WALK 9 - ALDERSBROOK AND THE ALDERS BROOK

Approx. 5.7 miles / 9.2 Km / 2.5 hours


WALK OVERVIEW

Starting and ending either at Manor Park Station or the Alexandra Lake, this circular walk looks at the history of the Aldersbrook area. As well as looking at the Aldersbrook housing estate, it examines the history of Aldersbrook Manor and Farm, and follows the length of the Alders Brook, from which the area gets its name.

USING THE WALK

You can follow the walk directly from your phone. Directions are in black, historical notes are in dark red. There are also links that lead to further information about points of interest.

If you don't want to follow the walk on your phone, you can download a printable PDF version of this walk guide.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ALDERSBROOK

Before you start the walk, you may like to read this short overview of the history of the Aldersbrook area to put the walk into context.


START OF WALK 

(If you are starting at Manor Park, begin at Way Point 1 (Manor park Station), otherwise, if you live locally, start at Way Point 2 (Alexandra Lake, which is on Aldersbrook Road near the junction with Wanstead Park Avenue). 

WAY POINT 1

Turn left out of Manor Park Station and cross Whitta Road.  Proceed along Forest Drive, walking past a small block of flats and Victorian Villas. Over the road to the right is Manor Park Flats, the most southerly point of Epping Forest.

Cross over Capel Road, and then immediately turn left onto Wanstead Flats. Proceed to the nearby information board at a junction of paths.

Take the broader of the two paths immediately to the right of the information board, heading across the Flats diagonally away from the Aldersbrook Road. As you follow the path, two blocks of flats become visible ahead on the horizon. Continue walking ahead, arriving at Alexandra Lake.

WAY POINT 2

Historical Note 
Alexandra Lake was built at the very beginning of the 20th century (approx. 1906/7) to give work to unemployed men, under the direction of the West Ham Distress Committee. There was a lot of unemployment at the time, and dock workers were only employed by the day, so schemes were set up to give men work (Another example is Hollow Ponds on Leyton Flats, which was built around the same time as part of a similar scheme).

The Alexandra Lake was named after Alexandra of Denmark, the Queen Consort of King Edward VII.

Before the Lake, it’s thought the area was always waterlogged, with perhaps a spring. This together with the natural drainage of the Flats, meant there was occasional flooding here and across the Aldersbrook Road.  The lake was an effort to ease this.  It is suggested that the lake is connected to a drainage route through the cemetery (underground) which follows an earlier natural drainage path eventually joining the Alders Brook.

Link to more information about the Alexandra Lake

Pass the Alexandra Lake and continue in the same direction, keeping parallel to Aldersbrook Road on your right.  Eventually, on the right, you will come to some houses (used by City of London employees) and some sheds. 

Historical Note
The white painted wooden hut was used by anti-aircraft gun crews during World War II.  It is now used as storage by the playing fields staff. The gun crews used a gun emplacement which was further on to the Flats.

Next to the white hut, towards the Aldersbrook Road, is a red brick building. This is also now used as storage, but originally was built as a decontamination building, to be used in case of a German gas attack. 

After you pass them, you will come to a walled area containing a few houses, and also a petrol station. Follow the wall around, keeping it on your right.

Historical Note
The petrol station was the site of Aldersbrook Farm (parts of the wall that you can see are from the wall around the farm house), which was re-sited here from its original location when The City of London Cemetery was built in 1854. In the early 20th century, when motor vehicles started to become common, the farm installed petrol pumps outside the farmhouse.

The Aldersbrook Farm in the early 20th century. Note the petrol pump on the right. Photo from Layers of London, credited to Mark Gorman and originally courtesy of Essex Record Office.

You will arrive at Aldersbrook Road with the petrol station on your right.  Cross over the road at the pedestrian crossing, turn left and walk up to St Gabriel’s Church.

Historical Note
St Gabriel’s Church was built as part of the Aldersbrook estate development. The church was designed by Charles Spooner, who was strongly influenced by William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement. It was completed in 1914.

