7th October 1994 – This is (still) a high

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Once again it’s been quite some time since I wrote a blog post, and none of the three promised websites have yet surfaced to replace London and East. I’ve been working, yaddah, yaddah. Excuses. It’s me. I’ve not got the stamina half the time. But I do have the ideas. If only I could just marry those two components together on a regular basis, the sites would be flying by now…

In the background I’ve been ruminating over a gazillion subjects for about a year’s worth of posts which I hope to get around to. But nothing was really leaping out at me as deserving of my next post; perhaps the first post to kick me back into action with this whole London project.

And then on Saturday I looked at the calendar and my heart leapt. The anniversary. The 25th anniversary no less of one of the best days of my life was almost upon me. The day (but more importantly the night) that burned into my retinas in the moment and fixed straight into my long-term memory like a film I can watch over and over again.

It was THE night that loving music translated into part of who I am, helped to inform my interests and choices, and friendships, and personal style, and views of the world – and oh, London! It’s the night that set me on the road to who I became, that helped forge my determination to work in the arts and become a professional writer. Ever since that night, I’ve thought that the world will always need music, but it will always need more music than we already have, because it’s the one pure thing that draws people together despite their differences, translates inner joy into outward smiles, then full-blown grins and onward to natural highs.

Can you tell that I was 17 back then?

To some, the date will mean nothing at all. To many of those who were there even, maybe it’s faded into the background. To those who hate (or have never heard of) any of the artists who played at the concert I attended, it will seem like a ‘so what?’ Whatever – my point is that everyone should have a day like this in their lives to look back on.

The entertainment was thus:

Blur, Pulp, Corduroy, Supergrass
Alexandra Palace, London
Friday 7th October 1994

Bunking off
I had to take a night off from stacking shower gel at Tesco (no bother to me but a worry to my mother, who was already obsessing about whether I could afford to make the leap from council flat to university – a distant year away yet, pah!). Nothing was going to stand in the way of this momentous occasion. A group of us from sixth form (and Tesco) had been obsessing about the date for weeks.

Pristine tickets tacked to bedroom walls were carefully transferred into purses and wallets, and we headed into central London at about 10am.

OK, some context: we were on our way to Ally Pally via the British Film Institute, on a trip organised by our superb A Level media studies teacher. This was to be followed by an event at the (now-defunct) Museum of the Moving Image. On any ordinary Friday we’d have been ecstatic to have been spending the day there in place of dull suburbia (London Travelcard Zones 4 and 5). But on this particular day we were livid.

Our gang stood on the South Bank at 3pm raging with the injustice of the imagined diary clash, and the certain knowledge that going into MoMI would mean us not being there when the doors opened. What if we missed something important, like Jarvis Cocker getting off the bus next to Wood Green Toys R Us, or Supergrass picking up a pre-gig kebab? It seemed too risky. So we bunked it, and headed for the Piccadilly Line in search of the giddy heights of Muswell Hill. Sorry, Mr Hunt.

Someone else there to record the event in all its glory was the NME’s Sylvia Patterson – one of my music journalism icons of the era (in a cool holy trinity with Caitlin and Miranda, two beautiful years before the tripe that was Girl Power was sicked up by a record company). Sylv’s review described the cultural significance of Ally Pally to London and music: “…a cartoon castle in the air, high above London in Ray Davies’s ‘manor’”. Gulp. No pressure.

She took a while to get warmed up at the gig, did Sylvia. Her assessments of the support came with saucers of milk for table 9: she described Supergrass as “…three skeletons doing an impersonation of The Ruts with Pete Shelley on nasal contortions… they are the disco-free bloke’s version of Shampoo.” Corduroy were “an ever-lasting comedy theme tune to a film starring Michael Caine, with no plot and numerous angle-poise hairdos”. Miaow. But funny.

Both bands, dear reader, survived Sylvia unscathed.

But I get it – she was on the clock, waiting for the big guns and the after-show party. All in good time, Sylvia. The rest of us were enjoying every minute of the build-up, starting in the Ally Pally pub.

Sophisticated followers of fashion
We felt like glamorous adults who had arrived, sipping goodness knows what acquired using really badly forged IDs (love the 90s). We were taking in the London skyline to the distant buzz of Vespas trying to make it up the hill without choking. A flock of Mods gathered like preening peacocks and just kept on growing. We were in awe as the chant of ‘We are the Mods’ reached a crescendo – and then we were in the middle of it, singing it. We were in a movement, and not one band had yet played a note. Things got higher and higher. I don’t know whether the Mods were on uppers (likely) but I realised then that I was never going to need them if I had live music in my life.

