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The Lea Valley

The journey

Making history in Lea Valley

The Lea Valley, the valley of the River Lea (London’s second river) is a major tributary of the River Thames. It flows from its northern rural end in Hertfordshire, passing several towns (Luton, Hertford and Ware) into Greater London and south through the Lower Lea Valley (Tottenham Hale, Stratford, Bow and Leamouth) before Merging with the River Thames.

For centuries the river Lea provided transport and powered mills that were vital for local industries. From the mid-19th century this rural landscape of rivers, marshes and farmland was dramatically transformed by the creation of the reservoirs and increase in the industrialisation along the River Lea. The mills were replaced by factories, attracted by London’s growing demand for manufactured goods and easy access to coal and raw materials brought up the river from London Docklands.

A positive outcome of the decline of the valley’s industries in recent years has been to preserve and protect the area’s special waterside ecology. Remote and peaceful nature reserves are now a valley feature and, in several locations, redundant industrial features have been imaginatively incorporated into the surrounding landscape.

Domesday Book

Several mills on the River Lea are mentioned


Growing London

The New River is an artificial waterway in London, constructed to supply the expanding city with fresh drinking water taken from the River Lea


Public Health pioneers

The 1848 Public Health Act enabled Tottenham (then a small village) to be one of the first pioneer areas to establish its own Local Health Board and develop community water supply and drainage. By 1852 the Board had built a small sewage works near the River Lea on marshland behind Markfield House country estate. Victorian social reformer Edwin Chadwick and engineer Joseph Bazalgette visit the site to learn about the advances made



The East London Waterworks Company bought the Coppermill and converted it into a pumping station. The Italianate facade of the Grade 2-listed building housed a steam engine for pumping water from the Coppermill Stream into the newly dug reservoirs


The Reservoirs

The East London Waterworks Company was granted permission to develop land at Walthamstow for Reservoirs as the need of fresh drinking water in London grew. By 1863, the first stage of the reservoirs was completed with the construction of reservoirs Nos 1, 2 and 3. They were all laboriously hand-dug by teams of Navigational Engineers ‘Navvies’


Cathedral of Sewage

Another relic of the major enterprise to deal with London’s wastewater can be found in the Lower Lea Valley, Abbey Mills Pumping Station, designed by Joseph Bazalgette, nicknamed the ‘Cathedral of Sewage’ because of its remarkable Victorian gothic design


world firsts

British scientist Joseph Swan, publicly demonstrated the first electric light bulb which were manufactured in the Lea Valley. A merger with Thomas Edison’s Electric Light Company would follow five years later


Victorian Enineering

The Marine Engine House, previously named the Ferry Lane Pumping Station, was built during the development of the Lea Valley reservoir chain to pump water from the Coppermill Stream into the reservoirs


Powered Flight

In a railway arch on Walthamstow Marshes that Sir Alliot Verdon-Roe built and tested the first all-British powered aeroplane


Lee Valley Regional Park

A 4000 hectares park with its huge variety of award-winning green spaces, world class sports venues and ecologically vital wildlife havens was created by a unique Act of Parliament as a “green lung” for London, Essex and Hertfordshire.


London's 3rd Olympics

Stratford hosts the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics games with the majority of London venues located throughout the Lea Valley.


Urban Wetland

Europe’s largest urban wetland nature reserve opens in Walthamstow 2017, which is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The 200-hectare site is one of the biggest sources of supply for London’s drinking water, is the largest fishery in the city and a site of international importance for the wildlife



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