The land which the Aldersbrook housing estate is now built on was sold off by the family of Henry Wellesley the 1st Earl Cowley  (heir to a life tenancy of the Wanstead and Aldersbrook estates), who had received the land in 1880 as part of a settlement with the City of London and the Wanstead Park estate trustees in part exchange for Wanstead Park. It was sold off in plots, and the housing estate was then built between 1900 and 1910.  

See the 'Brief History of Aldersbrook' section at the beginning of this walk for more details.   

Next to the church, a little further up Aldersbrook Road, and at the intersection with Brading Crescent, there are some of the surviving buildings of a children’s home built by the West Ham Guardians in 1910 (The Guardians oversaw the work of the West Ham Poor Law Union, building and running workhouses, infirmaries, children's homes such as this one, and other 'poor relief' activites). The buildings now remaining were part of the home, and have been converted into flats.

Section of 1914 OS Map showing position of the Children's Home on the Aldersbrook Road.  Further down, you can see Aldersbrook Farm where the petrol station is now. The farm had moved from its original position, when the City of London Cemetery was built.
Link to full map - thanks to the National Library of Scotland.

Return down Aldersbrook Road to St Gabriel’s Church and turn left into Park Road. 

WAY POINT 3

Historical Note
Park Road is the oldest road in the Aldersbrook area, aside from Aldersbrook Road itself. The map below is taken from Rocque’s 10 Miles Round London (1746).  It shows Aldersbrook and Park Roads, and Blake Hall Road (named after Bleak Hall, marked at the top of the map). It also shows the site of Aldersbrook Manor (now the City of London Cemetery) which we will visit later in the walk.

From John Rocque's London 10 Miles Round Map (1746) 
See full map at https://www.layersoflondon.org

At the end of Park Road, turn right and walk down Northumberland Avenue.

On your right, you will pass the playground of Aldersbrook School.

Historical Note
Between 
1908 and 1911, Essex County Council built an elementary school and a manual instruction centre here (Elementary schools were for children between 5-14, manual instruction centres were for teaching practical tasks)

Elementary schools were eventually replaced in 1944 by the system of primary and secondary education. 

In 1948 the school was, for a time, organised as a senior mixed (secondary modern) school, a junior mixed and an infants school. 

Today, Aldersbrook school takes children aged between 5 and 11. It also has 52 part-time nursery places. 

Keep walking along Northumberland Avenue. Go past the Wanstead Park gate on your left (Gate 172) and walk to the end, where Northumberland Avenue passes Perry Lodge (a care home), and then turns right after a white house, and enters the trees.  

Historical Note
This area is now called Aldersbrook Wood. The area was part of the grounds of an Isolation Hospital between 1893 and 1936. ‘Isolation’ or ‘Fever’ Hospitals dealt with treating and limiting the spread of infectious diseases such as Scarlet Fever and Smallpox. The development of immunisation and antibiotics during the 20th century has reduced the impact of these diseases.

The road bends left around a hut which was used up until a few years ago by the Woodford District Horticultural Society to sell allotment supplies.

Historical Note
On the right of the road here in the 1950/60’s, was a cold war government nuclear shelter / command post, to be used in the case of a nuclear attack. At the start of the 21st century, this was demolished and replaced by the houses that you can see through the trees. 

After a few yards, past some wooden bollards, the path splits and goes left and right. Follow the right hand path, and at the end, go through the narrow gap in the iron railings, into the housing estate. On the left is a fence in front of a field that the local stables use to graze the horses.

Walk diagonally across the small parking area, and then along the pavement running in front of the houses that back on to the stable’s land.  When the pavement emerges into another small car park, turn sharply left and walk along the pavement, then on down the path leading towards the allotments. When you reach the road, turn left and continue walking.  Pass the entrance to the stables on the left, and continue walking on to go through Gate 174.

