• The River Lea

  • Humans and nature

    "In this actual world there is then not much point in counter-posing or restating the great abstractions of Man and Nature. We have mixed our labour with the earth, our forces with its forces too deeply to be able to draw back and separate either out." - Raymond Williams (1980)
  • Favourate Quote:

    We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it." - Aldo Leopold (1938)
  • Lea Valley and River Photos

    Common Blue Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum

    Down by the River

    Sun Fly, Heliophilus pendulas

    Fox

    Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

    IMG_7220

    Banded Demoiselle

    Bee on Thistle Head

    Clouds

    Pollen beetles

    More Photos

New Website

I’ve moved this website to JimClifford.ca.

Podcast: An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, Site of the 2012 London Olympics

From ActiveHistory.ca:
The Lower Lea Valley, currently undergoing a massive redevelopment project in preparation for the next Summer Olympics, underwent a number of equally remarkable transformations as London’s heavy industry migrated to the city’s eastern periphery in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this talk, Jim Clifford explored some of the findings of his PhD dissertation on the environmental problems created by half a century of urban-industrial development, and the challenges this history poses for redevelopment.

His lecture, “From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics,” is part of the pan-Canadian NiCHE Speakers’ Series and the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series.

Click here to listen to the talk.

April 14th Public Lecture: “From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.”

Reposed from ActiveHistory.ca:
A reminder to our readers that you are all invited to the second lecture in the Mississauga Library System’s ‘History Minds’ series, co-hosted with ActiveHistory.ca. The second talk will be on Thursday, April 14th at 7:30PM in Classroom 3 at the Mississauga Central Library (see below the cut for directions).

“From a Pastoral Wetland to an Industrial Wasteland, and Back Again? An Environmental History of the Lower Lea River Valley, the Site of the 2012 London Olympics.” [part of the pan-Canadian NiCHE Speakers' Series]
With Dr. Jim Clifford.

The Lower Lea Valley, currently undergoing a massive redevelopment project in perpetration for the next Summer Olympics, underwent a number of equally remarkable transformations as London’s heavy industry migrated to the city’s eastern periphery in the second half of the nineteenth century. In this talk, Jim Clifford will explore some of the findings of his recently defended PhD dissertation on the environmental problems created by half a century of urban-industrial development and discuss some of the challenges this posed for redevelopment. Continue reading

Cleaning the environmental and social conditions of the 2012 Olympic Park

The clock is counting down to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London. The main Olympic Park [map] is located in East London in heart of the Lower Lea Valley, which happens to be the same place I studied in my recently completed PhD. My research demonstrated the close correlation between the degraded environmental conditions and the disadvantaged social conditions in the sections of West Ham built on the wetlands. I ended my dissertation wondering whether the current multi-billion dollar project to clean up the environment for the Olympics might result in a comparable effort to clean out the socially undesirable people from this landscape.

An article in the Guardian, “Houseboaters being ‘socially cleansed’ from Olympics area,” suggests this process might be underway. House boaters are concerned that British Waterways are going to increase the mooring costs along canals in the Lower Lea:

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000 a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away. A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the Guardian, says: “The urgency … relates to the objective of reducing unauthorized mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time for the Olympics.” Continue reading

Dissertation Defended

On January 20th I successfully defended my dissertation, “A Wetland Suburb on the Edge of London: a Social and Environmental History of West Ham and the River Lea, 1855-1914.”  Now I’ve just got the small job of converting it into a book ahead.  I’ve included the abstract for this project below. If anyone has suggestions on where I should try to publish an urban environmental history of London/West Ham, I’d be happy to hear them.

Abstract:
This dissertation examines the multifaceted connections between ecological change on the wetlands where the River Lea meets the Thames Estuary and the development of a young suburb on the edge of London. West Ham was a patchwork of heavy industry, rivers, slums, farmlands and low-lying marshes. The difficult environmental conditions of this wetland suburb provided compelling material for a study of the links between the environment and urban society and politics. West Ham was not a typical suburb: growth of industry and working-class housing outpaced growth of commuter residential communities. Nor was it much like London’s older industrial core, as pockets of the wetlands and farms remained undeveloped, distorting boundaries between the city and the receding countryside.  As industry transformed the wetlands, socially marginalized people in West Ham suffered alongside the natural environment from pollution and flooding.

This dissertation, by placing environmental change, and the interconnections between social and ecological degradation at its centre, demonstrates the importance of the environment in shaping urban, social, and political history.  Droughts, disease, and floods highlighted the dysfunctional environmental conditions in this wetland suburb.  The deteriorating condition of the Lower Lea contributed to economic problems and to the end of industrial growth.  These conditions caused both the public and the electorate in West Ham to increasingly demand action from the borough council to ensure the water supply, improve housing conditions and health, and to protect the low-lying districts from floods.  Crisis after crisis caused by the suburb’s location on the wetland edge of Greater London demonstrated that the population of West Ham could not rely on private interests to protect the public good.  These particular environmental conditions, along with the connected social distress, contributed to the rise of Labour and socialist politics in the suburb and to a more general transition from liberalism to social democracy in West Ham.  The public demanded stable environmental and economic conditions, and they increasingly turned to government and its experts, instead of private enterprise and market forces, to solve the many problems facing this industrial wetland suburb.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The River Lea and the Thames in West Ham: the River’s roles in shaping industrialization on the eastern edge of nineteenth-century London
  3. Suburbanization in the Urban Periphery and the Rural Fringe: West Ham’s Hybrid Landscape
  4. The Politics of a Water Crisis in West Ham, 1898
  5. Environment and Health in West Ham, 1890-1914
  6. Remaking the Bow Back Rivers: environmental and social intervention to decrease flooding and unemployment in West Ham, 1888-1909
  7. Conclusion

West Ham in 1945

A recent addition to the Google Earth software incorporated aerial photographs of London from 1945. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer you can explore these maps yourself. Navigate to London and then click on the Clock button to find a slider that shows the historical photos.

Below are a number of sample photos from West Ham.

West Ham 1945

Continue reading

“Green light for green corridor from Olympic Park to Thames”

Here is an important news story about the future of the Lower Lea Valley:

” THE final jigsaw piece in post war city planners’ ambitions to link London’s green belt with the Thames will be realised in time for the 2012 Olympics, nearly 70 years after its initial inception.

The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation has given the green light to build the backbone for a new urban park in east London, linking the Olympic Park at Stratford with the Thames at the East India Dock Basin.”

Read the whole story at the East London Advertiser

Having walked around both sides of the mouth of the Lea and along the whole length of the Lea from the Limehouse Cut to Waltham Abbey, I’m pretty happy to see planning approval for the final link of pathways along this stretch of Bow Creek.  I hope they find a way to maintain and highlight some of the industrial heritage alongside river.  I’m a big fan of the wetlands created out of the East India Dock basin and I hope this kind of hybrid of renationalisation and industrial heritage can work in other spaces along this new corridor of parkland.

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