Before we knew it, Pulp were on stage. Sylvia hit the nail on the head with the rest of her review (I’ve kept the clippings all this time). Pulp, she said, “suddenly sound like the future, by God, with Jarvis and his mesmeric foot-long finger gyrations prompting the night’s first proper pop screaming”. That screaming was definitely all me. I was right on the barrier, beneath Jarvis and his sweaty fringe, which dripped on to me (though I did wash the next day – I wasn’t that obsessive). I was pulled out by security at least three times and went back into the crush for more. There was no way I was sacrificing my place at the front for anything.

Sylvia recalls that someone in the crowd made a Mercury Music Prize joke about whether M-People were in the building. Not bloody likely. I’m sure their album was great/popular in its own way, but the judges massively misjudged the mood that year. From the NME write-up it’s clear that so many people thought something really special was happening in British guitar music in 1994: “Acrylic Afternoons, The First Time, Razzamatazz, and superb new epic Common People shimmer up round the ceiling’s glitterball to remind us why Pulp are the only moon fit to orbit round the blazing supernova of blur’s finest moment.”

At last, even though we were already so full, came the main course – via a pointless game of bingo in which we all ‘won’ the chance to see Blur (c’mon, man…). Blur performed their “bunch of invincible pop songs encased in carousel horn-pipe novelty icing… They’re irresistible”. Damon Albarn, amusingly in retrospect, announced that King of the Mods Phil Daniels would be doing Parklife with them for the very last time. To the End was described as “perfection” – and it really was. Jubilee “rocks the place asunder to a ’77 pile-up and we’re left with feedback yowling into outer space” (‘He dresses incorrectly, no-one told him seventeen’ – it was a sign!). This is a Low was a personal high for me. I stood mesmerised in front of the mighty Graham Coxon while his guitar played its beautiful, angry lament.

And then, it was all over. ‘We are the Mods’ – obviously a shout for Phil and the Quadrophenia crowd, but also now an anthem for us, the next generation – continued its urgent refrain, down the hill, all the way to the station, into the station, finally petering out when everyone went their separate ways. I think I must have left that place a full stone lighter thanks to perspiration, and I learned to tune out the ringing in my ears. I’d pogoed so much I got cramp halfway back to Wood Green, and had to be given a piggy back with my leg stuck out rigidly to one side. Great times.

Ugly, beautiful city
And so, to London. 1994 was also the year I fully realised that I’d grown up in and around our capital city. A city that had played such a significant role to date in the evolution of pop culture. I was proud of it. Sure, I was 11 miles out in the sticks, but it’s a big city! You could get all the way across it’s 30-odd mile diameter on a £3.70 travelcard back then. Me and my friends needed no excuse to schlep over to labyrinthine Kensington Market, up to Camden (naturally) and to Carnaby Street, the Virgin Megastore and HMV on Oxford Street. We used to see members of our favourite bands walking around, and wave a casual hello with a flick of our fringes and bobs (flapping fans = uncool) – our need to get to venues early was no exaggeration!

I can’t overestimate how good it felt at times to be a nearly-adult in the mid-to-late 1990s – it was pre-internet, so those stupid pressures about how you look, and whether you wore the right clothes, were dialled down from where they are today. You had a fighting chance of being able to block out that sort of noise.

It certainly wasn’t a perfect time. But there was a real optimism about London that sadly seems to have dissolved. Whoever you were, this was the place – you could be whatever you wanted to be. You just had to go for it, work hard, and find a way. You had your friends, your music – whatever you needed to turn yourself into whatever you wanted. London was complicated, scuzzy, still a bit tumble-down. But real. It’s a bit of a contradiction in terms to get your head around – London looked vile, but it could be a positive place. The grime has been covered over with towering glass and metal, but in many ways it’s a lot uglier now.

This is, of course, subjective. Those who are having their youth now are – I sincerely hope – having their one great day to look back on, becoming who they want to be, and letting their interests help them take shape.

But I wouldn’t trade my place with them for the world. I’m happy being a person from my own time. My London may have changed, but I’ll always have my ticket stub, and my clippings from the NME, and my faded Travelcard, and that film of 7th October 1994 running on repeat in my mind. Another year has passed, but when I think of that day I’ll always be 17.