This area was The Wanstead Sewage Works from 1 March 1884 to December 1977. Sewage was treated here before being released into the Roding.  

After closing and becoming derelict, in the 1990’s the land was passed to Epping Forest in exchange for land lost from road building and improvements. 

Link to further information about the Wanstead Sewage Works   

1914 OS Map showing position of the Isolation Hospital and Sewage Works. Notice too where the Alders Brook splits from the Roding, and where a stream rises from the cemetery and flows into the Alders Brook. We will look at this further on in the walk.

Link to full Map - thanks to the National Library of Scotland

The path veers slightly right and then left.  You will pass some green metal sheds on the left which belong to Thames Water. About 80 metres beneath the ground here is an aquifer (an underground layer of water), and in 2007 a borehole was drilled here to extract water from it. 

Follow the path past a paddock to your right, shortly after which turn right on to a cycle path, which is blue signposted to Manor Park.

WAY POINT 4

As you follow the path, to your left you will start to get glimpses of the River Roding, which forms the Newham/Redbridge boundary. On the other side of the river is Ilford Golf Course. To the right you can see the high buildings in Ilford town centre.

Historical Note
The River Roding rises at Molehill Green near Dunmow in Essex. It passes through or near nine villages in Essex known as the Rodings, which are mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Roding then flows south to east London, forming Barking Creek as it merges into the River Thames. 

From the middle ages Barking was a major fishing port, home to over 200 fishing vessels in the mid Victorian period, prior to a rapid decline as the railways made northern rivals more able to serve the London market. 

The villages around the upper part of the Roding are thought to be the remnants of an Anglo Saxon community (the Hroðingas, whose leader was Hroða) and who sailed up from the Thames to settle. It's from the Hroðingas that the River Roding gets its name.

Link to more information about the River Roding

Walking on, you pass near to an electricity pylon on your right.  Behind the pylon is the start of the City of London Cemetery.

Further on, you pass a City of London sign and pass through an open metal gate in a fence.  This marks that we are leaving City managed land.

Soon the path will start to leave the river, and get nearer to the fence of the cemetery which it then closely follows.

After a short while you will see another pylon near the path, on the left.  Leave the path here and walk under the pylon.

There are a number of short paths to explore here, if not too overgrown. The Roding has veered to the left shortly before this point, and the water that you can see at the ends of the paths is the start of the Alders Brook.

This is the northernmost part of the Alders Brook.  

The Alders Brook, at this point, takes over from the River Roding as the boundary between the London Boroughs of Newham and Redbridge. It also marks the boundary between the parishes of Little Ilford and that of Great Ilford. 

You may notice, if you can get through the undergrowth, that the earth is banked over the junction of the Brook and the River Roding. You can see from the 1896 OS map (below), that it was once probably connected. We have been told that there is an overflow pipe in the bank that could drain the Alders Brook into the Roding (or vice versa?), but at this end of the Brook there is usually no water movement, only starting to flow a little further down.

This OS map from 1896 shows the Aldersbrook as it was at that time. It split from the Roding, and then, after going under the railway lines it branched. It then rejoined the Roding at Ilford Bridge (as it does now) the other branch joining it further downstream.
Link to full map - thanks to the National Library of Scotland.

Return to the path next to the cemetery fence, and turn left to continue along it. Stop when you see a metal fence on the left.  You should see moving water emerging from beneath the City of London Cemetery here on the left of the path. This is joining the Alders Brook, and from here it flows. 

Water flowing from beneath the City of London Cemetery into the Alders Brook.

Historical Note
It is thought that the water coming from the cemetery is the remains of a stream, now underground, that comes down from Wanstead Flats (from where the Alexandra Lake is now).  It would have fed and flowed through the lakes in the grounds of Aldersbrook Manor. There remains a small pond in the cemetery woods on the other side of the fence at this point, see picture below. 

The water on the cemetery side of the fence. 

Walk onwards on the narrow path between the allotments fence on the left and the cemetery fence on the right.

