I intended to write about planning permission in Hackney this week. I was going to give clarity to its complexity, unravelling all its mysteries. Instead I went to the marshes with a pen and did some sketching.

The sketch I’ve posted is of Leyton Marshes but I have to admit I took my inspiration from a photograph I saw in the Black Cat Cafe on Clarence road. It was taken in winter. I was attracted by its bleakness but now, as summer kicks in, it’s very different. The area my sketch covers has transformed. It’s part of a lush, verdant corridor that runs almost all the way along the eastern border of Hackney. These marshes, cut through with brooks, rivers and navigations, traversed above by rail and parabolic power lines, edged and dotted by the industrial monuments of the city’s past and the demands of the present, are bursting with natural life.
I’m not naïve enough to believe this is a wilderness, a place that represents some kind of natural order. Its form and development over the last couple of centuries has been dictated by the needs of the city. Those needs have been in competition through out its history. The main conflict is usually between the authorities and the people. The newly established municipal waterworks in 1890 fenced off part of the marshes but these were soon removed by angry protesters. I came across a palisade fence above the Leyton Marsh entangled with undergrowth and wondered if this was where the original division stood. You can peer through the fence into a hidden landscape of reed beds and reservoirs. It is clearly a long game- some battles are won some lost.

Although these meadows are loved by many, in the latest conflict, it was a determined few that tried to protect them. I, for one, left it to others to protest about the temporary building that recently desecrated Leyton marsh. I’m afraid the momentum of our Olympic aspirations bulldozed any sensibilities about the unique nature of the place. The land has, apparently, all been returned to its previous state but it showed that this area is by no means sacrosanct. It will always be vulnerable to the exigencies or whims of the State.

I love the contrasts here, much more that the mannered arrangements of our great parks. Perhaps it’s this fight to keep it wild yet accessible that has made it more interesting. You can stroll through industrial archeologies and along navigations that hauled enough bricks and grain to build and feed Hackney whilst being delighted by a species of bird you have never seen before or overwhelmed by an ineffable density of wild flowers.

As I’ve said before I’ve been sketching areas in Hackney that I fear may disappear, that is unlikely to happen soon to these extraordinary marshes but I hope I’m not tempting fate. In July I’ll be talking about how to get planning permission to build your dream house on the marshes. Only kidding!!!

For more on the Lea Marshes history and current events see links below:



or if you want to check out some great photographs of the marshes visit:


A friendly vegan cafe.