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Uh, oh – I didn’t keep my promise…

It’s been just over three years since I last posted anything here. I’ve used Twitter a lot since making several grandiose claims about pushing my various projects forwards. Impossible timeframes! No wonder the novels, the website and associated social media didn’t happen.

But one good thing has been achieved. Realistically, finishing my History MA was the only thing there was time for between 2016 and now (as well as working full-time in two jobs). That MA, happily, is now firmly under my belt and I couldn’t be happier with the end result: a dissertation published by the Open University.

I spent my final year, as I had planned, researching and writing about London in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Immersing myself in the archives and translating what I found into a fully-fleshed out project was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. I’m far prouder of it than of my first degree, which I did not study anywhere near as hard for (shame on me because that, too, was a great course).

What I do know is that the solid research skills I honed for the MA are so valuable now that my time has been freed up again to think about developing my creative projects.

That novel is definitely still kicking and trying to break free – and thanks to the MA research I now have a much deeper understanding of the historic reality of life in working-class Edwardian South London to inspire my fiction. I would never copy the lives of real people directly, but what happened to them will certainly inform my imagination and, most importantly, stop it from running rampant.

I’m never going to make grandiose promises again about how quickly I can achieve my project goals – but there is definitely still a new website coming to replace this blog. In fact, there are three websites, each with a different goal. There will be at least one novel related in part to the content of those sites. But as to when any of those will be available, who can say? I’m not going to commit!

Hopefully there’s someone out there reading who is interested in the history of ordinary Londoners – perhaps they were your ancestors? I’m going to be writing about so many of them. They are as interesting, if not more so, than the kings, queens, lords and ladies of the past. Far more ordinary folk than you think have left a mark (if fleeting). I plan to bring those people to life, alongside information about how we, the living, can participate in the life of the big city.


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The limits of technology… and me

AND THIS IS how I find it so easy to lose focus. I’m a ‘here and now’ girl. If I want to do something it’s usually in the moment. I will have sufficient  interest and enthusiasm to write or publish in a block. There will be a flurry of activity. I’ll be very pleased with myself when I finish and hit send. That’s how my first project post here was composed.

Today I was in the mood to continue – let’s use these train journeys productively I thought. I found my login details,  synced the draft document across several devices and headed out with purpose. By the end of the hour I would have begun!

I cannot emphasise how difficult I find it to work on the train. My commuter service has practically no tables, sometimes hardly any carriages. I can find my train empty as often as I might need to stand the whole way. The seats are cramped and there is always a feeling of someone looking over your shoulder.

So when you are in the mood to disregard this discomfort it is highly annoying to find circumstances beyond your control seemingly conspiring against you.

Today’s difficulty concerns technology. My smartphone – to name no brand names – is for the most part well behaved. I often use my generous data allowance to surf news on the go, on this very train line. I know the parts of the route with patchy service.

But as the train passes slowly through a town centre and I log in to WordPress, the service grinds to an improbable halt. Two restarts provide no remedy. The pages remain unresponsive.

And don’t even get me started on the interface! This browser option is clearly not configured for smartphones, at least not mine. There is a side panel menu that I can’t get rid of (and now I’m not sure if this is to do with connectivity or the program) to concentrate on the page behind.  I’m starting to wonder if there is a WordPress app, and if so why haven’t I downloaded it yet?

This is the trouble with having an impulsive work ethic – there will be times when you cannot fathom a workaround and simply give up in a huff.

I did that for a few moments. Then i took a deep breath and started this post. I’ll upload them both tomorrow!

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About Eastlondonista

London & East was created to bring you fascinating stories about the people, past and present, who make East London home – breaking away from the stereotypical view of the area as being m…

Source: About Eastlondonista

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The new London project… slowly does it!

I AM AN habitual project creator; and this is a statement that sounds far grander than it should. Because I am also a great abandoner of projects and a major procrastinator.

No sooner have I dreamed up the plot to a play, short story or novel, developed a handful of well-drawn characters with back stories, and sometimes even written out entire synopses… I stop. And the excuses begin. I can’t get a decent seat on the train. I am tired. I need to cook. I must exercise. And so on, ad infinitum.

The books full of plans, electronic files spread across three devices and assorted pen drives – even the hand-drawn maps of fictitious neighbourhoods I plan to move my characters into – are put quietly to bed.

