The Chelmsford postcode district very nearly doesn't overlap with London at all. But a handful of properties in three borderline locations narrowly cross the boundary so, in my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year, I've had to troop out to nearly-Brentwood to tick off CM13 and CM14. I'd never set foot in any of these locations before. [map]
We're on the northeastern edge of London as defined by the M25, somewhere between junction 28 and 29. More specifically we're on Warley Road, a backroad that leads from the tip of Harold Wood to the Essex village of GreatWarley. It's not so remote that one end doesn't have a bus service but that bus is London's least frequent route, the 347, so it is pretty remote by capital standards. I timed my visit very carefully and hopped off at the junction of Hall Lane (which leads to Upminster) and Nags Head Lane (of which more later). Initially I enjoyed a pavement laid to serve a line of motley houses with the good fortune to face Tylers Common, but that soon gave out and I was left to balance along a grass verge or face the passing traffic full on. Still in RM14, not there yet.
Past the entrance to Tomkyns Lane the lane drops gently to cross an unseen stream, then driveways lead off to two gated hideaways (No Stopping Or Turning, CCTV In Operation, Guard Dogs On Patrol). One is Little Readings and the other Great Readings, by far the largest house on the road and the oldest too. For some reason both properties are still in RM14 but the next five have been designated CM13 - Downhill, Willowbrook, Vale Wood, Overdales and Tylers Croft. These gabled monsters have gates ranging from grand to no peeking, and entryphones for access, and nameplates in wrought iron, and swimming pools concealed behind high timber, high brick or high hedges. Then comes Foxburrow Wood which the M25 carved through in the 1980s creating eight roaring lanes in a deep cutting, and immediately beyond that Essex properly kicks in. So that was brief.
The chief attraction here is Tylers Wood, one of the minor constituent parts of Thames Chase Community Forest. The car park has room for six vehicles, or five if one parks badly, and that's how most people get here. After a few steps the view opens out to a sweeping hillside of long grass dotted with buttercups and fleabane, and out to the west a perfect line up of Docklands, South Bank and City towers 20 miles distant. Drop down the cinder track and the cityscape is replaced by a much closer hillside with horses grazing, some of which you might meet clopping along the bridleway circuit later. It may not be so beguiling in winter, and you have to block out the ever-present motorway hum, but I'm chuffed my ridiculous postcode quest brought me here.
n.b. Tylers Wood also connects to Tylers Common, which I enthused about last summer.
n.b. The 'Welcome to Havering' sign on Warley Road had two things stuck to it - a St George's flag and an angry anti-ULEZ leaflet. By the time I left it only had one of these stuck to it.
n.b. Public rights of way pass either side of the M25, allegedly, one of which (on the London side) promptly disappeared into an overhanging oak tree and the other (on the Essex side) could only be accessed by a stile over a crash barrier.
n.b. I stuck to the cinder track in Tylers Wood instead and eventually reached a footbridge over the chasming M25 which is quite the local footpath nexus.
n.b. I continued along a sylvan strip between paddocks and motorway embankment brightened by dogroses, and watched an administratively-oblivious rabbit hop beneath a wire fence from London into Essex. Next postcode ahoy.
Nags Head Lane is so called because it bears off from the main London-Essex road at the Nag's Head Inn. It's crossed by the London/Shenfield railway (so you might see a purple train overhead) and also divided approximately in two by the Havering/Brentwood boundary. At the point of intersection is Brentwood Sewage Works, which grew up here because a local solicitor once offered to spread the town's effluent across some fields he owned beside the lane. The resulting stench soon proved this to be an unwise decision and the landowner absconded, so the South Weald and Shenfield Special Drainage District Authority bought the site and attempted to do the job properly. It doesn't smell so bad any more now Thames Water are in charge, but it does alas occasionally leak into the Ingrebourne in a wilfully careless manner.
Fifty-six houses were built along one side of Nags Head Lane in the 1930s, mostly detached and not always elegant. But today's there's a huge gap between number 13 and number 21 because when engineers traced a path for the M25 they sliced through seven unlucky properties, and today the lane makes a brief detour to bend across a noisy orbital racetrack. Many of the surviving properties are painted in traditional pastel tones, and one resident owns a Range Rover with the numberplate E16SSX which I thought was unusually proud for someone living a dozen houses from the county boundary. But for postcode quest purposes these properties were of no use because they, and indeed the entrance to the sewage works, are all just outside London. So I continued down the hill to one last outlier and bingo.
It's incredibly Essex, despite not quite being. Tall spiky gates watched over by CCTV. A fearsome fence shielding the majority of the compound. A converted barn with a weathervane atop a louvred turret. Some kind of angled grey conservatory. A lot of sheds. And in the brief moment I was standing here the owner arrived home in a black Tesla and wound down his window to say hello. I think I got away with it by admiring his architecture and quickly walking off, but that only made me more determined to find out more when I got home. Well. A number of businesses are based at the property including a luxury Asian wedding outfitters, a subcontinental jewellers and a recording studio. A search of planning records throws up a long history of Havering enforcement officers demanding multiple illegal extensions are removed and the owners repeatedly appealing. And if you attempt to view the property on StreetView I see the camera whizzes past without stopping, suggesting they really don't like being seen, so probably best I was never there.
When Greater London was created the boundary with Essex followed the Weald Brook, a wiggly tributary of the Ingrebourne. When the M25 was built the Weald Brook was the path of least resistance so the motorway duly followed that. When the Local Government Boundary Commission reviewed the situation in 1992 they concluded it would be best to even out the wiggles by shifting the Greater London boundary to the outer carriageway of the motorway, and mostly got their way. Nags Head Lane was the only point of resistance, with half remaining resolutely in Essex. And as a result one unlucky property alongside junction 28 suddenly found itself transferred into the capital, the only CM14 address thus affected, and that heavily fortified property is where I attempted to go next.
Since the 1980s Grove Farm has been wedged between the A12 and the M25 on the western side of the Brook Street roundabout. But don't think agriculture, think skip hire, vehicle repairs and pallets, plus a former farmhouse where the current owners and their extended family live. To get in you need to drive down the clockwise M25 sliproad and getting out disgorges you onto the eastbound A12 slip, so pedestrians aren't exactly welcome. I wasn't sure that J28 would even have a pavement but it turns out two sides do, so long as you don't mind crossing multiple lanes of traffic and following an overgrown track behind the crash barriers. And so I somehow made it to stand beside a green barrier emblazoned with an advert for The King of Skips, who appears in robed caricature grinning like Essex royalty despite officially not being. Unsurprisingly he's in geographical denial on his website.
It was plain that some significant construction project was underway locally because a bank of stepped earthworks stretched off into the middle distance scraped by a multitude of diggers. And it's not for housing, it turns out to be a £150m scheme of majorjunctionimprovements designed to relieve traffic congestion at this key interchange. A single cloverleaf connection is being added to directly link the northbound M25 to the eastbound A12, skipping the bottleneck roundabout, and it's Grove Farm's misfortune to have had 20 acres compulsorily purchased for this purpose. Come 2025 they'll be isolated inside a loop of motorway offslip and no, they are not happy about this and no, £100000 in legal fees hasn't made the government change its mind. I suspect if I'd turned up a few weeks later the pavement I'd been standing on would have been closed pending realignment, because that's already happened down at Putwell Bridge. Instead I claim to have successfully visited CM14, and indeed now every other postcode district in Greater London.