diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 17, 2003

Places within 10 minutes walk of my house that people think are famous but in fact aren't
Number 4 - Walford East tube station

Ever wondered where EastEnders is set? Walford E20, sure, but that's merely a fictitious place and postcode. Ever wondered whereabouts in London Walford is really meant to be? Some have said Wanstead, because it sounds a bit similar. Some have said Stratford, because they have an Albert Square there. Even more convincing is the idea that Walford should be a crossing on the river Walbrook, a long lost stream which flowed from Moorgate to the Thames, dividing Roman London in two. But no, it's none of these.

olympic cityThe answer's on the tube map outside Walford East station (and thanks to the Observer for printing a Shane Richie centrefold last weekend to confirm this). Walford East lies on the District Line and it's the station between Bow Road and West Ham, replacing Bromley-by-Bow. Just round the corner from my house then. Not that Bromley-by-Bow looks anything like Albert Square. It's all modern council housing and dual carriageways down there, and one of the most deprived council wards in the entire country. There are some allotments, and there's a Queen Victoria pub across the road, but other than that any illusion of Walford is purely fictional.

Bromley-by-Bow station definitely has more trains than Walford East. We have one every three minutes or so, whereas Albert Square is lucky to see one a year. The EastEnders train is a large model pushed along the viaduct over Bridge Street by stage-hands. It can only go in one direction, and even then the fine details have to be painted in during post-production. We also have less murders and unwanted pregnancies in E3 than they seem to have in E20, and some of us go to work more than 100 yards away from our homes.

E8, not E20The real inspiration for Albert Square isn't in Bow at all, but in Hackney, E8. Fassett Square is a quiet Victorian square tucked away close to Dalston Junction, and it was here that producers Tony Holland and Julia Smith found their inspiration for BBC1's first soap opera. Little did they know when they shot the pilot episode on location here that East 8, as it was nearly called, would soon become one of the biggest programmes in the country.

Fassett SquareAs you can see, the design of Albert Square owes a lot to the architecture of Fassett Square, pictured right. The terraced houses in Fassett Square were built in the early 1860s, with bay windows on the ground floor and the front door set back behind a decorated arch. In the centre of the square (well, rectangle actually) is a communal garden, still well-kept and tidy in a way that Arthur Fowler would have been proud of.

The BBC considered filming all the exterior shots for EastEnders here in Fassett Square, but eventually decided against. Cost and disruption to residents' lives were the main reasons, but also because there was the most enormous modern wing of the nearby German Hospital on one side of the square and it would have been too difficult to keep it out of shot. The BBC built a permanent outdoor set for EastEnders at Elstree studios instead and left the local residents in peace.

Fassett Square itself has gone upmarket since 1985. Now only the odd soap obsessive intrudes on life there, aiming their digital camera at what looks uncannily like Pauline's house, just round the corner from what must be the Slaters' front door. Now you can visit Walford E8 virtually instead thanks to this tasteful and informative website constructed by games designer and local resident Jonathan Boakes. I bet Dot's already logged in and had a snoop around.

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