It’s all quite laughable given that in my day job I am a managing editor of several magazines, which go to print on a rolling set of deadlines. I don’t even believe writer’s block exists – it certainly doesn’t when you’re on the clock…

So, this year, with a big birthday looming in the middle distance,  I set myself the toughest challenge yet – to finish the first draft of my first novel (all previous attempts since age 11 scratched from the records).

But did I mention that my book is going to be the first in a series of four interlinked historically set novels? Did I explain that, as well as the book (which I plan to self-publish) I have fleshed out an ambitious marketing plan (in my head at present) that depends on the creation of a huge web project packed with multimedia content – the idea being to create an audience and demand for my book before it even truly exists? And have I forgotten to mention the MA in history that I’ve signed up for – which will be incredibly useful in terms of subject matter when it comes to the book research but also a major distraction?

Research! Isn’t that the budding writer’s friend and crutch? More of which in a future post, I promise you…

But I digress – I know that the real question on your minds right now must be ‘why the heck is she writing this blog post when there is already so much to achieve before that big, fat self-imposed deadline?’ And here’s the thing.

This is my contract. I am publicly stating that I will finish this project. I am announcing my intentions to (hopefully) an audience of my peers who will perhaps not judge me if I fail, but I will judge that they might. And the fear of that spurs me on.

With each post here I might be able to show the ups and downs of managing such a big job around life and work, which must naturally go on. I might find comradeship with people who I don’t yet know by opening up the comment forum. I might stay excited about this one project that is actually quite important to me. I think its going to be all the incentive I need.

Watch this space…

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When I said this site was dead…

I HADN’T FULLY thought about how I might use what already exists to signpost towards my new project.

So, here is a little more information. Hopefully by the end of this year, a new website and blog will appear with a focus on similar themes to London and East – walks, profiles, culture, history and so on – but dedicated to the whole of London and with a particular focus on  its outer fringes.

I hope to give readers the chance to get more involved on the forum sharing their views and stories, although this will still be curated (with me as the editor). I aim for the new site to be filled with multimedia content too – podcasts, videos/Vines, photos, maps etc.

Henceforth, I plan to use this blog to share progress on the making not only of that project but the project it is ultimately geared towards.

I hope to connect with you soon!

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This site is no more…

… But another will be coming soon!

I am discontinuing the London & East blog, but will return with a dedicated website that is bigger and with a farther-reaching purpose.

It will be a while, but stay tuned.

Thanks for reading!

The Eastlondonista

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West Ham to Wiltons – a lovely East End walk (Part 3)

Wilton's Music Hall, your final destination

Wilton’s Music Hall, your final destination

Thanks for returning to see our third and final part of a stroll around tranquil East London.

Point 8: Mile End Park
The opposite side of Burdett Road is Mile End Park, a long stretch of open space running alongside the Regent’s Canal. There are plenty of little clues along the waterside to indicate that this was once a bustling hive of industry instead of a place of leisure. The towpath is dotted with former warehouses turned apartment blocks and even a lone chimney with no factory left to fumigate. Head left along the towpath, taking care to avoid speedy cyclists, in the direction of Limehouse once again. If you are lucky you may get to engage in conversation with one of the many barge dwellers who call the water home. There are a lot of people who travel up and down the canal as they do not have a fixed mooring. You may also get to see people operating the locks which allow the boats to descend to Limehouse.

There are two venues of note to seek out along the canal if you have the time. The first is the park’s pavilion, which hosts a wide range of cultural events including photography exhibitions and themed festivals. Especially worth a stop is the Ragged School Museum in Copperfield Road. This former warehouse was converted into a school for pauper children during the Victorian era, and is now preserved for living history tours. You can learn all about the harsh lives of the children who studied there by attending a Victorian school lesson. Check their website for details – the classes can get booked up quickly, especially at the weekend.

Continue along the towpath to Limehouse, until you reach a final canal lock and an open expanse of water filled with brightly coloured canal barges and sailing vessels. This is Limehouse Basin, ringed around with old warehouses now converted into swish apartment blocks. Since the development of the financial district at Canary Wharf not far from here, the original dock buildings have been joined by additional modern executive housing.

Originally opened in 1820 as the Regent’s Canal Dock, in its heyday it was largely used to offload coal to nearby power stations. It was also vital to the country during the World Wars when canal transportation was a significant means of distributing provisions to the regions. Look out for the octagonal tower of the former hydraulic accumulator building, which is also often featured on the Open House London itinerary. The dock was closed to commercial traffic in 1969, and developed for leisure as part of the new Docklands in 1983.

