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.
Selling the canal side dream, London City Island, Lea River
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
Pop-up sculpture, towpath, Lee River Navigation, Hackney Marshes
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
Legs, Lee River Navigation, Hackney Wick
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..
Lea River, Lea Bridge Road
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
Cows Walthamstow marshes, Lea River There is a sign on the gate to explain that the cows are on the marshes to help re-generate the grasslands. But perhaps without the appearance of the railway in the background this could also remind us that only a century of so ago the edges of London were farmland…
bomb crater pond, Walthamstow Marshes – The pond marks the impact of a V2 rocket on 11 February 1945. No one was killed but the rocket left a crater in the marshes that remains to this day.
“I remember the V2 falling on the Marshes distinctly. We lived in Dudlington Road, Hackney, Just a matter of yards away on the other side of Latham’s timber yard. My cousin from New Zealand and four of his shipmates from the NZ navy were visiting us and my mum was making dinner when a huge explosion blasted two of our windows in and threw the front door wide open. One of the sailors, in an effort to protect me pushed me under the table, but his aim was bad and I hit my head on the heavy table leg causing a big bump. Mud from the marshes was caked on a large part of the area. My cousin Charlie ran to the site and found a bright, shiny, still warm dial from the rocket complete with Germanic lettering on it. Thankfully no one was killed”
Walthamstow Marshes, Lea River, London
Walthamstow Marshes, Lea River, London. This raised pathway on the eastern side of the marshes follows the course of an acquaduct that once drew water from the reservoirs at Coppermill to the Middlesex Filter beds. The acquaduct has long since been filled in but you can still follow its pathway across the marshes – and if you look closely you can find remanants of old footbridges that once crossed the acquaduct…
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
No Step, Lee River Navigation, Hackney London
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, Tottenham London
Beer Tree, Marksfield Park, Lea River London
Beware of dog – it bites, Towpath, Lee River Navigation, Tottenham Lock
Lee River Navigation, Tottenham Lock
Lee river navigation – Tottenham marshes
Elephant, Enfield, Lee River Navigation
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 – The London Orbital defines the border between greater london and the shires of the home counties but the river describes a more ancient border in the 8th and 9th centuries – between the part of England ruled by the Danes, often know as the Danelaw and the areas controlled by the Anglo-Saxons
Church Street, Waltham Abbey – After exploring the grounds of Waltham Abbey Church I sat down for a beer at the Welsh Harp, facing the Green Dragon in what appears to be an ancient town square in Essex. It was market day and the table next to me were having a lively discussion about immigration, english jobs etc. But then the admission that the poles they have worked with do the jobs no english people would do…
Then Anya greeted the table – clearly a close friend – a pole who has lived here for 25 years, which she now considers her home. Despite the St George Cross we are truely a county of immigrants…
Aqueduct Lock No 8, Lee River Navigation, Cheshunt
Old River Lea, Cheshunt
Help Yourself to Duck Food, The Waterside Inn, Ware Lee River Navigation – obviously the food is to feed the ducks not you…
Narrowboat, Lea River, Ware, Hertfordshire
Lost in the river, Lea River, Ware, Hertfordshire