Posts Tagged ‘1981-92’

Before the Olympics – The River Lea

Sunday, November 29th, 2020

The Source of the River Lea, Leagrave, Luton, Beds, 1982 33d-56_2400
The source of the River Lea, Leagrave, Beds

Back in 1981 I kind of stumbled across the River Lea as I walked and photographed eastwards out of the city through Wapping, Limehouse and Poplar to Bow and Canning Town. Of course I’d known about it since my youth, growing up in Middlesex; it was our eastern boundary where civilisation ended and Essex began, but never something we visited.

I began at Bow Creek, the River Lea’s tidal section which leads to its confluence with the River Thames at Leamouth, but soon after began to explore Stratford Marsh, a remarkable wilderness area around the Bow Back Rivers. I’d gone to Bow having heard a short radio report that commercial traffic on the Lea Navigation was to end in a few weeks time, and found it more or less already had, though I was able to find a couple of loaded barges moored by a wharf next to the Bow flyover, as well as quite a few barges empty and apparently abandoned.

River Lea, near Luton, Beds, 1983 33e-14_2400
River Lea

I put together a proposal to document the area around the Lea navigation and sent it, including some of the pictures I had already made, to try to obtain some funding for an extensive project on the area. Later I found the esteemed photographer I had approached to endorse my project was not one of the charmed circle who advised the funding body and promoted their own former students and protégées – and that outsiders were seldom if ever funded.

Works, Broxbourne area, Herts, 1983 34z-52_2400

When my rejection came I was downhearted – particularly by seeing some of the projects that did get support – and also rather angry. I still saw it as a worthwhile project and thought about ways I could carry it out funding it myself. I had little cash and a young family to support, so I had to keep costs to a minimum. I had to stick to using 35mm, to load cassettes from bulk film, do all the processing and printing myself and to give up the idea of producing a book.

White House Cafe, Lea navigation. Broxbourne area, 1983 34z-11_2400

Probably working with 35mm improved the project, giving me more flexibility than using medium format, where my choice of focal lengths would have been much more restricted. But loading cassettes from bulk did lead to more problems than using factory loaded film and my home processing facilities were a little on the primitive side. For some of the work I used Kodak Technical Pan, an extremely fine-grain film designed for high contrast copy work which could be tamed for pictorial use with reduced development – but which also meant reduced speed – depending on the developer used from ISO6 to ISO32. Later Kodak Technidol developer became available and made it much less sensitive to small changes in development time or agitation, and the results were more reliable. Technical Pan was I think discontinued in 2004.

Lea Navigation,  Broxbourne area, Herts, 1983 35a-32_2400

I worked on the project on occasional days in 1982-3, extending it to cover the area around the River Lea from its source to the Thames and then moved on to other things. Occasionally though I returned to the Lea and took more pictures, particularly in 1992 around Stratford Marsh, and later in that decade around Ponders End. In the early years of this century I walked the length of the river over several stages with my family and later went back a cycled much of it after I bought a Brompton folder which I could easily take on trains to suitable starting points. By this time I’d also exhibited work from this project in several shows. When the site for the London Olympics was announced in 2005 I began putting it on line, setting up the web site The Lea Valley and planning the book ‘Before The Olympics‘, which eventually I self-published on Blurb – and is still available.

In the last few days I’ve gone back to my contact sheets from 1981-3 and digitised a number of new images from them and am now beginning to upload them to Flickr, along with a few already from 1990-1992 previously scanned.

Riverside Cafe, Waltham Abbey, River Lea, Lea Navigation,  Broxbourne area, Herts, 1983 35a-42_2400

So far I’ve uploaded only the few images I made between the source at Leagrave (augmented as I made the exposure by a French photographer friend) to somewhere around Cheshust, close to the edge of Greater London. You can see more from this stretch already on Flickr, but there are very many more taken inside London Boroughs to come.

Broxbourne area, Herts, 1983 34z-46_2400

Some apologies. Some of the images are without full location details, which I have lost, and others were scanned with carrier glass that has caused clear ‘Newton’s rings’ in shadow areas, which are impossible to entirely retouch, though perhaps one day I’ll re-digitise them. Some of the negatives have also been damaged by an insect infection which takes extensive retouching and is in some images impossible to completely remove.

I’ll make further posts after I upload more pictures to the album, and will probably upload images from later years too.

River Lea – Lea Navigation 1981-1992


My London Diary : London Photos : Hull : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage : Flickr

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.