Stroll parallel to the Docklands Light Railway viaduct, keeping it to your right. Pass all the way along Ratcliff Lane to Butcher Row, and turn left. You are looking for Cable Street, on your right – on the corner of which sits an curious old industrial complex, currently in use as studios for artists, musicians and dancers; there are also arts and club events. It is unclear what the official use of the building should be – search the building online for an account of its recent history!

You are now on the final stretch of this walk.

Point 9: Cable Street
In the history of East London, Cable Street takes a top billing. It might not look much today, but its role is long and significant.

In 1936, far right wing socialite Oswald Mosley was intent on growing his band of ‘Black Shirts’ – the British Union of Fascists. The political landscape of 1930s England was bleak, with a huge number of people living in poverty as a result of the recent Depression. The Black Shirts capitalised on this poverty by pitching immigrant communities, such as Jewish settlers, against the English. On 4 October 1936, Mosley’s men arranged a march that would pass along Cable Street – then a Jewish neighbourhood. But Mosley’s men had clearly not done their research… Instead of supporters, the Black Shirts were met with crowds of anti-fascist protestors, who were regular East End people from all walks of life, gathered together to oppose Mosley’s message of division and hatred.

Police were all but overwhelmed as the people’s anger spilled over into violence against Mosley. My grandfather was among the thousands demanding they leave – and retreat the Black Shirts did as missiles were hurled.

There are commemorations to this people’s uprising; seek out both the red plaque and a huge mural painted on the side of a building in the area.

Cable street is a very long, straight road – and its name gives an important clue as to the reason for this configuration. Cable Street was the home of rope-making during the heyday of London’s dockyards.

As you pass along Cable Street you may encounter a new attraction dedicated to the gruesome history of misogynist serial killer Jack the Ripper. He was not active in the area around Shadwell, and so this museum is in a very strange location – especially as the original remit for the museum in its planning application was as a museum about the history of women. Make of this what you will (and maybe look it up before leaving it out). Besides, you must now be very tired after your long walk, and in need of reaching your final destination…

Point 10: Wilton’s Music Hall



Tucked away on Grace’s Alley, just off Cable Street, survives the oldest music hall in the world. Wilton’s was built as a terrace of four houses in the 1690s. Their back yards were later built across, and the whole complex made into one building in 1858-59.

Upper floor windows at Wilton's

Upper floor windows at Wilton’s

Music halls were a common fixture around Britain in the Victorian period, and remained popular until radio and cinema rendered them a relic. Many were bulldozed and others converted into civic buildings. Wilton’s served time as a Methodist mission and even as a rag warehouse.

By the 1960s, the local authorities were chomping at the bit to have it demolished along with slum buildings that dominated the area. A long campaign began to save it – Wilton’s was grade II* listed in 1971, but the painstaking restoration required to return the building to its former glory is still ongoing.

Visit soon for a night of music, theatre and comedy – or stop by to admire its decaying beauty while having a drink or meal. Your support will help it to fund the rest of the work. Look out for Wiltons also on TV – it has been used as a location for programmes including Dancing on the Edge.

I hope you have enjoyed this route around East London, and have discovered a lesser-known side to the city.

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West Ham to Wiltons – a lovely East End walk (Part 2)

Welcome back to part 2 of this walking route around East London.

Point 4: Bow Back Rivers
Keep the perimeter wall and fence of Thames Water to your left and walk straight on. You will soon arrive at a mini roundabout. Take Gay Road, bearing left into Riverside Road, then turn right at the end into Bisson Road. This is a very quiet and well-kept neighbourhood (part of Stratford), comprised of 1930s-built council housing, some of which is now in private hands.  Walk a short distance and soon, in between two houses to your left, you should find a service road. Take it – you will suddenly find yourself at Three Mills Wall River, a canalised section of the Bow Back Rivers that form the lower reaches of the River Lea, which flows into the Thames.

