On the 6th July 2005 a hopeful crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square to hear the winning bid for the 2012 Olympic venue. At 12.49 BST, Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic committee announced that London would be the host.
Meanwhile back in the area known as Fish Island and beyond, in the East End, a sleepy forgotten patch of post industrial land lay quiet and untouched, a lone dog walker, jogger, cyclist or on some occasions an angler would pass through this quiet oasis, known as The Bow Back waters.
To explain the Bow Back Waters, where it’s borders start and finish is not easily defined and even after spending a few years wandering the network of flood relief channels, navigable canals and natural brooks, the footprint is ambiguous but I would say looking at a map, north of Three Mills to Old Ford Lock marks this area.
The Bow Back Waters originally called Stratford Marsh goes back to pre-history but in Roman times there was evidence of occupation here especially at the Ford Bridge which crossed the river Lea at low tide and allowed a passage to Colchester.
Throughout the next 2000 years the River Lea’s path has been diverted, blocked and widened. Alfred the Great drained the river at Leamouth to halt the advance of the Danes and prevent an invasion from the River Thames. By the eighteenth century industrialisation was taking place and many wharfs were created to accommodate the import of timber, chalk, stone, coal, and wheat. By 1821, the earliest proper dock named Stratford Dock, later called Meggs Dock was created just up from Bow Bridge but after 1920, the whole site had been filled in and was occupied by factories and workshops that didn’t depend on water access. Now the majority of these factories have been demolished for the new Olympic site.
The images below were taken around 2007…
Carp and bream were often found cruising along this stretch which still exists, up ahead is Old Ford Lock (above).
Shortly after the olympic announcement the Bow Back Waters were electro-netted and the carp, bream along with pike and plenty of silver fish were removed and put into the Lea Navigation, I believe Pudding Mill stream was completely dug out and filled in.
Three months ago I was invited onto the Olympic site and saw the work done on the original River Lea, which had been widened to take industrial barges containing the new steel for the Olympic build. The work was sympathetic but also heavily landscaped, now banks of wild flowers and regimented forests of silver birch will greet the excited sports fans. The Lea of old has lost its real wild and neglected appeal.
From my window the Olympic stadium stands just a quarter of a mile away, now a permanent feature. I am in favour of the Olympics and the Olympic park but I do sometimes miss that quiet hidden corner of East London, spending an hour casting a floating crust for the Channel Relief carp. On occasion I did hook the odd carp but never actually managed to get one on the bank, frustrating and now, never to be repeated.