Meandering – to follow a winding course, to wander in a leisurely or aimless manner.
Meander originates from the ancient greek name for a river, the Maiandros, which flows through modern Turkey. The name has come to define not just wandering rivers but aimless journeys more generally.
This was my starting point to explore the Lea, London’s second river – a rambling path; rising in rural Hertfordshire and winding it’s way through East London to its eventual confluence with the Thames near the old East India dock.
Once an ancient trade route for transporting wheat for bread and grain for gin, more recently it’s path through East London has determined the boundaries of the island on which the Olympic park has been built.
What was once a site for flour mills has become a cultural icon – generating a transformation of what was once a centre for London’s furniture industry. While the timber yards and furniture factories have gone – a new city of narrowboats, pop-up cafes and shops have arisen – adding another layer to London’s history.
Yet these recent re-generations are not new. For centuries the Lea has been managed, re-routed, transformed and shaped over time to satisfy a variety of needs. Meandering along the Lea today reminds us that the urban environment is constantly in flux.
Trinity Buoy Wharf, where the Lea River meets the Thames
Orchard Place, Leamouth
Three Mills Wall River, Bow London – The Three Mills Wall River is part of a system of canals and waterways that once powered the mills located at Three Mills and just beyond on what is today the London Olympic Park. An old industrial slice of London where grain, gin and acetone were once produced is slowly being eroded by the march of apartment blocks and the alure of canal side living. I am sure a few vestiges of the industrial past will remain, perhaps a lone chimmney – to remind the new residents of what came before here.
Three Mills, Lea River, Bow London – Three Mills, Lea River, Bow London – There have been tidal mills on this site since the Doomsday Book of 1086 and the area has been known as the three mills since the 12 Century. Used to mill flour for the bakers of the City of London the mills also provided grain for gin in the 17th Century.
The current buildings on the site date from the 18th Century and the Nicholson company, which bought the mills in 1872, made its Lamplighter Gin here. The process of distilling achohol led to a novel use of the mills during the 1st World war – using fermentation to make acetone, a key ingredient in cordite – a shell propellant. Chaim Weizmann (later to become the first president of Israel), developed a process at the three mills that enabled this vital war ingredient to be made using a similar process to the distillation of achohol.
Lea River, Bow
London City Island – view from East India Dock Basin
Lea River, London East Village
Eastway, Lee River navigation, Hackney Cut
Lee River Navigation, Hackney Cut
Carlotta, Hackney London
Lee river navigation – Hackney
Frocks afloat, Lee River Navigation, Hackney Wick
Lee River Navigation, Hackney Wick
Lee River navigation, Hackney Wick
Meditating on the Hackney Cut
Narrowboat, Lee River Navigation, Hackney
Hackney Marshes, Lee River Navigation
Lea River, Hackney Marshes
Hackney Marshes, Lea River
Wick Woodland, Lee River Navigation, Hackney London
Darts, Lee River navigation, Hackney
Lee river navigation – Enfield London. What appear to be bullet holes are a reminder that close to this bridge was the site of the Royal Small Arms Factory, which produced small arms for the british military from 1816 to 1988. Today the site is known as Enfield Island and is a housing estate with a few remnants of its previous military past.
Lovelocks, Lea River, Clapton London
Lee River Navigation, Hackney
Lee River Navigation, Hackney London
The 1970s Tower block in the background is the only one remaining of the three that once sat alongside the Lee navigation at this location. Taken over by private developers in the 1990s it is know as Landmark Heights…
Lea River, Bow London
Danger of Death by Failing, Lea Bridge Road, Lea River
Princess of Wales, Lea Bridge, Lea River London
Traces of the Morris Dancers, Princess of Wales, Lea River, Clapton London
I came across a group of Morris Dancers on the old Lammas Lands of Leyton Marshes, which were once an area of common land used to graze horses and cattle from 1 August to 25 March. The coming of the railways and residential development would reduce this ancient open space but local groups, including these Morris Dancers, continue to fight for access to common land. I left the group as they crossed the railway tracks at Leyton. Walking back to the Lea river I found their branches lying along the wall of the Princess of Wales..
Middlesex Filter Beds
Labyrinth, Middlesex filter beds, Lea River.
Labyrinths are often associated with rituals – walking the path can be the path to god, a contemplative state, or perhaps a pilgrimage.
Memory, Lee River navigation, Hackney Cut
Lea River, Hackney
The red shoes, Lea River, Clapton London
Lee River Navigation, Hackney Wick London
The beginning – or the end of the Lee River Navigation, Lea Bridge London
Walthamstow Marshes, Lea River, London
No Step, Lee River Navigation, Hackney London
Hackney Marshes, the spiritual home of Sunday Football
Forgive me I’ve lost my mind, Middlesex filter beds, Lea River
Towpath, Lee River Navigation, Hackney
Blue, Lee River Navigation, Hackney
Lee River Navigation, Hackney Wick – remains of a previous industrial past
Fish Island, Lea River Hackney London – The wave is a celebrated image originally created by the Japanese artist Hokusai – and often reproduced. Its appearance here reminds us that at one point the Lea was a tidal river as far upstream as Hackney Wick. Over the centuries canalisation of sections of the river and the creation of flood channels have changed the flow and course of the river….
Ripples – Lea River, Hackney London
Lea River, Hackney Marshes
Beer Tree, Marksfield Park, Lea River London
Lea River, Tottenham
Lee river navigation – Tottenham marshes
Enfield energy centre, Lee River Navigation
Government Row, Enfield Island, Lee River Navigation
The Narrowboat Cafe, Lea River, Enfield London
Lea river – London Orbital Motorway
Church Street, Waltham Abbey
Aqueduct Lock No 8, Lee River Navigation, Cheshunt