diamond geezer

 Monday, September 30, 2013

JACK THE RIPPER 125
Victim 3: Elizabeth Stride

Dutfield's Yard, Berner Street, Whitechapel
Sunday, September 30, 1888


In the early hours of the morning, 125 years ago today, London's autumn of terror continued. The man we know as Jack The Ripper claimed the third of his victims... and then, because that didn't go too well, an immediate fourth. These twin murders stirred panic in the capital - the 'double event' they called it - reigniting fear after a three week hiatus. Jack had his nickname by now too, thanks to a signed letter sent to the press a few days before, backed up almost immediately by butchery on the streets. So I'm continuing my quest to visit the five confirmed murder sites as the anniversaries pass, comparing what happened then to what's there now. Number three today, and I'll hold over number four until tomorrow.

The third of the Ripper's murders took place on Berner Street, a narrow thoroughfare on the south side of Commercial Road. Jack's previous murders had been some distance away, indeed he spaced out his five attacks with aplomb. This was a densely packed residential area, with two storey terraces crowded together in fairly grim conditions. At number 40 was the International Working Men's Educational Club, a radical venue where Social Democrats and anarchists met to debate and entertain. Beside them was a gated yard, nine feet wide, then two cottages occupied by cigarette makers and tailors, then a corner shop. A fairly anonymous spot, but not for long.

Elizabeth Stride was originally from Sweden, a 45 year old who'd been in London since her 20s. She and her husband had run a coffee shop in Poplar, but the marriage didn't hold together and Elizabeth ended up in the workhouse. She became a court regular, charged with being drunk and disorderly, and ended up in lodgings in the poorest part of Spitalfields. By chance Dr Barnardo popped in four days before the murder to chat about his latest philanthropic plans - he'd be one of the witnesses to identify the body later.

Elizabeth spent her final evening drinking, and being seen with an assortment of men. These included "a short man with a dark moustache", "a stout clean-shaven man in a round cap" and "a young man wearing a deerstalker". The very last sighting was by a Hungarian immigrant who spoke no English. He saw a short man about 30 years old wrestling with Elizabeth by the roadside, but assumed he was witnessing a domestic argument and fled. Discovery of Stride's body came at 1am when the steward of the International Working Men's Educational Club returned by cart to Dutfield's Yard. His pony reared up at something unusual in the darkness, which a lit match showed to be the prone body of a woman. Only when the other club members came looking did the gash across her throat become clear, and a doctor summoned to the scene a few minutes later confirmed that she'd bled to death. But that was it for injuries... no removal of bodily organs or gruesome disembowelling. Elizabeth got off relatively lightly, at least compared to the Ripper's other four victims, indeed most experts believe the steward's unexpected return cut short his dastardly plan.
"There was a clear-cut incision on the neck. It was six inches in length and commenced two and a half inches in a straight line below the angle of the jaw, one half inch in over an undivided muscle, and then becoming deeper, dividing the sheath. The cut was very clean and deviated a little downwards. The arteries and other vessels contained in the sheath were all cut through. The cut through the tissues on the right side was more superficial, and tailed off to about two inches below the right angle of the jaw. The deep vessels on that side were uninjured. From this is was evident that the haemorrhage was caused through the partial severance of the left carotid artery."
The International Working Men's Educational Club became a shop a few years later, then in 1909 it and several neighbouring buildings were demolished to make way for a school. That building survives as Harry Gosling Primary, a very typical three-storey LCC school, which means (somewhat inappropriately) that the precise murder site lies somewhere in the playground. In another Edwardian building nextdoor is the Tommy Flowers Centre, now a Tower Hamlets Pupil Referral Unit but previously an ICT centre named after a Bletchley Park pioneer. And across the street is Bernhard Baron House, built by Basil Henriques (in the 1920s) as a community centre to give local Jewish children welfare work and recreation. All sorts of games, skills and arts and crafts were available in its 125 rooms, that is until the local Jewish community moved on, and the place is now, that's right, flats. Berner Street has since been renamed Henriques Street in Basil's honour.



Education aside, Henriques Street is a fairly sorry-looking road today. A hotchpotch of unloved old and unlovely new buildings lines the eastern side, while a private car park drags down the other. The short parade of shops has a Bangladeshi flavour, including a travel agents and a tailor - the latter an apt nod back to 1888. Beyond the crossroads stand stacks of flats from various council eras, as yet some distance from gentrification. At the top end, near Commercial Road, graffiti on one wall gives the street an alternate name - that's Elisabeth Stride Street (1843-1888). And in one empty plot close by, where litter-strewn earth is pecked over by crows and pigeons, you can still get a vague sense of the hemmed-in space where the Ripper's third victim breathed her last. Such was Jack's bloodlust that within the hour a fourth would join her.

All about the Elizabeth Stride murder
Historical maps of Berner Street
Historical photos of Berner Street

Jack The Ripper Casebook (an extremely detailed website, recommended)
@WhitechapelRealTime - a bunch of historians tweeting the events of 1888 (and well worth following)
125 years on, the East London Advertiser remembers

• Victim 1: Mary Ann Nichols (31 August 1888)
• Victim 2: Annie Chapman (8 September 1888)

 Sunday, September 29, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
WALKING THE NEW RIVER
8: New River Head


Exactly 400 years ago today, on Wednesday 29th September 1613, water from the New River flowed into London's water supply for the first time. It had travelled 40 miles, ever so slowly, all the way from springs in Hertfordshire to fields near Clerkenwell. The difference in height between the start and the end of the New River was contrived to be a mere five metres, that's five inches a mile, hence the shallow gradient and the gentle flow. At New River Head a reservoir called the Round Pond was built, 200 feet in diameter and lined with oak. Water exited as required through a cistern and stopcocks, then via a series of wooden pipes to the company's subscribers in the city. Indeed the entire system worked by gravity, there were no pumping stations in those days, an astonishing technological achievement for the early 17th century.

On the prescribed day, which was Michaelmas 1613, a grand opening ceremony was held at the New River Head. The project's creator, Sir Hugh Myddleton, was present, as was his brother Thomas (who was elected Mayor of London later that afternoon). This happened...
A troupe of labourers, to the number of 60, or more, well apparelled and wearing greene Monmouth caps, all alike, carried spades, shovels, pickaxes and such instruments of laborious imployment, marching after drummes twice or thrice about the Cisterne, presented themselves before the Mount, where the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and a worthy Company beside, stood to behold them.
At the opening of the Sluice, a speech was given.
"Now for the fruits then: Flow forth precious spring
So long and dearly sought for, and now bring
Comfort to all that love thee; loudly sing
And with thy crystal murmurs strook together
Bid all thy true well wishers welcome hither."