Three Mills Green

Three Mills Green

Here turn left, and walk straight on, keeping the water to your right. The landscape opens up into Three Mills Green, part of Lea River Park – a newish development attempting to connect the Olympic Park to the River Thames via a series of green spaces. At Three Mills Green there are play areas including Wild Kingdom – a collection of rope walks and nets placed over fallen trees, aimed at conjuring up an ‘urban oasis’ for children. Continue on this path, and you will arrive at a beautiful stone sculpture of two hands, one reaching out to save the other (designed by sculptor Alec Peever). This marks an earlier memorial to men who died at the Three Mills gin distillery owned from 1872-1941 by JW Nicholson (producers of the Lamplight Gin brand). Distillery manager Godfrey Maule Nicholson, George Elliott and Robert Underhill perished on 12 July 1901 when entering a well to rescue their colleague, Thomas Pickett. They were all overcome by fumes. The hands are at the centre of stones from the original memorial which was moved here just a few hundred metres from the original spot. The same men are also commemorated at Postman’s Park in the City.

Alec Peever's memorial sculpture

Alec Peever’s memorial sculpture

The whole Bow Back Rivers landscape (an ancient watercourse) has been changing rapidly in the past few years, as developers endeavour to open the area up to visitors post-Olympics. It’s great to see it coming back into use for leisure now that the industrial age has passed. And, on the matter of the industrial age, ahead you will see a bridge and some older industrial buildings.  This is your next stop.

Point 5: Three Mills Island
I am always astounded by the peace and almost- rural feel of Three Mills Island. Sure, there’s some rumbling of distant traffic from the Blackwall Tunnel Approach and the regular passing of District Line trains, but look around you. This is a stretch of water and collection of buildings that hasn’t changed much for the best part of 250 years.

Grade I listed Three Mills is the largest tidal mill in the world and one of London’s oldest surviving industrial structures. There are several buildings, the oldest being the House Mill, built c.1776. The House Mill and Miller’s House are owned by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust. The buildings are open to the public on a Sunday, and are also part of this year’s Open House Weekend.

The island is also home to Three Mills Studios, where a number of TV series, including Ashes to Ashes and Bad Girls, were filmed. While away a few hours here touring the mill, and have a pot of tea and some cake before moving on to the next point on the walk.

Point 6: Lock sluice gate leading to Limehouse Cut
The initial stretch after Three Mills is similarly tranquil, with plenty of wildlife nestled among the reeds and algae. At this point you should find yourself walking along a bank between two stretches of water – the River Lea to your left and a canal – the Limehouse Cut – to your right. You need to stick with the Limehouse Cut footpath which will take you across a bridge over the huge Bow Lock and past some functional-looking lockmasters’ buildings. The route suddenly becomes very industrial and you will be confronted by about 10 minutes of quite featureless walking as you look at the back walls of industrial units and the occasional block of flats (East London, you will find, is in a state of patchy gentrification). This section of the walk is the least interesting part, and merely serves to link you to the next point of interest. I would recommend not walking this stretch at dusk or after dark – there is little to no street lighting.

Before long you will see a bridge over the canal which takes you on to Bow Common Lane. You need to take this exit and cross the bridge over the canal. Walk along this road for about 5 minutes, passing a council depot with Victorian buildings and a gas works to your right. We are almost at the next stop.

Point 7: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Turning right into Cantrell Road, you will find the entrance to Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park – a disused Victorian cemetery now become a quite wonderful nature park.

In the Victorian period, when London’s population doubled over 50 years, one problem would lead to another: as well as serious overcrowding there was a high mortality rate. Thus burial grounds in churchyards became in short supply; in their overburdened state they contributed to the pollution of groundwater and disease. An 1832 Bill of Parliament led to the creation of the so-called Magnificent Seven, a series of great new cemeteries consecrated beyond the traditional city boundaries where land was cheaper (Highgate being the most famous).

The last of the seven to be created in 1841 was Tower Hamlets. The final interment in this once grand burial ground took place in 1966. It quickly succumbed to nature’s forces and the greenery took over.

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is at once amazing and weird. Some of the impressive stone monuments remain intact and erect, while others are twisted and broken, tangled in ivy and smothered in lichen. There are numerous paths around the grounds, and you’ll easily get sucked into trying to decipher the weathered tomb inscriptions.

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Tower Halmets Cemetery Park

Again, Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park is included in the Open House London event. The park is cared for by a charitable organisation which organises regular outdoor activities and nature hunts, including nocturnal bat walks. See their site, fothcp.org, for more information and visit this site too.

Exit into Southern Grove and find your way to Burdett Road (famed in the lyric to Mile End by Indie band Pulp, as featured in the soundtrack to Trainspotting). This is a main road with plenty of crossing points. Cross over to our next place.

Visit this blog again tomorrow for the final part of this walking route around East London.

