THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON Hackney Brook 4) Hackney Wick
Wick Road, which lies on the path of the former Hackney Brook, isn't a lovely street. Its one-way racetrack is bounded by a variety of apartment blocks - some tall, others merely squat - with only the occasional glimpse of anything vaguely pre-war lurking in the near distance. Partway down are several traditional pubs (plus a bookmakers) to cater for local residents' most urgent needs, although if they fancy Pukka Pies or Mighty Chicken they have to walk a little further. At the fiveway junction by the Tiger pub there used to be a brook-fed silk mill employing more then 600 local women [photo]. Brookfield Road rises here, its name and gradient the only reminders that this is a former river valley. Meanwhile Wick Road continues gently downhill, past the entrance to Victoria Park, to a mammoth flyover on the A12 [photo][photo]. This should have been the point where a motorway from Camdenjoined the melee, but public protest prevented an entire swathe of residential north London from vanishing beneath concrete.
Hackney Wickvillage, as this once was, marks the edge of the floodplain of the River Lea [photo]. The Hackney Brook used to meander on through marshland, taking the long route down to the major river, until more direct drainage channels were dug to keep the Lea's waters under greater control (1820s map)(1830s map). The original route's hard to trace, long since obliterated by modern housing development to the north, and light industry to the south. But, as far as I can tell, the Brook first flowed northeast (through an area of pleasant council bungalows) before turning south (around Gainsborough Primary School) parallel to the Lea (past the factory on Wallis Road where the world's first plastic was manufactured). White Post Lane is the only surviving road from two centuries ago [photo], formerly crossed by a ford close to the Lord Napier pub outside Hackney Wick station [photo]. After the Hertford Canal was dug, the Brook's drainage channels passed no further south. But back in the day they'd have continued across what is now Fish Island to enter the Lea at the basin between Old Ford Lock and The Ironworks[photo]. On the opposite bank, a mere javelin's throw away, the Olympic Stadium now looms down on this once pastoral scene. From the Emirates to 2012, that's the Hackney Brook for you.