At which words, the flood gates flew open, the stream ran gallantly into the Cisterne, drums and trumpets sounding in triumphal manner; and a brave peal of chambers gave a full issue to the intended entertainment.
As London grew, New River Head grew too to meet its need for water. The circular basin was extended and a larger outer reservoir constructed. Buildings grew up around the reservoir, including a windmill, a Pump Station and The Water House. The New River Company held its meetings in the latter, paying for an oak panelled boardroom out of their considerable profits. This was preserved when the Company was wound up in 1903 by the creation of the Metropolitan Water Board. They decided to base their HQ at New River Head, building a suite of offices and a laboratory block around the Outer Pond in the 1920s. The rest of the Water House was knocked down but the Oak Room was preserved, transferred very carefully to the first floor of the new building. No water has flowed this far since 1946 when a decision was made to terminate the New River three miles earlier at Stoke Newington reservoirs. The MWB (aka Thames Water) is no longer based here, the entire site has been converted to luxury apartments. But Thames Water are still allowed access into the Oak Room for 28 days a year, and for two of those they extend that invite to Open House visitors. So I went.

The Oak Room is a marvellous sight. You gain entrance via the seriously grand doors off Rosebery Avenue, which brings you to the concierge desk, then up the stairs into the former admin block. It seems strange passing people's front doors where previously there'd have been telephone receptionists and shorthand typists, but I bet each flat packs a pretty impressive price tag. Head up the stairs and round a landing to first a narrow anteroom and then the Oak Room proper. It's well named. The walls are darkly panelled, with a truly magnificent carving of a royal coat of arms in wood above the fireplace. It's thought to be the work of Grinling Gibbons - nobody's truly sure, although few would have the skill to carve so complex a design (including protruding unicorn horn) in one piece. Alongside are carvings of watery creatures such as lobsters and crabs, plus a few more than might actually have been found in or on the New River. And then there's the ceiling. A central lozenge features a portrait of King William III, who was on the throne in 1697 when the Oak Room was built, surrounded by cherubs and a ring of gilded plasterwork. Bordering that are further moulded designs depicting villages and towns to be found along the New River, plus dolphins and mermaids and swans and that sort of thing. There's big money in water supply, that fact never seems to change, although Thames Water no longer boasts a luxury HQ and now fires out bills from a trading estate in Swindon.

New River Head still covers a sizeable portion of Upper Clerkenwell close to Sadler's Wells Theatre. It takes at least five minutes to walk all the way around, during which time you might spot the remains of the windmill, an 18th century engine house and a John Lewis van delivering monster electricals to a resident. Thames Water still have a borehole here which draws groundwater from the aquifers, and the site has been connected to the enormous subterranean Thames Water Ring Main. Meanwhile slightly further up the hill Claremont Square still houses an underground reservoir for the storage of water, this on the site of the original Upper Pond.

But for the New River aficionado, where you need to go is Myddleton Passage, round the back of the theatre up the alley by the pub. The very last gateway is unlocked during daylight hours and allows entry to a viewing platform over the site. It's hard to make out much of the original structure, now that most of the internal space is ornamental gardens, but a plaque shows an evocative illustration of the ponds and the broader site in 1752. There's a lot of additional information on some boards down the side, with plenty of detail on the history of New River Head, the New River and the New River Path. Throw in a schematic map of the river etched into the concrete, and the whole thing is very nicely done. If you're not up for a long walk you could always come pay tribute here today, plus you might get to watch a recreation of that grand opening ceremony 400 years ago. Hugh Myddleton's Glory is being acted out on the lawns with music, food and fireworks, attended by Thames Water grandees, residents of the current building, and other invited guests. If you fancy tagging along, this looks like your ticket.

And that really is it for my month-long journey down the New River. London owes much of its prosperity to Sir Hugh's wooden channel, because without a fresh supply of drinking water there could have been no expansion. Even more impressive, then, that 8% of the capital's water supply still arrives this way, slinking gently through the fields and towns of Herts and Middlesex, 400 years on.

» My New River gallery finally contains 160 photographs altogether
» Today's 14 photos of New River Head are here.
» A full history of New River Head
» Two dozen fine photos of the Oak Room
» All my New River posts on one page

 Saturday, September 28, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
WALKING THE NEW RIVER
Hertford → Islington
(28 miles)

If you've ever fancied walking the New River, there's never been a better time. Indeed I suspect there'll be more people walking it this weekend than ever before, because it's 400 years old tomorrow, which is a damned impressive anniversary for a 17th century aqueduct that still works. Some will only walk a short part, some will walk for longer, and a few valiant souls are even planning to walk the lot. I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy walking the New River Path, I wasn't convinced a private canal would hit the spot. But I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of the walk, from scenic Herts through built-up Middlesex backwaters to the heart of the city. And I was rewarded by a number of intriguing places I passed through along the way, many that I'd never have found myself in otherwise. You should have a go one day. Here's my advice.


Get a map: If you don't have a map of some sort, you will get lost. The route is well signposted for most of the way, but there are sufficient gremlins in certain spots to ensure you'll miss the path. You'd think following a river would be easy, but the path alongside is sometimes blocked off (especially south of the M25) and then you're diverted through residential streets instead. An Ordnance Survey map's no help. The New River Path isn't a public right of way - it's been opened permissively by Thames Water - so no useful dotted line appears on any Landranger or Explorer. But you will find the New River Path marked on the excellent OpenStreetMap, see here, all the way along (I think) the correct route. I've also had a go at mapping the path on a Google map (the management accepts no responsibility for any accident, injury or tantrums that may be caused). But what you really should do is get hold of the official New River Path booklet published by Thames Water. It's full colour, it's 28 pages long, and it shows not just where to go but also the major points of interest on the way. I eventually got hold of a copy last weekend, after I'd finished walking the whole thing, thanks to a useful table of goodies at an Open House event. You can ring (0845 9200 800) or write (PO Box 436 Swindon SN38 1TU) for a copy, so it says on the back. Or you can download it, thanks to a page that appeared on the Thames Water website less than two weeks ago. That full New River Path booklet is here. You'll want it.

Check out an old map: The original New River was 40 miles long, but has been straightened over the years to cut off several contour-hugging detours. It's informative to see where the 400-year old route deviates, indeed some of the larger loops near Enfield are walkable in their own right. A wonderful (zoomable) 1834 map can be found here.

