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Defending the marshes

The following pages have been written and kindly submitted for publication by Katy Andrews

Katy Andrews

A history of the lammas lands of Leyton Marshes


Occupy protesters set up camp at Leyton Marsh in Spring 2012


'Beating the Bounds', May 2013

In 1999 a Councillor for Lea Bridge Ward in the London Borough of Waltham Forest, with the portfolio for the environment, promoted the building of an unwanted and strongly resisted freight road through the middle of Leyton Marshes. Responding to criticism in the pages of the local Waltham Forest Guardian newspaper, she wrote that “there is no such place as Leyton Marshes”. This is an attempt to prove her wrong!

Certain encroachments by the Great Eastern Railway Company upon the common rights on the marshes of the people of Leyton roused a storm of indignation in the town in 1892. Led by prominent local men, the people pulled up the rails and tore down the fences that the company had constructed. Legal proceedings were then begun against the leaders of the movement; the ground was again enclosed and the rails laid down. Undeterred by the threat of the law, crowds of Leytonians once more pulled down these obstacles. Public meetings were held, a petition to Parliament in defence of the common rights was prepared, and the aid of the Commons Preservation Society was obtained. In face of this continued and determined opposition the company thought it well to compromise and proposed terms which were accepted and approved by a public meeting of the townsfolk.

The ancient commonable rights of the people of Leyton of pasturing cattle upon the marshes had, in fact, ceased to be of value to a population of city workers and artisans. But their need of open spaces was greater in the crowded town than it had ever been in early days of the agricultural village.

From The Story of Leyton, Weston, 1921

Like most history, the above extract contains several errors. Not least because the railway had arrived half a century earlier, and the company in question was the East London Waterworks Company, who wanted to put in a short railway line to a junction with the main line to bring coal to their pumping station and remove gravel from the new filtering beds.

A similar confusion can be seen in LB Hackney’s tourist guide leaflet on the “Porters’ Way” (or “Black Path”), a medieval trading route from Epping Forest to the City of London which passes through Walthamstow and Clapton - which Hackney calls the “Market Porters’ Way,” when in fact the path was used by porters - carriers of goods - and had nothing whatsoever to do with the porters who moved goods around within food and flower markets.

In considering the history of the Lammas Lands of Leyton and Walthamstow Marshes we must also be aware that over time words change their meanings or have had multiple meanings some of which are now archaic or lost, so what we today think a word means may not necessarily have been so in the past.

leabridge.org.uk December 2012