diamond geezer

 Monday, August 24, 2020

Prime Meridian 0° (day 2)

Today I'm continuing my walk along the Greenwich Meridian through Tower Hamlets and Newham... or attempting to walk along it because direct passage becomes a lot harder from here thanks to a derelict gasworks, a tidal river and several industrial estates. So, plenty to look forward to... [map] [photos]

New Village Avenue   [51.513°N 0°W]
Much of the postwar Aberfeldy estate, cut off behind the A12 and the A13, has succumbed to regeneration over the last decade. Most of the housing association flats bordering the East India Dock Road have been knocked down and replaced by something sparklier, blockier and more likely to have a 24 hour concierge. Initially the marketing team called it Aberfeldy Village but they've since morphed to calling the site Oxbow, which is a godawful name because a) it's not in Oxford b) it's not in Bow and c) it does not in any way resemble a disconnected meander. The main thoroughfare retains the name New Village Avenue, however, although there's nothing rural about a long grassy canyon with occasional footbridges crossing an imaginary water feature. About the only thing I like about the development is that they remembered the Greenwich Meridian exists and marked it with a lovely brass spike across one of the walkways.

The meridian passes through Watermans House, Traders House and Blairgowrie Court. None of these are as vibrant as the marketing collateral claims.

Abbott Road   [51.514°N 0°W]
Nudging up against all this redevelopment malarkey, Abbott Road is a throwback to when these South Bromley streets were the closest to the docks. Only a few Victorian buildings survive, but the majority of residents are still lucky enough to have proper houses rather than flats. The meridian cuts invisibly across the point of a triangular parklet past a road sign using not quite the right typeface pointing not quite the right way.

Poplar Gas Works   [51.516°N 0°W]
In the 1820s the Poplar Gas Company opened its first gasworks alongside a bend in Bow Creek. It did its dirty job for decades, out of general sight, and grew to accommodate three gasholders, two retort houses and numerous tanks and gantries. In 2010, its job done, British Gas announced plans to demolish the lot and remediate the 20 acre site. 28,000m³ of mucky spoil was removed, much of it by barge, and today the land is securely fenced awaiting, you guessed it, 2800 flats. Tower Hamlets nodded through planning permission earlier in lockdown, with full completion scheduled to take many years. One major benefit will be the opening up of 500m of riverside path, but on the downside the developers have only been asked to leave space for footbridges across the Lea rather than funding any themselves, leaving future residents potentially rather cut off.

The Greenwich Meridian cuts across the heart of the site, as you can see on this artist's impression culled from the masterplan. Unfortunately I've had to add the red line myself as the architects appear to have completely overlooked the meridian's existence. It doesn't get a mention anywhere in their 24 page Design Evolution document, and the footprint of the blocks and towers entirely disregards the alignment. There are always other factors to be taken into consideration, of course, but it does seem a terrible waste of geographical good fortune given that branding a location 'Meridian Something' invariably adds value.

A footbridge across to Cody Dock was granted planning permission in 2010 but has never been built, as if this section of the Lea Valley Walk is forever cursed.

Bow Creek   [51.518°N 0°W]
The River Lea is broad and tidal at this point, and also entirely inaccessible to the public. The meridian crosses the river just downstream of Cody Dock, tantalisingly out of reach, and enters the London borough of Newham through the depot of GBN Services Ltd, specialists in skip hire, recycling and waste transfer. To stand on the zero degree line you need to head for the stretch of South Crescent immediately outside the arched entrance to Cody Dock, close to a cluster of parked-up street sweepers, and deftly dodge any passing trucks.

Cody Dock itself is lovely, an evolving community asset to be proud of, but alas it misses the meridian by about twenty metres.

Cody Road   [51.521°N 0°W]
The Cody Road Trading Estate houses numerous businesses London needs but nobody wants to live near. As such the location is ideal because absolutely nobody does. High fences and locked gates screen off cement works, electricity substations, builders yards, document archives, car rental depots, windscreen repairers, food wholesalers, even a dealer in eels. If the wind's in the right direction you might also get the whiff of freshly-roasted coffee but that's a rare treat. The meridian crosses Cody Road in the tiny gap between North Crescent and South Crescent where the pavements are generally clogged by unmarked delivery vans and off-duty ambulances. May you never have any good reason to visit.

For the next 700 metres there is no public access to the meridian, other than those aboard trains between West Ham and Bromley-by-Bow stations. The easternmost of the Twelvetrees gasholder cluster is narrowly scraped.

Long Wall Path   [51.528°N 0°W]
Here's one of my favourite local paths, a secluded dogleg clinging to the north bank of Abbey Creek. It was closed for ten years while Thames Water completed adjacent works on the Lee Tunnel but reopened in 2016 connecting Three Mills to the Greenway. The waterfront is mostly obscured by undergrowth and mud while inland is screened by a security fence, so it can feel a bit like you're walking through a green tunnel. I used GPS on my phone to try to work out where the meridian passes, and I think it's the one spot where the undergrowth has been trodden down and the fence has been yanked open, but ultimately there is no escape.

The field in which the first two series of Big Brother took place is (almost) just behind the fence (but marginally into the western hemisphere).

Abbey Mills Pumping Station   [51.531°N 0°W]
Not only is this an absolutely glorious building but the Greenwich Meridian slices through the cruciform engine room. Abbey Mills Pumping Station was built by Joseph Bazalgette as part of his 1860s sewage masterplan and helped flush London's effluent down the Northern Outfall Sewer towards Beckton treatment works. It is ridiculously over-decorated, but Victorians liked to go way over the top in their public works. These days most of the work has been taken over by a separate silvery-roofed pumping station, also coincidentally astride the meridian, but the old girl still adds her weight when required. Should you ever get the opportunity to look inside, as I managed in 2011 with Open House, move mountains.

Apologies, there's only been one proper meridian marker in today's post, right at the beginning. We'll do better tomorrow.

• Today's 10 photos can be found here
• Tomorrow we continue from the Greenway

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