Wear sensible shoes: The New River was never a working canal so never had a proper towpath. This means the banks are often just grass, which can get muddy and squelchy after wet weather. Perfectly fine in the summer, but best be prepared at other times.

Walk south: Obviously, because that's the direction the New River flows.

How many days does it take to walk the New River Path? That depends. It definitely takes more than one, and it probably takes more than two. I did it in three. You might feel more comfortable doing it in four. One way to find out is to start walking at the Hertford end and see how far south you get before you feel tired. Stop at Broxbourne and you're a 4-dayer. Continue to Cheshunt and you're a 3-dayer. Cross the M25 and you can do it in two.

The New River Path in two days: The halfway point is roughly Enfield. To be a little more accurate, it's approximately Turkey Street. You can catch trains fairly easily here, or from either of the two main Enfield stations. You don't need to stay overnight in the area (although that's what one dedicated group is doing this weekend, sleeping over at Theobald's Park).

The New River Path in three days: I ended my first day in Cheshunt, although be warned it's a non-trivial walk from the path (on the New River) to the station (on the Lea). Then I ended my second day at Palmer's Green, to create three roughly equal sections. Did I tell you how enjoyable it was?

The New River Path in four days: This means four sections each approximately seven miles in length. Day one ends at Broxbourne, immediately adjacent to the station, which is ideal. Day two ends in Enfield, probably Enfield Town rather than Enfield Chase. Day three ends at Alexandra Palace, or Wood Green, take your pick. And day four is urban all the way to Islington.

If you don't want to walk it all, which bit? The Hertfordshire half is definitely prettier than the London half... in which case I'd suggest the first seven miles from Ware to Broxbourne. If you want to get the full flavour of the New River, rural and urban, then Cheshunt through Enfield delivers this in only five miles. And if it's an inner London heritage stroll you're after, maybe try the five miles from Finsbury Park to Angel, which is mostly along streets but with a few good stretches of water to enjoy.

I've walked all of it. Click to read more.
New Gauge → Chadwell Springs → Ware → Great Amwell → Rye House → Hoddesdon → Broxbourne → Wormley → Turnford → Cheshunt → M25 → Turkey Street → Enfield → Winchmore Hill → Bowes Park → Palmers Green → Alexandra Palace → Hornsey → Harringay → Finsbury Park → Woodberry Down → Stoke Newington → Canonbury → Islington → Angel → New River Head

...or read the whole thing on one page here.

My New River gallery
There are 146 photographs altogether. [slideshow]

And yes, it's 400 years old tomorrow. Get out and celebrate.

Sunday 29th September (list courtesy of the New River Action Group)
» 1.30-4.30 Sir Hugh Myddelton's Glory: New River Head. A special event, funded by Thames Water and organised by the Amwell Society. There will be a re-enactment of the opening of the New River on the very site it happened 400 years ago, with live theatre, music, food and fireworks. The event is invitation-only...
» 9.30-1.30 New River 400 Walk organised by John Polley. The walk starts in Finsbury Park and finishes at New River Head, Islington, where the main New River 400 celebration event organised by the Amwell Society will be taking place. Get yourself a free invite to the big bash here.
» 9.30-6 New River 400 Year Anniversary celebrations at Myddelton House Gardens.
» 11-4 Myddleton Road Market. A special street market in Bowes Park.
» 12-4 New River 400: Family Activity Day at Clissold Park. At The Old Bowls Green.
» 11-4 New River Walk 400 Year Celebration. Free community fun day along the New River Walk in Islington

 Friday, September 27, 2013

It's not. Square, that is. The new public space in front of King's Cross station is more of a triangular wedge with curved bits. But they call it King's Cross Square, presumably for its piazza-like qualities, and it reopened yesterday. [7 photos]

I say reopened. In fact the façade at the front of King's Cross has been blocked for the best part of a century and a half, most recently by the big green shed housing the station concourse. You remember that, it had a Smiths and a Burger King and long board with all the train departures on and a lot of people standing around wondering when they'd ever get to Newcastle. All gone, and in its place a broad paved public space open to the elements. I think it's a big improvement.



The transformation's been made possible by the opening last year of the new western concourse with its amazing latticed geyser roof. More space to wait, a better selection of shops and eateries to browse, and a full whack of awe factor for good measure. But that's just the entrance. Passengers exiting the mainline are instead directed straight ahead through the arches at the front of the station and out into the new square. They've been able to do this for a while, yesterday wasn't the first day of access. But it was the first day the majority of the square has been barrier-free, with workmen cleared off elsewhere and the public swarming willy-nilly.

There is a great deal of open space, more than I might have expected. The front of Euston is a catering zone, the front of St Pancras is a taxi drop-off, but the front of King's Cross is all yours. That space is needed for circulation, given that platforms exit almost directly onto the square. But there are also plenty of places to sit, these on blocky chunks of granite lined up near the exit and close to the Euston Road. Simple and convenient, and (I suspect) an integral part of making the station terrorist-in-a-car-proof. All too often seats around stations are restricted to those belonging to cafes and restaurants, so it's refreshing to have proper public provision here.

There are cafes and restaurants, obviously, it's just that they haven't opened yet. A Giraffe Kiosk has sprouted nearer the road inside a circular drum, but at present its windows and doors remain covered. Posters promise Hot Pots and Global Salads To Go, if that's your thing, plus Espressos and Extra Thick Shakes. It's also linked via a short covered walkway to an entrance to the tube station, but that's currently closed too. At present it's only possible to descend from the piazza to the underground via one bank of staircases, not the eventual three, which means most passengers are being sent via a more roundabout route than is necessary.



What was strange to see on day one was how many people were walking through like the square had always been here. They trooped through from traffic lights to ticket barrier. They hugged a loved one and wandered off trailing a suitcase. They slouched on the stone benches and consulted their phones. They checked departure times on screens embedded in a series of electronic monoliths. OK, so some people had a sense of occasion and were pausing to point or take a photo, but they were few in number. Overnight King's Cross Square has become part of the status quo, and hurrah for that.

Had you been outside King's Cross yesterday morning, you'd have heard Boris spouting about how marvellous it all is and setting off some fireworks from the roof. The project's been running much longer than he's been Mayor, and still has further to go before the entire frontage is pristine. But yesterday was a proper milestone in the redevelopment of this great station, finally returning almost everywhere to the surrounding community. Wait long enough, have faith, and London really does get better.

