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Archiver > ESSEX-UK > 2004-09 > 1094776280

From: "Lawrence Greenall" <>
Subject: RE: Lea Bridge, Essex
Date: Fri, 10 Sep 2004 01:35:39 +0100
In-Reply-To: <>

> -----Original Message-----
> From: [mailto:]
> >
> I speculate that because of the boggy ground around there
> (Hackney Marshes
> is just to the east) any bridge that allowed you to get between
> the east and
> west banks would be well-known and well-used. So the bridge (or
> more properly
> *a* bridge) would have given its name to the area itself.

You're absolutely right, Dave. The River Lea has precious few crossings even
today, and many of them are well-known by name throughout history, being
points at which many people gathered, like the central neck of an eggtimer.
They include Bow Bridge, and Ferry Lane leading from Tottenham to
Walthamstow (you can guess the origin of its name!) The whole valley from
the Thames to Cheshunt and beyond is a very shallow and wide belt of
marshland which has effectively always been a no-man's land, until probably
the 20th century when we learned how to dredge it of its gravel (finding
things like mammoth tusks and bronze swords in the process) and build light
industrial developments on it.

Nathaniel Salmon, in his History of Hertfordshire, 1728 (he also wrote a
History of Essex in 1740) discusses whether the Roman placename Durolitum
could be identified as Cheshunt, saying that “Durolitum then signifying 'the
water of the Lea' is aptly placed here as at any part of the stream. Indeed
it was eminently so, because the water was then a Lake made by the Lea. It
reached across the Marsh from Cheshunt Street to Holyfield, and Waltham
Abbey, before Blackwall was erected to keep in the tides.” This area is
again today largely a series of large lakes, formed by the extraction of

Where I live, Waltham Abbey, is probably very deliberately sited at one of
the few historically crossable bits of the valley. At this point the 'river'
consists of no fewer than four watercourses, some man-made long ago, flowing
around a natural terrace of solid-ish ground across the valley, forming a
series of 'islands' across which a causeway was probably made as far back as
prehistoric times. The ancient trackway from St. Albans to Colchester, later
utilised by the Romans, may have crossed here, or maybe a little further
north, at a place now called Fishers Green. When piles were put along the
terrace for the M25 around 1980, human bodies were found which it was
thought could be boatloads of plague victims brought upriver from London and
simply dumped in the marshes - no wonder Defoe described Waltham Abbey as
being 'hot with the plague' in 1665!

It is also, of course, somewhere here (give or take a few miles) where King
Alfred left the Danes high and dry, forcing them to abandon their boats and
make a quick exit overland. The River Lea is also one of the borders of the
Danelaw. In the Saxon era Waltham Abbey was little more than a grand hunting
lodge with a few attendant cottages and possibly a simple chapel a bit like
Greensted Church. I think it likely that the siting of the hunting lodge
was deliberately at a point where access from the old Roman Ermine Street
(from London to Ware) led straight to the rich hunter's pickings of a great
tract of forest.

In Medieval times the roads from Waltham Abbey to Nazeing, Latton and
Loughton were opened up by the Abbots of the Abbey of Waltham, who owned
considerable lands roundabouts and naturally needed to visit them regularly,
but still the 'main' access was from Ermine Street, hence the placing of the
Eleanor Cross at its junction with the track to Waltham Abbey, placed as all
the crosses were at the nearest main public thoroughfare or gathering place,
for maximum impact. Eleanor's cortege actually made a diversion eastwards
from St. Albans to Waltham Abbey, then continued westwards again to Ermine
Street to continue its progression to its next halt, at Cheapside.

On into Tudor times, and Waltham Abbey was still accessed via the river
crossing rather than by road from north or east, being cut off from the rest
of Essex by a dense thick forest with severe Royal legal protection - you co
uldn't even travel through without permission. It is true that Roman items
have been found on Sewardstone Road a couple of miles to the south, but this
road seems to have been little used in later times; and the ancient trackway
mentioned above no doubt still existed, but it led to the northwest out of
the town and, despite following minor local ridges was still engulfed in
thick forest which would soon be the favourite hunting ground of a new breed
of predator - including the Gregory Gang, the Waltham Blacks, and Dick

Apologies for wandering about!


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