail for Virginia in what is now the USA. They departed in two ships, ‘The Susan Constant’ and the ‘Godspeed’, to start new lives, and to make their fortunes, in Virginia. They arrived in America in April and May 1607.

Virginia Quay: Monument to the settlers in Virginia

Virginia Quay: Monument to the settlers in Virginia

There is an attractive monument, made of granite and metal, to commemorate these enterprising souls. Sadly, it stands against a background of soulless, drab new residential dwellings. The view from the monument across the Thames to the Millennium Dome compensates for the dreary backdrop. Virginia Wharf is a short walk from East India DLR station, from where I returned to central London.

Although my essay has had nothing to do with Virginia Woolf and her lighthouse, it is about a lighthouse and Virginia, but not Woolf.

I am indebted to my friend Sue Dossa, who recommended that I took a look at Trinity Buoy Wharf. I hope that many others will want to follow her advice, having now read my article!

Trinity Buoy Wharf: view of Millennium Dome

Trinity Buoy Wharf: view of Millennium Dome

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 12:37 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london lighthouse thames docklands east-end lea Comments (4)

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