• 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

    the greenway at plaistow station 2017

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    Lea Valley Navigation Walk

    Bracket fungus

    Edge of bracket fungus

    Silver Birch in April

    Pear blossom

    Dew on a white fritillary

    Snake's Head Fritillary close up

    Canoe Slalom 2017 Senior, U23 & Junior Team Selection Trials, Lee Valley White Water Centre

    More Photos

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

Olympic site begins to take shape, but the Lea remains polluted


http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/30/stratford-london-2012-olympics

The Guardian published another article on the Olympic transformation taking place in West Ham.  Anna Kessel is impressed by the changes in the landscape and she looks forward to the time when the Lea is transformed into a more pleasant river.  Interestingly enough, she is not the first person to bemoan the condition of the Lower Lea and its back rivers that flow through the 2012 Olympic site.  In 1844, decades before the height of the industrial boom in West Ham, James Thorne, in his book Rambles by Rivers, talks about the Lower Lea and its degraded industrial condition:

But by this time our river has ceased to be either picturesque or interesting: lime-kilns, calico-printing, and distilleries are the most prominent objects along its banks; and however useful these may be, they are not agreeable to either nose or eye. Continue reading

The River Lea’s modern pollution problems covered in the Guardian

Leo Hickman’s article on the current condition of the river Lea shows how little has changed since the rapid period of suburban and industrial expansion into its wetlands and river valley in the nineteenth century.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/09/river-lee-polluted-source

Sadly, the problems identified in this article are not new.   The pollution of the Lea gained national attention a number of times in the second half of the nineteenth century.   Continue reading

The Lea: A Suburban Industrial River, 1855-1915.

I am working on a paper about the transformation of the Lower Lea River (including the Bow Back Rivers and Bow Creek) into an industrial river network, during the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.  As I write the paper I will be creating some GIS maps of the area from that I will post on this blog.  I’ve included the abstract for this paper below.  Here is a very early map of the rivers I’m researching.

Early GIS map of back rivers

Early GIS map of back rivers

Continue reading

GIS Map of West Ham’s Hybrid Landscape

This map shows the patchwork of land uses in West Ham at the end of the nineteenth century.

Map

West Ham and the River Lea

West Ham was located east of London on the Essex side of the River Lea that formed the eastern border of London. The Lea was an important part of West Ham from the very beginnings of industrial growth in the area. Tidal mills harnessed the river for power and calico and silk printers relied on the purity of the water for their work. The river was also source of drinking water and used for sewage disposal. During the mid-nineteenth century chemical factories, a large railway engineering works and a shipbuilding works were built along the banks of the Lea and its back rivers in West Ham. These many uses of the river also started to come into conflict with each other. Pollution in the river forced the calico and silk printers to leave West Ham. Sewage in the water supply was identified as the main cause of the 1866 Cholera epidemic in East London. The diversion of too much water for drinking disrupted the other uses of the Lea, causing sewage and other wastes to collect in the otherwise drying river beds and disrupting the barge traffic that industry relied on to supply raw materials. The Lea was also a threat to the growing borough of West Ham as the suburb was mostly built on land below the natural high water mark of both the Lea and the Thames. The relationship between the industrial suburb of West Ham and the river Lea is the central topic of my dissertation. My second chapter, that I have now begun researching, looks at the water famines of 1895, 1896 and 1898 when the East London Waterworks Company restricted the water supply by turning off the flow of water to East London and eastern suburbs like West Ham for between 18 and 20 hours a day. I will post another blog entry focusing on these famines in a few weeks when I’ve done more of the research.