» Adam visited early
» Londonist visited mid-morning
» Ian Visited after dark

 Thursday, September 26, 2013

Open House 2013: Old Ford Waste Water Recycling Facility
This year's London Open House allowed access to part of the Olympic Park I'd walked past a hundred times but never previously been inside. The Old Ford Nature Reserve used to be tucked away near the end of the Greenway, adjacent to the Lea, just across the water from the Big Breakfast House. It was overseen by the London Wildlife Trust, but permanently locked to provide a protected refuge for flora and fauna. And then the Olympics erupted nextdoor, literally nextdoor, with the main Stadium only 100 metres away. Unlike other greenspaces this one survived, but was swiftly appropriated for a scheme on the sustainability agenda. Water would be needed on site to flush the toilets and to keep the meadows blooming, so a recycled water facility hit the spot. The plan was to siphon liquid muck from the adjacent Northern Outfall Sewer, convert it to non-potable water and pump this out through a network of pipes across the entire Olympic Park. Achievement unlocked. A group of small buildings was created around an existing borehole, including larch-coated storage tanks and a cluster of cubes panelled with self-corroding steel. We were shown round these in small groups, discovering that one cube contains an educational visual aid consisting of six water tanks and a flushing toilet. The main recycling facility is the size of a minor church, although the tower is in no way ornate and the walls are timber-panelled with stone gabions. Inside we clumped up the metal staircase to stare down into the filters, then clumped back down to walk through the pumproom. Compared to what I've seen at Abbey Mills this is wholeheartedly modern stuff, more like a microbrewery than a temple, and all powered by a computer system in the small office beyond. And yes, the nature reserve survives, bar the small area by the gate where staff park their cars. The nature trail packs in grassy thickets and a new pond, but is only 90 seconds long and will only be seen by schoolchildren invited by Thames Water. It's good to know that the Olympic Park's water supply has a sustainable future, but who knew that all those wild flowers we adored last summer were probably fuelled by purified sewage? [3 photos]

Open House 2013: Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health and Wellbeing Centre
When Olympic and Paralympic athletes fell ill last summer, they nipped off to the polyclinic in the East Village for treatment. This brand new facility had to meet two exacting briefs - first to cope with a brief inundation from the world's elite, then to act as a long-term health centre for East London. As part of Open House we got to meet the trio who squared the circle. That's the architect, the London 2012 centre manager and, perhaps most importantly, the man who has to make the building viable in legacy. He led us round, showing what will or might go where, and beardy architect Mark chipped in his rationale along the way. The site restricted his design somewhat, tucked into a dead-end triangle with railways on two sides. Nevertheless this is an imposing building on four levels, built from off-white bricks and with a sharp spike piercing the sky above the main entrance. A pharmacy will face the street on Liberty Bridge Road, beyond which is a tall atrium that hangs the building together. A staircase scissors invitingly up to the top floor, encouraging a bit of healthy climbing, although there are adequate lifts for those who can't manage. A GP's practice is lined up for the ground floor rooms, initially small but with room for expansion as the population of the Olympic Park grows. The future of the upper treatment rooms is less certain, the local NHS can't necessarily afford them, so it's the manager's job to find organisations who could and would be able to fill them. Nevertheless it's his hope that the public will make this place their own, maybe pop in for a communal coffee, especially the residents of north Stratford and south Leyton just across the railway. The name's a bit of a mouthful (Ludwig Guttmann was the first director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, and credited with launching the first paraplegic Games). But this is a fine modern building, light and airy and (as you'd expect) ecologically sound. The SLGHaWC opens properly in a couple of months, so let's hope it successfully sews itself into the local community as the next few years pass. And who knows, maybe one day you too will be treated in a room where a world class athlete was patched and healed. [3 photos]

Open House 2013: Dane's Yard & Strand East Tower
Meanwhile, over on Stratford High Street, not every Open House venue gets it right. Dane's Yard advertised itself in the programme as "10 min talk on the hour about the scheme to date and proposed development", then inexplicably ran 20 minute tours on the half hour instead. That angered a few people who'd turned up specially and suddenly found they had ages to wait, but thankfully the volunteers relented and led us inside anyway. Unfortunately they seemed to know virtually nothing about the site, and blustered vacuously on the way in. "This is some machinery from when it used to be a factory..." "this is some art..." "erm, yes". Thankfully in the exhibition space above the restaurant we met the architect, that's the lady in charge of the masterplan for a whole new corner of Newham, another Open House coup. She enthused about her plan to build an entire neighbourhood between the Three Mills Wall River and the River Lea with homes for 1200 and a commercial strip along the main road. You may have heard of this as the IKEA Village, although it's actually funded by an entirely parallel company and there'll be no furniture megastore on site. From the 3D model on display, expect lowrise apartments meshed with highrise towers, and three of the old industrial chimneys preserved as a nod to heritage. I was surprised to see a large Marriott hotel in the plans - does anyone really want to pay over the odds to stay overnight overlooking the Bow Flyover? But hurrah for the additional bridges that'll be built to knit this triangle of land into its surroundings, one of which will provide a busway from Bromley-by-Bow. I'd show you a photo of the model, but the chief architect was absolutely insistent none were taken because final layouts rarely match initial plans. And I'd tell you more, but the leaflet we were given was a poor colour copy with white text on a red background and is therefore entirely illegible. I hope the reality that's built at Strand East is more impressive, because some of us have to live alongside.

Open House 2013: Gasholder No 8
And finally, in a completely different part of the capital, a restored Victorian gasholder. This was one of nine planted to the north of King's Cross in the late 19th century, ideally located beside the Regent's Canal for the delivery of coal. And here it would have stayed were it not for the arrival of the Channel Tunnel rail link and the complete redevelopment of the old goods yard for housing and office space. Down came the latticed girders and down came the 16 hollow cast iron columns, shipped off to Yorkshire for restoration. And recently they've been put up again, so recently that the last column only rose into place last Friday, and the final girder joined the circle earlier this week. The ultimate plan is to create an open green space in the centre, a humped lawn to encourage lying back and staring up at the circumference. At ground level will be a cobbled pathway, surrounded by a continuous colonnade supported by 150 fin pillars. You don't quite get the picture right now, standing on astroturf in the middle of the guideframe surrounded by an enormous building site. Three other gasholders, the famous Siamese Triplets, are being rebuilt close by but with apartments inside. There's no sign yet, but the estate's Energy Centre is already ascending alongside Gasholder No 8, creating a juxtaposition of power infrastructure old and new. Unlike most other Open House venues this one's open this weekend too, this as part of King's Cross Journeys, a two-day festival celebrating gritty Victoriana. That and the reopening (today!) of the piazza in front of King's Cross station, which is most definitely worth three cheers. One foot in the past, another firmly in the future, King's Cross's transformation still has a long way to run.

 Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
WALKING THE NEW RIVER
7: Stoke Newington → Islington
(3 miles)

Today the New River runs no further than the reservoirs in Stoke Newington. But 400 years ago it ran three miles further, all the way to fields on the edge of London near the Angel. This final section became disused and was covered over in the early 20th century. But very little has actually been built over, so it's surprisingly easy to follow the route through Canonbury and Islington. Indeed as lost rivers go, this anniversary-celebrating canal is far less lost than most.


The 'Heritage' section of the New River Walk starts in Clissold Park. Ignore the two lakes to the north of the park, they're merely ornamental ponds on the line of the Hackney Brook. This stream was the last of the natural valleys the New River had to negotiate, thankfully shallow, but still requiring a Highbury-ward diversion. To continue on the New River Path walk halfway down the park to the Pump House kiosk, an original waterside building now serving drinks and sandwiches, and turn left. Hackney council have restored a short section of the New River through the heart of the park, fairly recently in fact, appearing suddenly within a fenced-off rockery. Two new footbridges have been built, each end marked with the seal of the New River Company and its motto "Et plui super unam civitatem" ("And I rained upon one city"). The waterway looks more river than canal on the corner by Clissold House - once the estate's mansion, now a Grade II listed cafe. And then the channel disappears again beyond an iron footbridge, because it isn't really flowing anywhere, in truth it's just another ornamental pond.



Another double-back leads to the New River Cafe, a 'proper' cornershop eaterie serving cappuccinos and salads. Look behind to discover a string of allotments along Aden Passage which precisely follows the original New River. There wasn't room to squeeze houses in here so they replaced the river bed with beds for beans and marrows instead. Indeed "there wasn't room to squeeze houses in here" explains much of what we're about to see. Petherton Road is a case in point. Houses were built down both sides of the New River in the 1880s - aspirational four storey terraces by modern standards - set back one road's width from the water's edge. When the New River was culverted this created a half-mile-long avenue with a space down the centre, once used for car parking, more recently turned over to grass. The local residents association are duly proud, and have thrown down woodchip in the central section to prevent their landscape feature being churned into mud. On Sunday they're holding a 400th anniversary picnic on Petherton Green, as it's now called, and will be making a flight of fishes to hang from the trees. A charming street, this.

The road continues, still wider than normal, past the Snooty Fox pub and Canonbury station. And then comes a rather splendid re-creation, New River Walk, a landscaped half-mile of which Islington council are very proud. A thin strip of green curves round from St Paul's Road to the Essex Road, overshadowed by trees, with what looks like the New River wiggling down the centre. But there are a few clues that it's not. For a start the water's not flowing, it's still, hence ideal for leafy reflection. More blatantly the channel's not straight, it bends and curves in an attractive manner whereas Myddleton's original channel cut direct. Transformation took place in the 1950s, creating a replica of a moorland stream with shrubs and rockeries of Westmoreland stone. Various sections have been upgraded since, adding wooden walkways and willowy pools, which so isn't the state of the open New River upstream. But never mind the authenticity, enjoy the ambience.

The most characterful part of New River Walk occurs near the end close to Canonbury Road. A small stone hut, thought to have belonged to a watchman, survives at a bend in the river. The channel here is the original New River, narrower as was the case in 1613, with its wooden banks (or revetments) restored. It's a favoured spot for waterfowl, and blimey if there wasn't a heron standing there clear as day keeping watch when I passed. This one's a long-standing visitor, it even attended the reopening ceremony (along with Princess Alexandra) when this particular section was restored in 1998. But that's it for water on the surface. The final section along Astey's Row is entirely dry, home to a linear rock garden (and that's Greenpeace HQ in the old boiler house alongside). Watch out for a map of the New River inscribed in the path at the far end - it's a bit faint, but a nice touch.



Essex Road is where civilisation hits. If you carry on walking down to Islington Green there's a statue to Sir Hugh Myddleton in the most prominent position possible where Upper Street divides. Islington really took to the New River's creator and the prosperity he brought to these fields, indeed he was namechecked again at the Myddleton Arms pub a few streets back. Sir Hugh's artificial aqueduct crossed obliquely beneath Essex Road by tunnel, then resurfaced alongside what's now Colebrook Row. When the Regent's Canal arrived 200 years later it therefore had to pass underneath the New River, which it does near the entrance to the Islington Tunnel. I'd previously thought that the linear parkland on top was just another garden square, and never previously twigged it was yet another manifestation of the New River. Again the houses are very pleasant here, that's just round the back of Angel tube. And don't forget to look up by Duncan Terrace to enjoy a cluster of 300 bird and bee boxes hugging the trunk of a tree, entitled 'Spontaneous City in the Tree of Heaven', part of the Secret Garden Project.

That really (really) is almost it. 28 miles down from Hertford and there's only a few hundred yards to go, cutting across City Road and Goswell Road a short distance downhill from the Angel. The New River would then have passed through what's now Owen's Field, a minor parklet alongside City and Islington College, where you could easily sit and eat your lunch or watch your dog perform without ever realising the history of this spot. A few more hints follow. Chadwell Street, named after the New River's springs in Ware, rises up to the glorious expanse of Myddleton Square. Beyond are River Street and Mylne Street, the latter named after the New River Company's Victorian chief engineer. And just off Rosebery Avenue is New River Head, the ultimate terminus of both water and walk. 399 years, 361 days, and counting.

» Map of the New River Walk: http://www.shelford.org/walks/newriver.pdf
» The entire route; my map of today's walk; map from 1834
» Click here to start from section 1

 Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Open House 2013: Beckton Sewage Treatment Works

If you live in North London, you probably have a direct connection to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works. A series of interconnecting sewers runs parallel to the Thames, constructed in the 1860s by the great Joseph Bazalgette to divert the capital's effluent far downstream. His forward-thinking plans helped to ease chronic pollution and ill-health in the centre of town, and his fine Victorian craftsmanship is still delivering its cargo to Beckton 150 years later. Here Bazalgette's Northern Outfall Sewer fed waste into giant storage tanks, then flushed it out into the Thames with the tide so it despoiled Erith and Tilbury instead. But what awaits at Beckton today is Europe's largest sewage works, a massive undertaking, which Thames Water were more than keen to show off at the weekend. What better way of spending two hours than a minibus tour of an essential, if rather smelly, public utility? [6 photos] [aerial shot]

Beckton Sewage Treatment Works covers 250 acres, that's a lot of land, which thankfully was available here in abundance. Nobody lives nearby, there's only industry and river and a couple of shopping centres, one of which was built on the site of Europe's largest gasworks. If you're ever shopping at Gallions Reach take a look beyond the metal warehouses to the raised bank beyond - that's where the Northern Outfall Sewer arrives, and that's where our tour began. We met Derry, the man whose job it is to keep an eye on the larger detritus that Londoners flush down their drains. The coarse screens remove everything larger than 5cm across, that's mostly rags and nappies, which we watched being removed by the automated machinery. If you're one of those people who chuck inappropriate stuff down the sink or toilet bowl, creating clothballs and fatbergs, a trip here might teach you better.