Historical Note
Behind the allotments on the left is the Alders Brook, then the Ilford Golf Course, then the Roding.  At about this position, the Cran Brook flows into the Roding on its far side. The Cran Brook rises near to Barkingside, then disappears below ground, to re-emerge on the east side of Valentines Park.  It flows through the boating lake, and then disappears underground again at Cranbrook Road, until it finally flows into the Roding near here.

When the allotments end, the path opens up again. If you go down any short path on the left you will get glimpses of the Alders Brook. This is easier in the winter months when the undergrowth dies down. When the main path gets nearer to the railway, the brook is nearer to the path and the undergrowth is less, so it is easier to see. The Alders Brook disappears into a fenced tunnel beneath the railway line.  The river is also passing under the railway about 350 metres away towards Ilford. There is a small brick outlet near to where the brook goes into the tunnel, from which more water flows into the Alders Brook from an underground source.

WAY POINT 5

Go through the graffitied foot tunnel beneath the railway lines, then turn left onto Aldersbrook Lane.  Bear right on the path towards Romford Road. When you get to Romford Road, turn left and walk towards Ilford.

Pass a car dealership and then turn left into Lugg Approach. After about 50 metres there is a small bridge over the Alders Brook. To your left you can see it flowing down from where it emerged from the railway tunnel. To the right you can see it flowing towards the River Roding. Sadly, there is usually lots of litter on the banks of the brook here.


Return down Lugg Approach and turn left towards Ilford at the Romford Road.

Historical Note
Romford Road was originally a Roman Road from London to Caesaromagus (Chelmsford) and to Camulodunum (Colchester). In 1600, Will Kempe, having split from the group of actors that William Shakespeare belonged to (The Lord Chamberlain’s Men) decided to bet that he could dance from London to Norwich.  He danced up the Romford Road to Ilford, and then on to Romford on the first day. 

Using this link you can read “Kemps Nine Daies Wonder”, Kemp’s own account of visiting The Great Spoon in Ilford (it is now rebuilt in Cranbrook Road, and is a Wetherspoons Pub!) 

Walk under the A406 (North Circular Road), and then look left to see the River Roding flowing beneath you.  If you look about 30 metres upstream, on the left you can see where the Alders Brook joins the River Roding.

WAY POINT 6

Return the way that you came, to the tunnel beneath the railway lines (go back up Romford Road past the dealership, then right into Aldersbrook Lane and right again into a graffitied foot tunnel) .

When you emerge from the foot tunnel, turn immediately left into a corridor between the cemetery fence on the right and the railway line fence on your left.

Link to a video showing the path of the Alders Brook that you have just walked

Historical Note 
It’s thought that the proximity of the railway line (then part of the Eastern Counties Railway, (later the Great Eastern Railway) was one of the factors for building the City of London Cemetery here in 1856. Two years before, the London Necropolis Railway had opened a railway line to carry bodies and mourners between London and the newly opened Brookwood Cemetery, in Surrey.  The service was never developed at the City of London Cemetery.

Link to more information about the London Necropolis Railway

Eventually you emerge onto Rabbits Road near the cemetery South Gate entrance (usually locked).

Turn right and walk past the South Gate entrance and then 700 metres further up to the main cemetery gates.

Link to more information about the City of London Cemetery

WAY POINT 7

Go through the gates to the Cemetery.

Just on the right as you enter are toilets and the Poppy Cafe, well worth a visit for drinks and cafe-style meals and snacks.

Take the road on the left (Church Avenue) until you get to the first turning on the right. down. Look left and notice that this is slightly uphill leading towards the site of the Alexandra Lake. Take the turning on the right, slightly sloping down towards the crematorium. Go straight across where a number of paths meet and walk to the right side of the crematorium. Pass a carp pond on your right, then veer right into the car park. Keep going in the same direction, cross St Andrews Road and continue on towards the Columbarium.

