THE LOST RIVERS OF LONDON Stamford Brook tributary 3 - The Stamford Brook
The easternmost branch of the Stamford Brook was the straightest, and the longest. It rose on Old Oak Common, which might sound quaint and rural but these days is anything but. The source now lies within an industrial estate to the south of Willesden Junction station, whose sole redeeming feature is the Grand Union Canal snaking by. Just don't look beyond the shrubbery, not unless you like ash-scattered clearings full of abandoned supermarket trolleys and rotting mattresses. And raildepots. The depot at Old Oak Common is an absolute whopper, with sheds and sidings everywhere, and weedy plants growing up between the tracks and sleepers. It must have been unutterably lovelier when a stream trickled through.
You'd imagine Wormwood Scrubs to be even uglier, but that's not the case. It remains a broad expanse of open heathland, ideal for rambling or brambling, and you'd never notice the prison so long as you hang around the western end [photo]. My OS map told me there was a boundary stone part way along the rail embankment, which undoubtedly would have marked the passage of the Stamford Brook as well as the dividing line between London and Middlesex, but I couldn't find it. Nor the boundary stone beside the canal, for that matter. But the borough/ex-river is extremely obvious for the next mile because it precisely follows the route of Old Oak Common Lane, then Old Oak Road, through East Acton. The East Acton Estate is certainly more characterful than its South Acton counterpart, filled with brick cottagey terraces of a very distinct interwar municipal style.
Any hint of peace is shattered by the not-yet-elevated Westway, which sweeps across the former riverbed with four-lane disdain. Alongside is Claydon Gardens, a miserable patch of greenspace decked out with cider-swilling benches, followed by a series of 1970s council blocks that only a talentless architect could love [photo]. Don't worry, that's the lowpoint. It's swiftly back to sturdy family piles and faux-timbered semis on the journey down to Acton Vale. And look, there on the corner with the Uxbridge Road it's the holy grail of lost-river-searchers - the stinkpipe. A rusty green tube rises up from the pavement to release sewer-vent whiff well above top floor window level [photo]. Somewhere below ground the waters of the Stamford Brook continue to flow, although it's probably best not to imagine quite how.
Next up, Askew Road (which is indeed a skew road, suggesting a sinuous rivery past). There's a proper parade-of-shops feel here, all laundrettes and bistrocaffs, plus a Victorian tavern which has yet to realise that Setanta Sports have gone bust. Watch out if you own a cat round here, I've never seen quite so many Lost Pet notices attached to lampposts. And I'm embarrassed to say that this part of London has a name I'd never ever heard of before - Starch Green. It must be true, it says so on the maps in the bus shelters. Used to be a small open space on the Goldhawk Road, apparently, and was originally called Gaggle Goose Green courtesy of a former pond, now long filled-in. But one water feature has survived close by, in the park where the Stamford Brook's three tributaries finally come together. Half a mile to go.