When London Became An Island

Back to the towpath itself. After passing under Kingsland Road bridge, a railway bridge comes into sight. Early in 2006 I took photograph 1. The columns had supported an old metal bridge that once carried a line into Broad Street, which had been closed in the 1980s. They looked forlorn and the ground on which they stood would, I thought, soon vibrate to the pile drivers of a new housing project but the Overground bridge was erected instead. No need for horse ramps on this line I think - no sparks from steam engines and no horses to frighten.

A couple of hundred yards beyond the Overground bridge is what originally looked like an intriguing ‘submarine’ (2) but which has now grown (3) into a floating island. It was created as a result of a project in which several organisations have been involved and which aims to help increase the biodiversity of the canal.

A little beyond the island and beyond the towpath railings an older block of flats (no-one calls this type of block an apartment block, although I suppose that is what they are) stood until late 2014. This also had something to catch the eye although there was no luxuriant shrubbery, just the faces of local residents (4) with the words ‘i am here’. The block was eventually demolished and replaced by more a modern development. On the opposite side of the canal is the Laburnum Boat Club, which offers local children and adults a chance to experience a number activities both and and off the water. It is a flourishing club which has organised visits to places far removed from Hackney.

One place far removed from Hackney is New Zealand (although I don’t think the boat club has been there as yet!). I once saw a boat called the Waiouru here. Waiouru means ‘the meeting of the waters’ in Maoiri and I only know that because I read it on the Waiouru website. Something else I didn’t know, until a Kiwi on a canal holiday told me, was that New Zealand has no canals. I never got a chance to have a word with the passengers and crew of the Waiouru, but the website is very informative and although the boat is no longer travelling there are links to those that are.

Beyond the entrance to the Laburnum Boat Club a road is carried over the canal by a bridge that seems almost rural in its aspect. A birch tree stands hard by the arch and other shrubbery is always on the look-out to expand its territory. By June 2017 nearly all of the bridge-side mosaics (5), which were created by children from the old Laburnum School, that once stood on the south bank, were well hidden. The mosaics were a significant tribute to Laburnum School and one of its teachers, Miss Heweitt, who worked there from 1958 to 1982, and were created by children to celebrate her service. It would be a pity if they were completely lost but passing recently I saw the area was being well cared for. I am not quite sure what Miss Heweitt would have made of seeing a state school being supported by a Swiss global financial services company. The Bridge Academy, which has a very state-of-the-art design, was built on the site of the old school. Miss Heweitt would have been used to seeing the initials LSB on any of the London School Board’s ‘three deckers’ she may have worked in. UBS originally stood for Union Bank of Switzerland. The world moves on.


I’m also not sure Miss Heweitt would have made of the shark about to break out of its cage, which may be seen across the canal once under the bridge (6). Click here to read about the background of the saga to do with the Hackney Sharks, of which this is one, which were removed from the water after the local council won its case. Close by is big yellow balloon - or rather a floating, inflatable theatre.

The next bridge carries Queensbridge Road. If you are doing the walk on a Sunday morning the bridge might be an ideal place to leave the towpath and have a walk down to Columbia Road flower market. Once at road level walk south (i.e cross the canal) past the Adelaide Wharf development. Keep on going across two sets of traffic lights and you will finally come to a T junction. Turn left and then right and you will arrive at the market. Today many of the shops flanking Columbia Road house a variety of enterprises selling, amongst other things, food, furniture and fashionable clothes. Not far away is the Hackney City Farm, which is also worth a visit, especially if you are doing a walk with children. Always a warm welcome here from a variety of birds and animals - and the staff too, of course!

If you want to continue along the canal you should return to the towpath and walk on towards the next bridge, called the Cat and Mutton. Some time ago work was done on the road adjacent to the towpath (7). This has made for a smoother ride for cyclists and allows an easy segregation. The railings have been removed too which adds to the feeling of spaciousness. What a pity the whole of the towpath, from Paddington to Limehouse, could not be enhanced by the same treatment. No chance, I’m afraid.

If you are thirsty, or inclined to commission a portrait or try to see what the future holds keep a look out for Rosie (8). The boat, which travels along the canal, was recently moored not far from the Cat and Mutton bridge. Lemonade, portraits and tarot cards may seem an unusual combination but then Regents often offers an eclectic mix, which is part of its charm.

After passing Acton's lock you will see a sign pointing to Broadway Market, which you can reach by walking up the steps. Unlike Chapel Market this is a street market that only opens on Saturdays, but it continues to attract another eclectic mix, this time of of shops, cafes and bars open throughout the week. There are popular bookshops (the Broadway Bookshop, Donlon Books and the Artwords Bookshop) here too. As for the Saturday market a newspaper columnist noted a few years ago that it was 'a rare mix; a winning combination of shops - trendy new-starts and old timers - and a thriving street market selling food, clothes, crafts and quirks'. The newspaper is long gone, but the market goes from strength to strength and is well worth a visit. A few years ago I found it was possible to buy refreshments on the canal for the Sandwich Barge was moored here, which was quite unusual in those days. The Sandwich Barge has moved on, but click here to catch up with it on Facebook.

The Cat and Mutton bridge evidently gave its name to the Cat and Mutton pub at the far end of Broadway Market. It could almost be renamed Bicycle bridge now for it is an important conduit for bicycle travel between Hackney and central London. Not only are there far more bicycles on the towpath than there used to be but there are far more bicycles crossing it too. A public bicycle pump stands on the bridge.

In the ‘olden days’ at the turn of the millennium, before the market really got going and bike travel began to take off, the authorities turned a blind eye to fly posting and posters were pasted on and pasted over regularly in the usual fly tradition. Quite a few of the posters must have been printed for entertainers and film makers who dreamed of making a breakthrough. Most of these hopes were, inevitably, dashed, but one advertised a singer who did make it big although, sadly, her story ended in tragedy. The panels of the Cat and Mutton bridge are kept clear now but click here to see snapshots of printed ephemera from 2006.

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