Further screens and channels remove grit and plastics, slowly thinning down the water to murk-with-floaty-bits. We got to see this less than pleasant liquid in a just-collected bottle when Alan gave us a run-through of the sedimentation process. He was great, as you'd expect from a long-term employee, dashing around from tank to tank to explain everything in twenty minutes flat. The aeration tanks are amazing, 14 lanes of bubbling sludge erupting like underground springs, only rather browner. They're powered by a series of blowers housed in stark concrete bunkers, like you'd imagine at a nuclear missile site. Opposite is an equally huge area of settlement tanks - those circular pools you often see at sewage works - here attracting the odd seagull in search of best-not-think-what. And then there are the final settlement pools and holding tanks, the latter in the process of being covered over to prevent escaping odour so we'll have been some of the last civilians to peer inside.

The resulting thick sludge used to be taken by tanker out into the North Sea and dumped, but environmental rules now prohibit this. Instead it ends up dried and baked and burnt in Beckton's very own Sludge Power Generator. This is a modern shiny building that incinerates 'cake', and helps to keep the site at least part-sustained with electricity. Further self-generation comes from the construction of a new wind turbine, very recently erected and fitted out. This stands beside a brand new extension to the sewage works, designed to increase treatment capacity by 60%, which if all goes to plan should be part-switched-on for the first time today.

One of the reasons this additional capacity is required is the construction of the Lee Tunnel. Thames Water are building this underground link to prevent storm discharge into the river at Abbey Mills, which is my local bit of the Lea so I'm well pleased. The Lee Tunnel will follow the Greenway from West Ham to Beckton, but at considerable depth because it's easier to dig through chalk not clay. We were taken to see the Beckton end, or at least the top of the overflow shaft, where cranes were delivering panels to be sunk 75m down to form the tunnel walls. This four mile storage tunnel is a massive undertaking, and interestingly almost completely uncontroversial unlike its big brother project, the Tideway Tunnel. Thames Water want to drive that beneath the Thames from Hammersmith to the Lea, at a cost of billions and with unwanted disruption to riverside amenities. They claim the Tideway Tunnel is essential, indeed they gave us all a glossy 24 page booklet (and a promotional pack of mints) to put their argument most strongly. Bazalgette would probably agree.

I do love Open House for the opportunity to get inside places you'd never normally get inside, and Beckton must be one of the biggest. It was truly fascinating to discover how London copes with its effluent issue, and to see just how many processes are required to clean that liquid from muck to clear. And the smell wasn't as strong as you'd expect, thankfully, although I might think twice about buying a flat downwind in Thames View Barking, just in case.

 Monday, September 23, 2013

Open House 2013: Canary Wharf

One of the best things about Open House weekend is the opportunity to go up things. See the City from above, get a new perspective on the capital. Several tall and tall-ish London buildings were open for public ascent, but many had long queues, and others required that you book in advance. I turned my sights on Docklands and pre-booked a couple, one the iconic One Canada Square, the other the adjacent Citigroup building. Floor thirty-something would be an excellent platform for a panorama, I thought, with a subtly different vantage point from each. So I booked one for Saturday and one for Sunday, because surely the weather wouldn't be miserable on both. As it turned out London's skies were grey throughout, with the sun only breaking through an hour after the last Open Houser had descended. Still, as an experience the buildings themselves were fascinating enough, let alone the opportunity to gawp towards the almost-horizon in all directions. [10 photos]

Getting into each building was a bit of a palaver, not least because neither had deigned to hang an Open House poster anywhere. I had to try to guess which door or desk was the meeting point, which in a financial jungle wasn't always obvious. The receptionist at One Canada Square was ice-cold at first until she'd checked I was indeed on the list, then charming but brusque after that. Citibank had considerably more security guards in evidence, and an additional demand for a wand-wave to check I wasn't smuggling illicit materials inside. Both buildings demanded to see photo ID before they'd let anyone in, which was one way of telling this wasn't the normally cuddly Open House visit, more a privileged look inside the UK's financial heartland. Step this way to the lifts...

One Canada Square: This is the building everybody knows as Canary Wharf, although that's the name of the entire estate, a strip across the top of the Isle of Dogs. One Canada Square is the silver tower with the pyramidal top, the one that belches steam from the summit, the building that rose here first. It's the second tallest building in the United Kingdom, beaten only recently by the Shard, and has 50 floors altogether (but no floor 13). We took one of the lifts that goes two-thirds of the way up from one corner of the foyer, and squeezed in, and sped off. As well as the current floor whizzing by, one display screen played adverts for desirable, slightly luxurious products, while the other listed the times of the next trains from Canary Wharf station, be that Jubilee or DLR, as a convenience for executives departing at the end of the day.

Open House tours visited the 30th and 39th floors, the first of these home to the Canary Wharf Marketing Suite. It's here that potential tenants, be they banks or retail, are brought for the soft sell. And it's damned impressive. A door in the lobby opens to reveal a 3D model of central and east London, a smaller version of that seen at the Building Centre in Camden. The Canary Wharf estate is illuminated to emphasise its proximity to the City of London, much closer than most might expect, and a string of transport links light up at the touch of a button. And that's just the antechamber. In the next room are some amazing models of Canary Wharf (no photos please), the largest depicting the entire estate in 3D. Future buildings (such as the imminent expansion into Wood Wharf) are shown only as cuboid envelopes, spaces within which the final structures will be confined. A second 3D model showed the shopping malls in some detail - constructed below ground we were told because the developers were Canadian and that's how they survive winter over there. And all the time the west window was calling us over to stare at the Thames and the City panorama beyond.

