Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Old Ford Lock - and some ancient tales

Old Ford Lock, River Lea, East London
8.5" x 11.5", pencil and coloured pencils
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a really ancient spot. There's evidence of both Bronze and Iron Age settlements along the River Lea as early as 2400 BC and also of a late Roman settlement around about Old Ford.

Old Ford
is an area in Bow in East London and it takes its name from the place where there was a natural ford. In Roman times this was the most downstream crossing point of the River Lee. It was very important because at this time the Lee was a wide, fast flowing river which flowed into the River Thames and the extent of tidal estuary stretched this far up river. There are in fact a lot of rivers in this area and the Olympic site sits in the middle of them.
The Bow Back Rivers are a mass of river channels which is said to have formed when King Alfred dammed the River Lea in order to trap the invading Vikings upstream.
Old Ford is also where a pre-Roman track crossed the river. This track went all the way from modern day Oxford Street in the centre of London all the way to Colchester in Essex which is 56 miles north east of London and is also the oldest recorded town in Britain and used to be the capital of Roman Britain for a time.

The River Lee was used to deliver agricultural products and pottery from Hertsfordshire and places further north to Roman London. At Old Ford the goods were transferred so that they could to continue their journey into London along the paved road by wagon.

In other words "Old Ford" is just about as old as it gets round here!

It gets better. The story goes that in 1110, Queen Matilda, wife of King Henry I, fell while crossing the ford while on her way to to Barking Abbey - more or less at this spot.

As a result she ordered that distinctive bow-shaped, three-arched bridge should be built over the River Lee - but a mile south of the area where she fell which meant that the roman road now turned south to go to the new bridge. The new bridge was a huge innovation and was described as The like of which had not been seen before.

around 1100, Queen Maud, wife of Henry I, commissioned the construction of Bow Bridge – which landed on the western, or London side of the River Lea at Stratford-atte-Bow (now Bow) and on the eastern side at Stratford Langthorne (now Stratford). One of the first arched bridges built in England since the Roman occupation, this bridge was a technological wonder for the period. The original bridge was demolished in 1835, at which time the great Roman Road from Colchester to London was diverted through Stratford.
In medieval times, "Stratford" means 'paved street over ford' - thus the 'bowed' design of the bridge led to the area where the bridge stood becoming known variously as Stradford of the Bow, Stratford of the Bow, Stratford the Bow, Stratforde the Bowe, and Stratford-atte-Bow' (at the Bow). It's now simply known as Bow but forms the eastern edge of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.

For those of you who know Chaucer's Canterbury tales, you'll remember that Geoffrey Chaucer immortalised Stratford atte Bowe in the Canterbury Tales
Ther was also a nonne, a prioresse,
That of hir smylyng was ful symple and coy;
Hire gretteste ooth was but by seinte loy;
And she was cleped madame eglentyne.
Ful weel she soong the service dyvyne,
Entuned in hir nose ful semely,
And frenssh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of stratford atte bowe,
For frenssh of parys was to hire unknowe.
Basically this means that the local priory had nuns who spoke French with a local accent. I suppose this could have been the forerunner of Cockney!

Old Ford Lock

Old Ford Lock is a paired lock and weir. It separates the River Lee Navigation (beyond the lock) which is the canalised river from the old River Lea (foreground). It's sited more or less where the ancient Ford used to be.

(Confusingly, there are also a whole series of locks on the Hertford Union canal which are also called Old Ford Locks - but more of those on another day as I walked home that way and I think I'll be going back to the sketch them!)

More prosaically, for those who can remember, it's also where The Big Breakfast House was located where The Big Breakfast was filmed. It was subsequently sold.
The show's greatest novelty was it's setting; a former terrace of 3 cottages in East London, once lived in by the lock keepers of the Old Ford Lock on the Lees Navigation Canal.
You can just see its roof above the trees on the right hand side - and you can see more in this slideshow which I found on the Internet. As the final slide says - just imagine Deep Purple played in that garden!

This is the second of the sketches from my outing last Friday with the Drawing London group. I did it sat at the end of The Greenway - looking north. Hackney Cut (currently closed because of the Olympic Park development) is off to the right.

The first one was about Sketching the Olympic Park. The next one is about a property just past the trees and bang opposite the Olympic Stadium where we had lunch.

Sketchercise count: 29th May - 10,061 steps!



  1. Thanks for the evocative painting and a memorable trip into the past, Katherine.

  2. AnonymousJune 02, 2009

    We visited Old Ford Lock on a walk from the start of the Eastway to Stratford via the towpath and the Olympic stadium in early May. Ever since you have been bringing back memories for me with your posts! This is just as I remember it with the red girders on the left. If you cross the lock there are some interesting gateposts and a 'lacy' gate just going into the industrial estate.
    If I ever see someone sketching on my travels locally I will check and see if it is you!
    Have you ever tried painting in Walthamstow, in particular the Village area? There are pictures to whet your appetite here on our church magazine website marking the 900th anniversary!

  3. I did indeed cross the lock and that's going to be the next post.

    Thanks for the link to the blog. I've driven through Walthamstow a few times but I don't think it's ever so looked so photogenic!

  4. AnonymousJune 02, 2009

    Hello Kathryn
    The most photogenic bits of Walthamstow are off the beaten track and you are unlikely to see them driving through. St Mary's is an interesting building and if you like interiors we will be open on Saturdays over the Summer (weddings permitting!), plus being open for London Open House weekend (for the building plus a chance to see the view from the tower.) Just opposite the church is the Ancient House (15th Century timber framed) and just a few steps away are Vestry House Museum (local history in the old Victorian workhouse with a lovely back garden) and the Nag's head pub, with a good view looking back to the church and ancient house. Here is another link so you can see more pictures: http://parishofwalthamstow.wordpress.com/gallery/
    Hope I have tempted you!! (Have your London Drawing Group every come here?)

  5. It's a Drawing London Group rather than a London Drawing Group - meaning not everybody lives in London and some people come quite a distance into London to draw it. That means places need to be fairly accessible from all directions. I'll tell Bill about it and see what he thinks.

  6. Katherine,
    your blog is wonderful, so much great info and wonderful sketches! This one make me a little homesick (I grew up near there) has a really nostalgic feel to it.


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