Lunch time tour
Sugar House Island and its surrounding areas have a rich heritage and we asked Rose to take us on a lunch-time history tour of some of the area's local landmarks.
Starting from The Print House, I crossed over Stratford High Street and headed east towards Stratford centre. After a short distance, on the left, I turned down Blaker Road.
Just a few steps down Blaker Road there is a cluster of three buildings sitting on an island in the City Mill River, with a restored lockkeeper’s cottage in the middle. Immediately to its left is “Howard’s House”, a re-creation of the former home of Luke Howard, the pre-eminent meteorologist and chemist who gave the clouds their names (cumulus, nimbus…). His work was highly influential, and is said to have inspired Constable’s paintings and the poet Goethe among others! Goethe wrote in his poem Howards Ehrengedächtnis (In Howard’s Honour):
“As clouds ascend, are folded, scatter, fall
Let the world think of thee who taught it all.”
Howard also had a successful chemical and pharmaceutical factory at this site in the early 19th century which produced a range of products including quinine and aspirin.
I returned to Stratford High Street and continued east, crossing back over the road at the second set of lights. I continued straight on after the crossing into the Greenway, a pedestrian and cycle route which stretches through East London from Victoria Park to Beckton.
ABBEY MILLS PUMPING STATION
A short distance along the Greenway, on the right, is an elaborate Italian Gothic building, built in 1868. It seems to me more reminiscent of a grammar school than a pumping station, with its curious collection of fine outbuildings and neatly manicured lawns. It had a significant part to play in London’s Victorian water infrastructure, being described by Historic England as “the northern cornerstone of Sir Joseph Bazalgette's enormous and heroic programme of works”, which had the purpose of giving London mains drainage in the 1860s. The structure is topped with an octagonal domed lantern with elaborate wrought iron cresting, in a striking red colour which is clearly visible across the rooftops from Sugar House Island.
Continuing on past Abbey Mills, I turned right off the Greenway through a large metal gate. From here you can walk down to the Channelsea river, where a lovely wooded path skirts around the grounds of a modern pumping station. I was here at low tide, when the exposed mud banks are a great place to spot water birds. The path leads round over a lock to reach Three Mills Green. After walking through the park, I turned left at the river.
HOUSE MILL AND CLOCK MILL
No tour of this area’s heritage would be complete without a visit to these two fine water mills, part of the original “Three Mills” after which this part of town is called. The attractive cluster of buildings, closely set around a cobblestone courtyard and surrounded by unexpectedly tranquil water, make this a lovely place to linger for a quiet moment or two. Mills on this site are recorded in the Domesday Book but the current buildings were built in 1776 (the Grade I listed House Mill) and 1817 (Clock Mill) respectively. Over the years the mills at this location are thought to have been used in the production of flour for bread, then gunpowder, and when the “Gin Craze” hit London, to grind grain for the purpose of distilling alcohol. The House Mill is the largest surviving tidal mill in the world.
After the Clock Mill I turned left to follow the willow tree-lined path between two channels in the River Lea. I passed under a railway bridge, and then a road bridge. Immediately after the road bridge I took a ramp on the left up to the bridge. I turned right at the top of the ramp, crossing the road where it bends to the right towards Prologis Park to continue straight on down a minor road.
GASHOLDERS AND MEMORIAL PARK
On the left there is a group of seven circular cast iron gasholders, another local landmark which is visible from far and wide. These imposing structures were built in 1872 by engineers Clark and Kirkham and are Grade II listed. Their construction is described by Historic England as being of either two or three superimposed storeys of Doric and simplified Ionic columns, with entablature blocks linked by filigree cast iron bands.
On the right, through a wooden gate, there is a small and delightful wooded park containing memorials to the employees of the Imperial Gas Light & Coke Company who were killed in both world wars. The most evocative of these is a tall column topped with a gas lamp, containing an 'eternal flame'. This peaceful, shady spot is a really unexpected find, and well worth a detour to visit.
From here I retraced my steps and returned to Three Mills, following the cobblestone road round between the mills and then carrying straight on down the riverside path ahead. From here there is a great view of the Sugar House and the Print House (next to Dane’s Yard tower) on Sugar House Island, both refurbished brick warehouses which are evocative of the area’s industrial heritage. From here it is a short hop back to Stratford High Street.
There’s more! Here’s a selection of other local historic points of interest Rose plans to visit on her next walks around the area:
- Bow Quarter
- Catholic Church of Our Lady and St Catherine of Siena, Bow
- St Leonard’s Priory
- Minnie Lansbury Memorial Clock
- Kingsley Hall
- Bromley Hall
- Drapers Almshouses