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The Greenway

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Sep. 12th, 2007 | 03:36 pm
location: upton park, london
mood: in severe need of chocolate and rioja, neither of which I have...
music: my bloody valentine - we have all the time in the world
posted by: ross in hidden_london

Not many 'hidden' things are a seven kilometre (four and half mile) geographical feature. But outside of the residents of the streets it works it's way over or by, most Londoners probably don't even know of this one's existence.

Realistically one would probably only be interested in certain aspects, certain parts of this pedestrian/cycle-way in East London, and what lies along it. You could start out at the easternmost end, Beckton. Not a great idea though, unless you like walking through post-industrial wilds and alongside the diesel-fumed A13. I was more interested in the area between Plaistow (“Plah-stoh”) and Stratford. Though here, for the sake of visitors, one has to be careful with names. Wouldn’t be the first time an American tourist has grabbed the Central Line out to Stratford looking for all the Shakespearean history… Wrong Stratford, wrong part of the country. Though for anyone finding this entry on a Google search, perhaps, further confusing is that Stratford-On-Avon, the actual Shakespeare fleece-‘em-central, ALSO has a Greenway, theirs following a disused railway.

Walking vaguely east-to-west for most of the way, the view to the West is of the post-Thatcher developments in Poplar, or Docklands as it was rechristened by outsiders with money & power and designs on people’s homes. Then as the angle shifts it encompasses what is still referred to as The City: beyond and to the side - quite clear on a haze-free day - dwarfed by the monuments to acquisition in EC1, is Telecom Tower (or as I’ll always think of it, a seventies kid, The Post Office Tower). Shiny and West Central. And beyond that west London... It IS a great view, especially on the coldest clearest Winter mornings. Not that we have Winter any more.
The original steam-powered shit house

There are lots of curious bits to look at along The Greenway this side of Stratford, and the Abbey Mills Pumping Station is particularly historic. Designed like a faux church as the name implies, it's built near the site of the long-gone Stratford Langthorne Abbey and remains a shrine to the Industrial Revolution at it's Victorian British 'height'. A Cloacal Cathedral, it housed eight vast steam engines harnessed to push a huge quantity of sewage upwards and into Joseph Bazalgette’s North London Outflow to schlep the filth of an out-of-control, soot-and-shit choked metropolis away to Beckton, where the mammoth sewage works still resides (next to the new housing developments...). Replaced now by a modern facility both lauded and loathed as either an architectural triumph or a big aluminium shed. This new Abbey Mills Pumping Station can be seen to the rear of the older building and much clearer from the District Line as it passes east from West Ham to Plaistow.
Electricity and water: Abbey Mills 21stC

Bazalgette's grandson Peter is the man behind Big Brother, on your TV screens. Following the addage - and family trait - that 'where there's muck there's brass', it is often wryly observed that whilst the grandfather saved London from being drowned in its own shit, the grandson is responsible for pumping it right back into everyone's front rooms. Cycles.
Marking the start of a spur off the main path

At Bazalgette’s Fossil (note the current community icon) there is a pathway that veers off and if you follow it around, it takes you past the new building and also eventually past the externally innocuous Three Mills Studios, a fully operational east London sound stage. One of the last films I saw on DVD, Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, was entirely shot there a year or so ago. One can often see pre-audition thespians and wannabes running through their lines, reading from scripts in the park directly opposite. If one is that way inclined it's a good place for celebrity-spotting in the Summer.
Oast Houses, from the pathway/District Line side
Note the satellite dish in the clock tower...
Some of the more interesting looking offices in east London

Though if you carry on that way you’ll pass the very visible Oast Houses, known as Clock Mill, now offices-for-rent, and find yourself staring at the mud-locked houseboats alongside Short Wall that also leads to Stratford but from a different perspective to that of The Greenway.
WOTAN: Though hardly Valhalla, it's good for the local hypermarket two minutes away

Running across the London Boroughs of Newham & Tower Hamlets the path is comparatively well maintained and spacious, if Graffiti Central. It is run down and neglected, but because of frequent use along the bulk of its length it remains traversable and useful. The historically insalubrious part is that it is actually, as touched upon above, a pathway over the top of the main sewage outfall for central-east London. A massive engineering navigation and a vast pipeline structure. Stolen. Dumped. Burned. - Motorcycle or heart?However on top you don't notice this, and because it's a raised construction, crossing railways, rivers and tube lines, the pathway is for the most part, at a higher elevation than the houses around it, which provides the great views. Unfortunately when one gets to Stratford The Greenway takes on a more appropriate demeanour to its subterranean history. Due to under-funding and, sadly, the nature of the people that live alongside it, the end of the Newham section and the small Tower Hamlets stretch especially, shows how rundown public parts of the city can be (allowed to become). There are lots of ways on and off it, not all official. It's clear people scramble their stolen motorbikes here and I pass one burnt out carcass of two-wheels-dead most every time I use this route. More worryingly this entire end run is a predator's paradise. Not close to housing but with LOTS of places you can be grabbed and taken elsewhere close by but out of sight and sound. This specific part can frankly stay a particularly hidden facet of London and no-one will miss it. A shame because the whole thing could be much better managed and promoted. So what is essentially a car-free short cut for locals could become a destination for people wanting to get out of the centre on a nice day, but not to too far. Nevertheless, I don’t wish to demonise the area and the odd gem along the way is worth investigating.

One final note is that with the Olympics in 2012, the very worst section of the Greenway now runs into the very heart of what is chosen to be the Olympics expanded site. So if it isn’t entirely re-developed out of existence, like so many other things in London, then it’s likely that it will actually receive some investment. As may the rest of the route. As with the temporary population explosion across the whole of London, any routes too and from the Olympic staging area, of any sort, should be regarded as essential and treated as such prior to the event. (Not that 'should' ever mattered in this city.) Of course this potential enforced gentrification may also rob much of what people would wish to find in a Hidden London, so perhaps it’s a case of last-chance-to-see, before the warts-and-all are painted over.

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