Up then to the 39th, a very different beast, home to kickstarter accommodation for high-potential technology firms. The owners call themselves Level39 and offer space for individuals and growing companies to gain a foothold in Docklands, with shared sandbox and conferencing facilities (and an awful lot of tubs of Smarties). One of the management team attempted to engage us with talk of start-up challenges and the internet of things, but we weren't really his target audience, we just wanted to take photos out of the window again. The Dome through a gap in the avenue of skyscrapers. In the opposite direction Cabot Square, Rotherhithe and the City. And over there in the distance "the Olympics" - it's funny how quickly Stratford has acquired this new name. After two decades of looking up at this giant from all over town, it was great to be able to look down the other way. [20 photos from Paul]

Citigroup Centre: You could have visited this one. The booking system had several spaces for several weeks, if only you'd thought or known to look. And the view would have been almost as good. This is the joint 4th tallest building in the United Kingdom, at 200m high, or at least part of it is. CitiBank have two buildings here, their original 18-storey HQ completed in 1999, and the monsterscraper attached immediately alongside. First our tour party were taken up the lesser tower to walk out onto the bridge that spans the atrium on the 15th floor. Woo, I got rather more of a hit of vertigo than I was expecting, for which I'm blaming glass walls and Bridget Riley. She contributed a trademark design of coloured shapes which tumbles in three layers down one side of the atrium, although I could only just about bring myself to check that it did indeed go all the way down. "Don't drop your cameras," warned the building manager, "you might kill someone."

And then we swapped to the other building and stepped into one of the fastest passenger lifts in the UK. This runs at eight metres a second, slowed down from the original ten because that made travellers mildly nauseous, but still enough to make your ears pop. Executives have their own express lift direct to floor 42, a few levels beneath the helideck that nobody ever uses because it's only accessible by ladder. We whizzed up as far as 37, for the good reason that it's not a trading floor, for the good reason that the Olympics are over. This is where LOCOG had their offices, the hub of all that planning for London 2012, now a sweep of empty desks awaiting fresh tenants. No photographs of the interior, urged the security guard despatched to follow us around, and one look in her icy eyes meant we didn't argue.

Thankfully exterior photographs were encouraged, and we moved around the perimeter of the floor to gain fresh perspectives on London. Most were similar to those I'd seen at One Canada Square the day before, but with a different arrangement of neighbouring towers obscuring different bits of the view. The view to the east was better, with the lack of development across most of the North Greenwich peninsula plain to see. Greenwich Park was a splash of green, with the Old Royal Naval College facing almost dead on, and the observatory's hill reduced to a trifling contour. LOCOG's view of the Olympic Park must have inspired many a meeting, although I couldn't help thinking BBC4's sitcom Twenty Twelve would have fitted these offices perfectly. But we spent longest staring towards central London, towards a much more imaginative forest of skyscrapers than that which inhabits Canary Wharf. The Gherkin, Shard and Cheesegrater still have pizazz that One Canada Square does not, not even close up at almost-pyramid level. Well, that's my view.

 Sunday, September 22, 2013

Open House 2013: Stratford Market Depot

If TfL ever want passengers to stop moaning about the service they receive, perhaps they should invite every one of us to take a behind the scenes tour. An opportunity to see what goes on while we're not looking - the maintenance, the preparation, the dedication and the effort that aim to make sure each journey goes right. Yesterday 300 people were given the opportunity to discover how the Jubilee line keeps running, thanks to London Open House. The gates to the Stratford Market Depot were thrown open, just briefly, for a look around the interior and exterior. Here, take a look at what you missed.

Stratford Market Depot covers an extensive patch of land between Stratford High Street and the Greenway. It was built in the late 1990s when the Jubilee line was extended, making available 45 separate sidings for the storage and maintenance of trains. Most are outside, the remainder housed in a giant parallelogram-shaped building (that's if viewed from above, the cross-section is rather more curved seen from side on). It's won awards, mainly for its 'geometrically pure' steel roof, clad with a double skin of aluminium and supported by rows of tree-like columns. Many centuries ago the depot site was home to a Cistercian abbey, which caused problems during construction when its cemetery was disturbed, and still means that the digging of deep foundations is not allowed.

This was a hi-vis visit, with every Open Houser togged out in orange zip-up tabard. One of the Jubilee line's operational bosses gave us the safety talk, and showed us a 'day in the life' video to set the scene. Trains shoot off from the sidings one-by-one from four thirty in the morning, with 57 in use during the height of the timetable. Nine come back during the off-peak for maintenance and fitting, some for an intensive once-over, others for more long term upgrades and renewal. Some of the overhauls resemble Formula 1 pitstops, with teams of workers moving in to work on each carriage simultaneously. For others an entire train is raised by crane several feet into the air, technology required because it wasn't appropriate to construct inspection pits on an ecclesiastical site.

For starters we were led up onto the viewing platform that runs along the northern end of the main shed. We started at 45, where some of the daily fit-outs take place, and worked our way along to 35 which is a pitlane for more serious maintenance. The roof was indeed fantastic, a forest of green rods supporting the area of two football pitches with minimal central support. Our guides were two staff who work on the maintenance side within the depot, and hence were extremely knowledgeable about which electronic system did what, which tool plugged in where, and why the tracks inside the depot were organised precisely as they were.

The outdoor track layout is much more complex, although essentially branchlike with just one main access from the main railway. Shunting movements here can be quite complex, indeed zigzagging a train across to the farthest test track can take it out of service for a couple of days. This being Saturday there were quite a few parked-up trains, and not a great deal of maintenance going on. The Control Tower was occupied, so we didn't get in there, but you can see this curvaceous sentinel from a passing Jubilee line train - watch out for the small external garden. You can also see the tiny halt at the southern end of the depot where staff can nip on or off from the driver's cab - we didn't get that far.



Our tour rounded off with the chance to walk along one end of the main shed's floor. The concrete walkway passed shelves of couplings and various stabled train sets. We got to see the ultra-modern lathe that scrapes beneath suspended carriages to keep them trim, and to look up close at an overhauled bogie that'll be attached under a train by Monday lunchtime. More fun, we entered a carriage with all its seats tipped up to reveal the "Danger Electrical Hazard" wires and boxes underneath - I shall never sit on Jubilee moquette in ignorance again. And then we got to walk out through the emergency door in the front of the driver's cab down a drawbridge-style set of steps. If you ever get to do this on the Jubilee line proper, maybe in the depths of a dark tunnel, my advice is to duck as you exit to avoid hitting your head.

A fascinating hour in a most impressive space and, like I said, a sharp reminder that if the Underground ever breaks down, it's not because nobody tried. London's railways run only thanks to careful planning and teamwork - indeed they worked so well during the Olympics that the Jubilee carried twice as many passengers as usual without even creaking. We said our thanks on the way out, and the team said their thanks to us with a special party bag. I now have a full colour 36-page guide to Stratford Market Depot, rammed with more technical facts than any train nerd could ever need. I also have a special Stratford Market Open Day 2013 badge and biro and, even more excitingly, a commemorative mug (currently full of tea).

