diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 15, 2018

Secret Hidden London no 847: Flash Lane Viaduct

You haven't been everywhere London has to offer until you've seen Flash Lane Viaduct. This early 19th century engineering triumph hides less than a mile from the edge of London, in Whitewebbs Park in the borough of Enfield, and is an official Scheduled Ancient Monument.



Score yourself ten London Points if you know where Whitewebbs Park is. Give yourself eight points if you can pinpoint the village of Clay Hill, and know which bus takes you there. Award five points if I have to tell you we're inbetween Crews Hill and Forty Hall, and that helps. And make do with a bonus point if you had to look up Enfield on a map.

The New River is an early 17th century engineering triumph, a 40 mile canal carrying drinking water all the way from springs in Hertfordshire to fields near Clerkenwell. But because it had to work by gravity alone it followed a contour, and that made it exceptionally twisty, and the biggest twist was at Whitewebbs. To cross the Cuffley Brook required a hairpin bend well three miles in length, with Flash Lane near the tip.



Lengthy wiggles are inefficient, so in 1820 the New River Company decided to build a viaduct to chop the tip off. They came to Bow and paid £252 2s to Hunter and English to build a cast iron aqueduct wide enough to cross the Cuffley Brook. The aqueduct would be 18 feet wide, comprising four parallel sections bolted together, sealed with lead and lined with puddled clay. It was to be supported on two brick piers, allowing the stream to flow unhindered underneath while the New River was diverted across the top. Hey presto, one shortcut.

But the aqueduct barely lasted 30 years. In the 1850s the New River Company invested in pumping stations, allowing them to build a longer more complex viaduct the other side of Forty Hall and so chop off the entire Whitewebbs Loop. Shorter journey, less leakage, higher profits. And so the former waterway became redundant, the Flash Lane Viaduct fell into disrepair, and adjacent tree roots were left alone to do their worst.



The first improvement came in 1968 when the Enfield Archaeological Society excavated the trough, and two subsequent English Heritage grants (in 1998 and 2010) have effected full restoration. In the latest round the aqueduct was cleaned, a protective coating was applied, the brickwork repaired, some graffiti removed and the railings fixed. It looks a little more overgrown now at either end, and the former route of the New River isn't especially clear, but it is a proper quirky structure to stumble upon in the middle of the woods.

A splendid information board reveals more about the viaduct then we normally deserve, including an aerial photo, cross-sectional diagrams, before-and-after photographs, a map and a full history. A gate leads through into the aqueduct area proper, although walking down the bank and onto the ironwork isn't encouraged. A fresh footpath crosses the bridge beside the trough, then follows the Cuffley Brook downstream, affording sylvan views back towards the brickwork. How strange that the capital's drinking water once flowed through this remote woodland glade.



To find the aqueduct, take the rare-as-hen's-teeth W10 bus from Enfield and alight in the hamlet of Clay Hill, close to St John's church. Flash Lane begins opposite the recently-closed Fallow Buck pub, passing a string of secluded homes before continuing downhill as a muddy bridleway between paddocks and private woodland. The owner of the aforementioned woodland loses no opportunity to remind passers-by that the land across the barbed wire is Private Property Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted No Fly Tipping No Fly Grazing. Ten minutes gets you to the aqueduct.

On the far side this ancient track rises up through Whitewebbs Woods, a glorious sprawl of hornbeam and oak, ideal for a crunchy autumn stroll. I met absolutely nobody, and it was splendid. Head off piste through the trees and you'll stumble upon London's remotest Toby Carvery. Continue ahead to Whitewebbs Lane to reach The King and Tinker, a Jacobean pub with a set of stocks in its beer garden. Or go find the Whitewebbs Museum of Transport, if it's a Tuesday, based inside a former New River pumping station. Secret Hidden London is always worth exploring.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream