Adventures in the Lea Valley by Polly Braden and David Campany
(Hoxton Mini Press, gold foiled hardback, 112 pages. Out now.)
Review by Brian David Stevens
“Without the Lea Valley, East London would be unendurable. Victoria Park, the Lea, the Thames: tame country, old brown gods. They preserve our sanity. The Lea is nicely arranged – walk as far as you like then travel back to Liverpool Street from any one of the rural halts that mark your journey. Railway shadowing river, a fantasy conjunction; together they define an Edwardian sense of excursion, pleasure, time out. Best Value. We, East Londoners, support the Lea, as it supports us, marking our border, shadowing the meridian line. It is enjoyed and endured by fishermen, walkers, cyclists who learn to put up with the barriers, the awkward setts beneath bridges. We pay our tithe.” – Iain Sinclair, ‘A Hit of Rus in Urbe’, London Review of Books 2002.
The Lea Valley has been used as a transport corridor, a source of sand and gravel, a site for heavy industry, a water supply for London, and a recreational area. The river Lea runs through Enfield Lock, Brimsdown, Ponders End, Tottenham, Hackney Wick and Stratford. The lower Lea Valley was the site of the 2012 London Olympic games.
Adventures in the Lea Valley is a journey taken on bicycles by Braden and Campany, accompanied by a single camera – which they shared – and a pocketful of film. Commencing in 2004, the pair documented the landscapes and the people of the area as it was changed and sanitised by the 2012 olympic developments.
Whilst the games do cast a shadow, the most striking thing about these pictures is the beauty of the landscape, and its strangeness. The pylons do not spoil it, they add to it. Campany describes the area as “strange, exciting, ugly, beautiful and unaccountably mysterious.” There are, indeed, many mysteries in the book: the strange lands under the flyover, the arm reaching out from the homemade shelter, the pair of stuffed fabric sharks.
The Lea Valley is truly one of the edges of London, albeit a chaotic edge, blurry with weeds and orphaned car tyres, cow parsley and council housing. Fuck Seb Coe, No Games, No Bid. We see marshland, We see landfill, We see where the city ends.
Hoxton Mini Press, a venture set up initially to document East London, has since branched out somewhat. They produce books that are difficult to keep as you will always know someone else who’ll enjoy them. Best to buy them in pairs, one for you and one for a friend.
Buy a copy of the book here.