Historical Note
Notice that the area is in a dip here, with the land rising on both sides.

On the map below we see Aldersbrook Manor in 1746, when Smart Lethieullier lived at Aldersbrook Manor and Farm. 

To the right of the red ‘A’ you can see The Great Canal. This area is marked on the satellite image of the cemetery as a rectangle.  The slight valley shape that you are in is where the lake was, probably fed by water flowing down from the area where the Alexandra Lake is now.  

The red ‘B’ marks the site of the Farmhouse, and the red ‘C’ is near where the Manor House was.

Historical Note
The Aldersbrook Manor and Farm land was originally part of the Manor of Wanstead. In about 1512 it was separated and called Aldersbrook Manor, named after the brook that ran through it. Aldersbrook was sold to the crown in 1532 by Sir Giles Heron the owner of Wanstead Park. It then went through a number of owners including Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester in 1585 and John Lethieullier in 1693. It stayed in the Lethieullier family until 1760 when it was inherited by Sir Edward Hulse, who sold it to Sir James Tylney-Long, the owner of Wanstead House (and father of Catherine Tylney-Long, the ‘Angel’ in Geraldine Roberts’ excellent book ‘The Angel and the Cad’). When Wanstead House was sold off, the land became Aldersbrook Farm. The City of London purchased the farm to construct the current cemetery in the 1850s.

Link to more information about Aldersbrook Manor

Climb the steps at the right hand side of the Columbarium, and then move to the middle of the top of the Columbarium. Look back where you have just walked. From here you can get an idea of the landscape before the cemetery was built and see the dip in the land where the Great Pond was.

Turn around again away from the Columbarium and continue through the trees in the general direction that you have been going.  Cross over North Boundary Road, and immediately afterwards cross Limes Avenue.  Continue walking in the same direction, over a graveled section on to a large grassed area, without graves.  Walk on, parallel with Poplar Road on your left.  

Historical Note
Beneath this grassed area is the site of Aldersbrook Manor House. 

Archeological excavations took place in the cemetery looking for remnants of Aldersbrook House and Farm in 1972-3. 

At the far side of this grassed area (which has been built up over the years) is a small wood, down a slope. Beneath this raised grass area is a drain which takes the remains of what is possibly another source of the Alders Brook

Flowing water becomes visible (on wet days) in a channel in the wood which is straight ahead, and then flows into the Alders Brook, just outside the cemetery fence, which we saw earlier in the walk.  (See earlier photograph marked ‘The water on the cemetery side of the fence’) 

Retrace your steps to the main gates of the cemetery.

Just to the left of the gate is the Poppy Cafe (open until 4.00pm) and some toilets.

Leave the cemetery through the main gate.  

END OF WALK

GETTING BACK TO MANOR PARK

If you are returning to Manor Park Station, cross the road outside the cemetery and turn left.  The station is about 600 metres away.

If you have enjoyed the walk, you may like to read this short overview of the history of the Aldersbrook area to put the walk into context.


Some of the online resources used in compiling this walk

Link to 1898 OS Map - Just before the Aldersbrook Estate was built

Link to 1914 (revised) OS Map just after the Aldersbrook Estate was built

Link to Wanstead Wildlife - Map of Aldersbrook Manor and Farm 

Link to Wanstead Wildlife - History of Aldersbrook Manor

Link to E7 - Now & Then - Aldersbrook

Link to British History Online - Aldersbrook

Link to Leyton History Society Wanstead Flats Publications

Link to Past Tense - Information About Land Enclosure on Wanstead Flats

Link to a John Rogers video about walking the Alders Brook

Link to a walkspast.com video showing the path of the Alders Brook

Links to Friends of Wanstead Parklands articles about the ownership of Wanstead Park

A video of a Wren Group Talk by Mark Gorman & Peter Williams about Wanstead Flats and Wanstead House


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Link to feedback form

Let us know if you enjoyed the walk and if you have any other feedback we could use to improve it.

Russell & Paul