urban75 walk club: Enfield Lock to Waltham Abbey and Cheshunt
Report by urban75 editor, Sept 2004
Phew! What a scorcher!
On a glorious September afternoon, hungover Urbanites gathered at the Railway Inn, Enfield Lock for the monthly(ish) meet of the Walk Club.
Signpost, The Lea Valley Walk, Enfield Lock
The walk followed the 'canalised ' river Lee (or Lea), which runs from the Thames to Hertford. It's been a working river for centuries, with the Vikings using it as a plundering highway.
Work on increasing the river's navigability is recorded as early as the fourteenth century. A 1425 Act of Parliament provided further improvements.
Cloo, our guide for the day, imparts historical nuggets to an impressed throng
There were constant arguments between barge owners and mill owners who wanted the available water to be used by their mills rather than locks, with the Star Chamber (a superior court of justice) ruled in favour of the boats in 1594.
The canal era was started with the passage of the River Lea Act 1766 which authorised extensive improvement works, the construction of locks, new sections, and the Limehouse Cut, a connecting canal at the southern end.
Canal view, The Lea Valley Walk, Enfield Lock
The 19th century saw substantial improvements taking place with a further act being passed in 1850 to authorise new sections and locks.
The Lea Conservancy Act 1868 placed the navigation in the hands of a new conservancy board and a major scheme in 1922 enlarged and rebuilt locks to enable larger vessels to use the navigation.
On nationalisation of the canal system, the navigation passed to the British Transport Commission and later British Waterways.
The original locks were single gate locks which relied on a build-up of water and its sudden release to enable boats to pass. In 1771, these were replaced by pound locks, which feature gates at each end. These are far less wasteful of water.
Looking along the canal
Just out of sight are the old abutments of a bridge that used to take the towpath across to the other bank (and the start of the Royal Small Arms Factory waterways), guarded by a WW2 pillbox.
The crew in action!
The Greyhound pub is close to this scene, with a new road bridge taking Ordnance Road across to 'Enfield Island Village'. This is massive new housing development on the site of the former Royal Small Arms Factory.
Once employing thousands, the factory was famous for the .303 Lee Enfield rifle, named not after the river but after the inventor of the loading mechanism, James P. Lee. The factory finally closed in 1988.
The Lea navigation runs alongside miles of reservoirs, water meadows and parkland. There are numerous lakes on both sides of the towpath, created after gravel extraction. They're now used for fishing and support a wide variety of waterbirds.