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West Ham to Wiltons – a lovely East End walk (Part 1)

London’s East End has a reputation as a place of continuous hustle and bustle. But as this pleasant walking route will show, there is plenty of tranquillity and hidden history to be unearthed if you know where to look for it.

This walk, from West Ham to Wiltons Music Hall in Shadwell, starts and ends in close proximity to public transport. In fact, the entire walk snakes back and forth, north and south of an eastern stretch of the District Line on the London Underground. It is an area mostly left out of the guidebooks. Here I redress the balance. Are you ready for an adventure?

Point 1: West Ham station
If you’re not a London native then you might not know that the area around West Ham station is not home to West Ham United Football Club. That’s currently at Upton Park, two stops East of here. West Ham is a major East London interchange, offering routes into Docklands on the DLR, into the City and West London, out to the Essex coast and north to Stratford where the Olympic Park has been redeveloped for residential and leisure use. The start of our walk will allow you to sneak a few views of the Stratford skyline, barely recognisable from 10 years ago. Among the most prominent structures is the Arcelor Mittal Orbit sculpture, a twisted red tower of engineering prowess that I’ve always thought would make an excellent helter skelter rather than a viewing deck – and soon it will be converted into one!

Turn right out of West Ham station (pausing first for drinks and snacks at the shops opposite), and head along Manor Road. You are going the right way if you pass under the railway bridge. There should be another railway track to your left on the opposite side of the street. Keep walking for 2-3 minutes until you approach what looks like another railway bridge. This is in fact our next calling point.

Point 2: The Greenway

A fingerpost along The Greenway

A fingerpost along The Greenway

At first glance The Greenway looks like a high-level walkway created along a former railway viaduct. But it is actually a cunning disguise for the Northern Outfall Sewer, a magnificent feat of Victorian engineering that made London a cleaner place to live (more of which later). This handy off-road path for cyclists and pedestrians stretches from Beckton in the east to just outside Victoria Park. It is also worth noting the small green sign advertising the Capital Ring. This is another distance route that can take you on a full circuit of the city’s suburbs via attractive green spaces (I’ll be covering that in a future post).

There is both a ramp and steps to take you up to the level of The Greenway. At the top, turn left. Continue for about 5 minutes (past a lonely office block and some industrial wasteland) until a fine cathedralesque building emerges to your left, partially obscured by trees. This is our first hidden gem.

Point 3: Abbey Mills Pumping Station

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, the 'cathedral of sewage'

Abbey Mills Pumping Station, the ‘cathedral of sewage’

The beautiful Byzantine-style architecture of this Victorian grade II and grade II* listed pumping station makes it look like a religious building, with its ornate turrets and doors and perfectly preserved mansard roof. The religious overtones are deliberate: this ‘cathedral of sewage’ was designed to inspire awe and reverence in the industrial age, but also to offer a euphemistic veneer to the building’s true purpose: that it moved vast quantities of sewage en route from London’s new sewers to the Thames.

It was built between 1865 and 1868, the brainchild of Joseph Bazalgette, the engineer whose Northern Outfall Sewer project ended ‘The Big Stink’ – a summer so hot and foul on account of the raw sewage that was emptied into the city’s gutters and watercourses that thousands died of typhus (including Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert). The pump house used to be accompanied by two ornate chimneys, which were in use until steam power was superseded by electricity in the 1930s. The chimneys were taken down during the Second World War in case they fell on the rest of the building.

It is very rare to get inside the pumping station for a look at its jaw-dropping tile work, finials and arches – even despite the fact that its owners, Thames Water, receive more requests annually to tour the site than any other. However, weekend tours are usually offered as part of the annual Open House London event every September – this year’s tours take place on 19 and 20 September. Pre-booking is always essential. Email londonopenhouse@thameswater.co.uk or click here for details of how to take part.

Keep walking until you see some interesting chimneys on your right. You will find yourself looking down over the gardens of a small row of very grand cottages (originally for pumping house workers – now looking a bit shabby). This is where we leave The Greenway. Do watch out for temporary diversions while work is carried out on the sewers beneath your feet. They are well signposted, and also often accompanied by special boards outlining some of the sewer’s history. Find updates about using this route here and here.

Take the stairs down, turn right and under The Greenway. You are going the right way if you can see the football goalposts children have painted on the walls of the tunnel (which is pedestrianised).

Tomorrow, catch up with Point 4 on our walk around the East End.

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