Lea Bridge

Lea Bridge, Waltham Forest/Hackney

Until recently, an industrial and working-class residential district straddling the River Lea east of Clapton – now being gentrified

Hidden London: the Capital Ring at Lea Bridge by Des Blenkinsopp

There has been water-relat­ed indus­try here since the time this place was called Jeremy’s Fer­ry. The first water­wheel was erect­ed in 1707 and this was fol­lowed by mills grind­ing corn (and even pins and nee­dles), and a water pump­ing sta­tion.

The con­struc­tion of the Lea Bridge turn­pike in 1758 improved acces­si­bil­i­ty to the City and the dis­trict became fash­ion­able for a while with mer­chants and bankers.

The mills pre­sent­ed an obsta­cle to nav­i­ga­tion, which was over­come by the open­ing of the Hack­ney Cut, from Lea Bridge to Old Ford, in 1769.

On the east­ern side of the riv­er, Lea Bridge Road sta­tion (opened in 1840 and renamed Lea Bridge in 1871) was the ear­li­est rail­way con­nec­tion in the Ley­ton and Waltham­stow area and soon brought the con­struc­tion of work­ers’ hous­ing.

Dur­ing the lat­ter part of the 19th cen­tu­ry fil­ter beds were con­struct­ed on both sides of the riv­er and in the 1930s fac­to­ries replaced agri­cul­tur­al small­hold­ings. Some of the old util­i­ties and indus­tries have since closed and the Mid­dle­sex Fil­ter Beds have become a nature reserve with­in the Lee Val­ley Region­al Park. The west­ern side of the dis­trict remained pri­mar­i­ly res­i­den­tial, and is some­times known as Mill­fields.

With EU fund­ing, Lea Bridge under­went some regen­er­a­tion at the end of 20th cen­tu­ry, pro­vid­ing infra­struc­ture improve­ments to its indus­tri­al estates – but this failed to pre­vent many busi­ness­es from clos­ing or mov­ing else­where.

Late­ly, prop­er­ty devel­op­ers have been squeez­ing in upscale apart­ment blocks wher­ev­er plan­ning per­mis­sion can be obtained. The most recent major project has been The Wharf, a set of four blocks shoe­horned in between Essex Wharf and the riv­er – and shown in the pho­to­graph at the top.*

The waterside at Lea Bridge
Pho­to tak­en before the con­struc­tion of apart­ment blocks at Essex Wharf

Hav­ing closed in 1985 as a con­se­quence of under­use, a new incar­na­tion of Lea Bridge sta­tion opened in May 2016. Waltham For­est coun­cil pro­vid­ed £5 mil­lion of cap­i­tal fund­ing for the project. Rail­fu­ture direc­tor Roger Blake said: “The ini­tial spark was in 2011 when trans­port offi­cers in neigh­bour­ing Hack­ney coun­cil … found there was £5 mil­lion fund­ing avail­able from the devel­op­ers of Strat­ford City’s West­field who were keen to expand their rail catch­ment north­wards up the Lea Val­ley.” Built at a cost of more than £11 mil­lion, the sta­tion is ulti­mate­ly expect­ed to serve 352,000 pas­sen­gers a year.

Devel­op­ment of the area around the sta­tion has been pro­ceed­ing rapid­ly since it opened and there are pro­pos­als for much more to come, con­tro­ver­sial­ly cre­at­ing an entire new ‘town cen­tre’ here, with sev­er­al res­i­den­tial tow­er blocks.

Lee Val­ley ice cen­tre hosts skat­ing and ice hock­ey events, and has seat­ing for a thou­sand spec­ta­tors. The neigh­bour­ing Lee Val­ley rid­ing cen­tre has an indoor rid­ing school and out­door hack­ing facil­i­ties, as well as offer­ing car­riage dri­ving and side-sad­dle tuition.

Just over two-fifths of Lea Bridge’s res­i­dents are white and a quar­ter are black or black British. The Asian com­mu­ni­ty is pre­dom­i­nant­ly of Indi­an her­itage on the Hack­ney side of the riv­er and of Pak­istani descent in Waltham For­est.

Postal districts: E5 and E10
Population: 29,710 (Hackney’s ward of Leabridge and Waltham Forest’s ward of Lea Bridge, 2011 census)
Station: Greater Anglia (zone 3)
Further reading: Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop, The Road to Jeremy’s Ferry, Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop, 2003
Website: The view from the bridge – Lea Bridge heritage (excellent but not often updated nowadays)


* The picture of the Capital Ring at Lea Bridge is adapted from an original photograph, copyright Des Blenkinsopp, at Geograph Britain and Ireland, made available under the Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence. Any subsequent reuse is hereby freely permitted under the terms of that licence.