THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON Loxford Water Seven Kings → Ilford → Loxford → Barking (2 miles)
[Loxford Water → Roding → Thames]
Loxford is the minor suburb between Ilford and Barking. Loxford Water is the minor waterway between the River Roding and the Mayes Brook, and drains into the former. A rather longer river feeds it, the Seven Kings Water, but more of that tomorrow. [Google map][1898 OS map]
I'm going down to South Park, gonna have myself a time.
This particular South Park is a green space to the east of Ilford town centre, preserved when Loxford Hall's estate was sold off for housing in 1899. Surveyors took advantage of the river through the middle by creating an ornamental lake, fed from a culvert under South Park Crescent (not that me dropping in these street names is going to help you much, sorry). It was quite the place for a promenade. Today it's somewhat less so, indeed I was struck by the absence of humanity other than two lads throwing a ball for an alsatian, a man shouting into a phone and a newlywed couple in full Sikh dress posing for photographers while wielding a huge gold sword. Two fading bouquets were tied to a No Fishing sign. A Greylag goose approached me with menace. The doors to the Wildlife Centre were firmly locked.
A small stream overflows a weir at the south end of the lake, ducks beneath South Park Terrace and disappears behind the back gardens on South Park Road. At Staines Road the river reappears and, unexpectedly, runs along the side of the pavement for several hundred metres. It's fenced off and deep in a concrete trench, so not exactly picturesque, but a welcome reminder of sylvan days when this was a rural backwater called Water Lane. A couple of inches of water flow over gravel, weed, reusable plastic bags, half bricks and upturned china plates. I stopped to take another photo.
"What are you taking photos of?" asked a grey haired lady approaching up Loxford Lane. I was uncertain whether she was genuinely interested or fired up on a Neighbourhood Watch crusade, so I told her I was just taking photos of the river. "Are you going to complain about the rubbish?" she said. Before long she was recounting how she remembered the stream in the 1940s, and how there were houses further along you could only enter across small individual bridges, and how at Green Lane they built other houses right over the top, and of course you know it feeds the lake in South Park, and I think I got away with that.
At the next bend is a small pointy-topped boundary stone, with Borough of Ilford on one side and Borough of Barking on the other. For the next half mile the Loxford Water forms the dividing line between Redbridge and Barking & Dagenham, because there's often a rivery reason for these things. Barking Park follows the same alignment, its eastern entrance tucked between a car park and some allotments. This is one of the rare spots where you can follow Loxford Water up close, now an artificial wiggle with a much higher concrete bank on the Redbridge side. The sewage works behind has been replaced by Loxford School of Science and Technology. A purple plastic bottle bobbed in the water at the foot of a shallow weir. A squirrel scarpered. What might have been a riverside footpath then promptly petered out.
Barking Park was the council's first park, and is still its finest. Its most prominent feature is a 910m-long boating lake formed by damming the Loxford Water, dug out by an army of 100 workmen in 1898. The river runs in a separate channel out of sight behind. In 1953 a mock paddlesteamer called Phoenix II made its debut on the lake, along with hireable motorboats, but these days your sole option is a fleet of self-powered boats for £15 per half hour from the pontoon by the cafe. I think I saw the owners stashing their surplus stock amongst the trees on the far side of the lake as the season draws to a close. A heron padded across the shallows. A flock of seagulls landed where three ladies had chucked a bag of breadcrumbs. The gate onto Ilford Lane was guarded by an entire battalion of geese and pigeons. I stepped carefully.
The next stretch of Loxford Water has been fenced off by the Environment Agency - they call it Loxford Sluices. It runs in a filtered trench alongside the mosque, on past the warehouses on Tanner Street, then between some modern infill flats. Eventually it vanishes into Loxford Road pumping station, beneath a bridge you'd never notice were it not for the Weak Bridge sign at the top of the road. It's here we hit a slew of railway lines, just west of Barking station. The river's been diverted along the side of the Overground, whereas crossing on foot requires ascending a grim lofty footbridge, high enough to make sure it just scrapes over the top of the westbound District line flyover.
We're very nearly at the River Roding, where this river terminates. Before modern redevelopment Loxford Water splayed out along numerous marshy channels, the main one veering left behind North Street. In the early 20th century a swathe of factories intruded, then in 1971 the Harts Lane estate replaced them, now a none-too-desirable dead end of assorted flats. Residents still hang their laundry from communal washing lines. Signs warn 'No Games'. Fat dogs trot off leash in front of their owners. Road builders used the approximate line of the former Loxford Water for the Barking Northern Relief Road. The river finally entered the Roding on the other side of London Road, just below Barking Abbey, where Barking Retail Park is about to metamorphose into the massive Abbey Quays 'urban village'.