Departing from the venue, of course by Jubilee, the driver paused at West Ham to reprimand some late arrivals for attempting to hold the doors open. He launched into a spiel about how sensitive the doors were, and how excessive pressure can move them out of alignment and stop the train from working. And that's precisely what I'd heard from the maintenance chief in the depot half an hour earlier, about how the magnetic door opening system operates on tolerances of only about 3% so a tiny five millimetre shunt can really mess things up. And it took a depot visit to ram that point home, rather than just sighing every time a driver launches into yet another moan about leaning on the doors. Like I said, maybe we should all go behind the scenes at least once to get a fresh perspective on our daily commutes. I'm sure there'd be queues.

 Saturday, September 21, 2013

NR400: 1613 - 2013
WALKING THE NEW RIVER
6: Wood Green → Stoke Newington
(4 miles)

The New River has been bringing fresh water to London for the last 399 years and 51 weeks, hence I'm celebrating its immininent anniversary by walking the entire New River Path. Today I'm starting off in Wood Green and weaving south to Stoke Newington, at first fairly straight, then indirectly via a proper wiggle. It's fascinating to follow this 17th century thread of blue through the city that's grown up around it.


Very soon after the Wood Green Tunnel it's time to wave goodbye to the New River again. It disappears beneath the East Coast mainline, leaving walkers to divert round Wood Green Common and into an industrial estate. On a Sunday morning the police vans are silent but yelps of pentecostal praise can be heard, pinned down to an old warehouse beside the bakery. Eventually a rising subway allows passage beneath the embankment, which reveals what the New River's been up to in the short time you've been away. It's wandered off into the Hornsey Reservoir, that's what it's done, to feed the greedy appetite of the Hornsey Water Treatment Works. Filtration beds were dug here in the mid 19th century to ensure that the New River's water was purified before reaching London, and it still is, although Thames Water have recently upgraded facilities considerably. Several silver sheds sit beside the river, curved roofs glinting, containing technology unseen. It's a reminder of the continued importance of the New River - 350000 Londoners obtain their drinking water via here.

Stretched along the west bank, overlooked by Alexandra Palace, is a new-ish housing development of colourful apartments called the New River Village. Streets are names after springs near the river's source, and the old Hornsey Pumping Station has been pressed into action alongside as a restaurant and gallery. The estate's residents live their busy lives on one side of the water, while the New River Path crosses a grassy strip on the other. From here I watched a heron swoop in and perch on a pipe for all of fifteen minutes, entirely unseen by the families, shoppers and joggers opposite. Gradually it made its way along the metal, occasionally eyeing up prey in the water and snapping for the kill, then paused in contemplation by an outfall pipe. It's quite my best sighting of a heron since I moved to London, proof that you don't need to hit the countryside to enjoy a spell of wildlife-watching. [15 sec video]



At Hornsey High Street the New River ducks back beneath the railway, and is a much quieter place once walking access is finally regained. I really liked the next quarter-mile, from the gold-roofed mosque near the station and on past the backs of the houses on Wightman Road. Again there wasn't a soul here except me, the New River Path is not well travelled, not even in brief dog-walking bursts. A flotilla of Polish flatbreads floated out from underneath the bridge and proceeded to bob downstream in steady procession. They'll have got caught at the grille beside the graffitied shed further down, where Wightman Road rises up and the New River burrows briefly beneath. Up next is the splendid Harringay Ladder, a mile of runged roads that's middle class residential nirvana. Two dozen parallel streets stretch down the hillside to Green Lanes, and the New River carves between about half of them. There's no access to the towpath, Haringey council had every gate locked off a while back. But you can divert between the terraces along Harringay Passage, a looo-ong narrow alleyway, and perhaps nip out occasionally to spot the sealed-off river snaking through.

The New River slices Lothair Road in two, that's the last in the chain, but again the link is severed and the tiny footbridge inaccessible. But coming up next is a direct hit on a major public space, round the top end of Finsbury Park. The waterway divides the baseball ground in the northern quadrant from the main body of the park, again not that access to the water's edge is permitted. This time a green iron fence provides the barrier, softened at one point by a peeling plaque announcing the river's 400 year heritage. If you're in the area tomorrow afternoon you can enjoy the Hidden River Festival, a one-off event which promises "music, food, stallholders... and local historians". At other times you can't help thinking that not enough is made of this water feature, it slinks off behind some trees and you get the feeling people barely notice.



Yet on the other side of Green Lanes, the New River is entirely unlocked. Few head this way, although it's one of the most open sections in London, clinging to the edge of a contour as the land drops away to reveal the Lea Valley beyond. Here the New River forms the boundary between Haringey and Hackney, passing cranes that have been here for years building who knows what, and a number of swans. Beyond Seven Sisters Road a grille in the bank makes cacophonous sounds as the waters within swirl and smash around in the confined space. And then there's a sudden turn from east to southwest, because we really are following a contour here, no later straightening of the route has taken place. Inside this 400-year-old bend is Woodberry Down, originally dairy pasture, later compulsorily purchased by the London County Council to create an ‘estate of the future’. Fifty-seven blocks of flats marched across this hilltop, initially utopian, later rather less so, so Hackney Council are busy knocking several of them down. In their place are the soaring towers and shiny apartments of Woodberry Park, barely social housing at all, boasting waterside locations thanks to the New River's passage.

This is the final section of the New River proper, as testified by the reservoir coming up on the left. There are two of these, first East, then West, with the former still used for the storage of water. It's also a nature reserve with a Community Garden on its banks, and a pleasant place for a stroll. At the far end of an avenue of trees the New River suddenly turns through a comb-like grating and passes into this terminal reservoir. A peculiar mechanical contraption occasionally whirrs into action above, as a metal claw glides across to scoop out any detritus blocking the way, then dumps it in a pile on the bank. Meanwhile the West Reservoir is now a watersports centre, ideal for yachting and canoeing (and, from what I saw, falling off into the water at regular intervals). The former filter house has become a visitor centre plus café, while the dramatic-looking pumping station on Green Lanes is now the Castle Climbing Centre (open this very weekend for tours up the tower). London's New River water supply no longer gets this far, it's diverted to Walthamstow and maybe your tap. So the scenic stream edging round the kayakers is merely a heritage feature, but a damned pleasant illusion all the same.

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