Today I was due to lead a RIBA Friends architecture walking tour along the Leaway in East London. Given the current restrictions it has been postponed though it is hoped the walk will take place later in the year. The Leaway is the backbone for a proposed 26 mile Lea River Park extending along the Lea from Hertfordshire to the River Thames. This walk is a two mile section from the southern tip of the Olympic Park to Cody Dock and this journal post looks at some of the highlights. Photographs are talking points on all my walking tours and I have included images from across the last ten years as a way to show features of the route and some of the changes.
The walk starts at Pudding Mill Lane DLR station which was rebuilt in 2014. This remains a somewhat isolated location with hoarded land left from when the Olympic Delivery Authority was sited here. The last time I looked there was still a hut with remnants of the 2012 logo. The future of Pudding Mill Lane is at the design masterplan stage and is the last of the Olympic Park legacy housing projects to begin construction. What is known is that some 900 apartments, townhouses and maisonettes as well as workspaces are proposed to be developed.
Leaving the station in the direction of Stratford High Street the route turns left after the bridge onto the towpath of the City Mill River. By the lock there is a small lock-keepers cottage which is now squeezed between two new larger buildings and so looks very different to my photograph from 2012. The cottage was the home of amateur meteorologist Luke Howard who, in the early nineteenth century, proposed the names of clouds - cumulus, stratus and cirrus - as still used today.
The next section of the walk looks at some of the surviving buildings from Stratford’s industrial manufacturing past. Leaving the lock, detour briefly up the High Street to look at Warton House with its distinctive ‘Flowersellers’ tiled logo. This Art Deco building from 1937 was the headquarters and box-making premises of the soap manufacturer Yardley and has been preserved with an elegant addition to the roof.
Cross the High Street and take the towpath along the Three Mills Wall river which passes the Sugar House Island development and Conservation Area. I have mainly photographed from the other side of the ‘Island’ and this image from 2011 shows that view and how the site looked before it was cleared. With a significant industrial heritage since mid-nineteenth century, Sugar House Island has several retained industrial buildings including those of the Dane Group which was based there from 1853 to 2005. The Dane Group produced inks and dyes for the printing industry and became the largest producer of day-glo pigments in the world. Another retained building is the Sugar House - a distinctive red brick building dated 1882 - which was a warehouse for the sugar industry with the first refinery recorded on site in 1843.
The towpath then crosses the Prescott Channel which was created as a flood relief channel in the 1930’s and named after Sir William Prescott, then the chairman of the Lee Conservancy Board. As the path widens again there is a possible detour to cross Three Mills Green and see Three Mills Lock which was constructed in 2009 as a London 2012 project. The lock controls the tidal reach to the upstream River Lea and has enabled greater usage of the waterways.
The surface of the path changes to cobbled stone as the route passes through the Three Mills Conservation area. Milling in this location has over a thousand years of history and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The House Mill that remains today was built in 1776 is Grade 1 listed and the world’s largest surviving tidal mill. As well as providing flour the Mill has a history of producing gin from the time of the Gin Craze in the 18th century. The elegant Clock Mill with the twin conical roofs and cowls of oast kilns is opposite and is a rebuilt structure from 1817. This little bit of Georgian East London is always a surprise to anyone unfamiliar with it.
Once the concrete path resumes it follows a thin spit of land in the direction of Bow Locks. Take the new ramp onto the Twelvetrees Bridge and then descend to the other bank of the River Lea. From the bridge there are good views of the Bromley by Bow gasholders which were built between 1872 and 1878 and are all Grade II listed. The Twelvetrees Crescent ramp, opened in early 2017, is one of the Leaway interventions by the architecture practice 5th Studio. This has made easy access to the other bank of the River Lea which used to be quite a long ‘out of the way’ walk.
Just south of Bow Locks and on the edge of the Lime House Cut Conservation Area there is a new housing scheme ‘Lock Keepers’ completed in 2016 by architects Allies and Morrison. The design of the three blocks in red brick and built close to the river edge evokes the industrial warehouses of this part of East London. Then, continuing on this penultimate section of the walk, look out for public art as the route mirrors a section of The Line Sculpture Trail.
Once into the Cody Wilds there is noticeable increase in wildlife, or more specifically birdlife, and a flourishing reed bed at the last turn before reaching Cody Dock. A decade ago the dock was filled with rubbish and had been neglected for years. Since then through volunteers and the drive of the Gasworks Dock Partnership it has become a creative community with the potential to completely revitalise this once forgotten corner of the River Lea. There is a cafe with outside seating and a lot to see so take time to look around all that Cody Dock is doing. From Cody Dock it is a short walk to Star Lane DLR station and services to Stratford or Canning Town.