diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Three East London villages: 1) Wennington

And if you don't need to look that up on a map, congratulations. Wennington's the last village in London heading east towards Lakeside, about halfway between Rainham and Aveley, and very very nearly in Thurrock. It sits alone on the Thames marshes, just high enough not to flood and disconnected to any residential sprawl. It's also very old, with a mention in the Domesday Book and an early medieval church, in which the ashes of a semi-famous mathematician are interred. Three hundred people live here, almost all along one side of one street, paying their London taxes and voting for London's Mayor. And if only the trains stopped you might have heard of the place, but there's a reason they don't, and the solitude's probably part of the appeal. [7 photos]



The village exists as half a dozen runs of cottages plus two farms amid some fairly squelchy fields. First up from the Rainham end are New Cottages, which'd rank as Fairly Old Cottages in most other London boroughs. Walk a bit further along the road and the terraces run together... Laundry Cottages, Marine Cottages, Kent View... each comprised of relatively affordable two-up two-downs. There's no shop anywhere in the village, but one slightly larger house proudly proclaims itself as The Old Post Office 1886-1967. Oh, and "Kent View" may have been true once but the county no longer appears clearly on the southern horizon, which is blocked by the landfill heaps of the Aveley Marshes, now grassing over in the middle distance.

A particular quirk of Wennington is that it has no public footpaths. One long pavement along the main street yes, but there are no tracks off into the marshes in case you fancy a walk. I did see one local resident wander off into the wilderness behind a trotting dog, but you'd probably not get too much further at this time of year without ending up knee-deep. Another barrier is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which speeds by a few hundred yards away behind a concrete barrier, blocking access towards the Thames. A more ordinary c2c service runs parallel, but only Rainham and Purfleet get stations, and intermediate passengers can only stare as they rush through. Immediately behind the railway is the A13, stalking across the Wennington Marshes on a long viaduct. And beyond that is an equally inaccessible bird reserve which the RSPB are currently scraping out to improve the habitat.

The church of St Mary and St Peter hugs up close to the road, but then the whole village does so that's no surprise. The present building dates back to the 13th century, and survives with a regular Sunday service because the village ganged together a while back to kickstart fundraising for roof repairs. Just outside the northeast corner is a squat obelisk to the memory of Henry Perigal (1801-1898), a Huguenot stockbroker's clerk who dabbled in mathematics and meteorology in his spare time. His main area of expertise was compound circular motion, but today he's remembered solely for an elegant cut-and-shift dissection of Pythagoras' Theorem. Henry was the first to discover the pleasing geometrical proof depicted here, and which also appears on the side of his obelisk (though considerably harder to see on the weathered post).

Next up is the village green, originally the site of a large manor house, now with 20 interwar semi-detached houses around the perimeter. This could easily be part of the Becontree Estate, were it not for the atypical village sign depicting the church and a tiller of the soil. The parish noticeboard features two posters warning about lung cancer, both since obscured by a faded printout that screams SAY NO TO GRAVEL EXTRACTION IN WENNINGTON. It'd be all too tempting for some company to move in on the surrounding marshes and dig them out, but earlier this year residents raised a 2000 name petition against, and local MP Jon Cruddas is firmly anti too. As things stands the worst that's currently confirmed is the seeding of a new golf course on the edge of the village, completion date unknown.

The next building beyond the green greatly surprised me - a fully functional fire station! Here we are in a tiny village only a few hundred yards from the edge of the capital, and yet the London Fire Brigade has closed a dozen other more central stations and left this one open. To be fair I suspect Thurrock pays a fair amount towards Wennington Fire Station too, plus it is jolly conveniently located near an A13 junction for speedy egress, but even so... you can't buy a Mars Bar in the village, but you can find a dozen folk who'll offer smoke alarm advice.



And it's just up the road past one last farm that Wennington, and Greater London, terminate. A busy road rushes by, with the Premier Inn and the Lennards pub fractionally on the London side and the Willow Farm Giant Bootsale (Every Sunday) fractionally in Thurrock. I arrived in time to see the last purchase-laden stragglers walking away, or maybe a few vans selling leftovers in a field was the height of the day's trade. A pint in the Lennards might have been welcome, but it appeared to be deep in Sunday roast mode so I took advantage of the village's one excellent transport link and escaped. The 372 bus runs through Wennington two or three times an hour on its way to Lakeside, or Hornchurch, should you ever wish to visit. I may have just saved you the effort.

[Today's challenge: write seven paragraphs about as obscure a corner of London as possible]


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