All pictures © 1970-2010, Peter Marshall.
Contact Peter Marshall for permission for use, high res files and fees.

The Lea Valley

London's Second River - The River Lea (or Lee)

1981-date - including the London 2012 Olympic site

photographs by Peter Marshall

The River Lea

The River Lea runs from Leagrave at the edge of Luton into Hertfordshire and the south to enter Greater London near Waltham Cross. (Another stream starts two miles to the west at Houghton Regis but seems seldom to be considered as the source.) It continues south through Enfield Lock, Ponders End, Brimsdown and Tottenham Hale to Stratford. The spellings Lea and Lee are both in current use, but the river is more often called the River Lea (anciently sometimes the River Ley) and the navigation the Lee Navigation.

From Hertford, the River is sometimes a part of the Lee Navigation, and sometimes runs parallel to it, at times in a complicated mass of streams and flood channels - as in the area which is to be the site of the London Olympics in 2012. This includes the Old River Lea, Three Mills River, Prescott Channel, Channelsea River, City Mill River and Waterworks River.

Water taken from the Lea between Hertford and Broxbourne also forms the basis of the New River, constucted to bring clean drinking water to London in the 17th century.

The Lea Valley was for years the industrial centre of London and home to many inventions. Here was the first monorail (horse-drawn), the driving power behind the motorcycle industry, the great railway works, buses, guns, gunpowder, chemicals, shipbuilding and much more. In the first half of the 20th century this was the UK's 'silicon valley''. The modern electronics revolution began with the invention of the diode by Ambrose Fleming at Ediswan in Ponders End in 1904, and companies including Thorn, MK, Belling, Ferguson (and much later, Amstrad) set up factories here.

Chaim Weizmann's work with others at Three Mills on the fermentation of grains to produce acetone played a vital part in munitions manufacture in the First World War and led to the Balfour declaration, leading to the setting up of Israel (he became its first president in 1949.)

South of Stratford, there are two routes to the Thames. The river itself runs down through the tidal Bow Creek, with its dramatic bends sweeping around the factory of Pura Foods and on under a tidal barrier to meet the main river at Trinity Buoy Wharf, more or less opposite the Millennium Dome.

Most small boats prefer the easier route of the Limehouse Cut, leading now to the Regents Canal Dock (which can also be reached by turning down the Hertford Union Canal at Hackney Wick, which links the Lee Navigation to the Regents Canal. From the dock, also known as Limehouse Dock, a single lock now leads the the River Thames.

The Limehouse Cut, constructed in 1770, had its own lock to the Thames until relatively recently. It was only in 1969 that a new short lenght of canal was cut, taking the Cut into the Regents Canal Dock (also called Limehouse Dock.)

This site will look at all of the waterways listed above, and also some of the other flood channels, the Old River Lea and the Bow Back rivers and other associated waterways, and the area surrounding the rivers, especially in the area of the London Olympic 2012 site.

1980-92 black and white pictures

1980s Colour pictures

2000 to date (colour)

My other London web sites

London's Industrial Heritage
My London Diary
The Buildings of London

On Photography



33d56: The source of the River Lea, Leagrave, near Luton,. Bedfordshire.
December 1982.TL 061 248

33f33: Regents Canal Dock entrance to River Thames during torrential rain,
October 1982. TQ 363 808

29t26: The last days of commercial traffic on the Lee Navigation. October 1981, Bow Flyover.

My Photographs

I first photographed the Lee Navigation in the early 1980s, when a few commercial barges were still in use. Within months they had gone.

It was also a time when many of the larger manufacturing industries which had occupied the Lea Valley were closing down, as Thatcher closed down our productive base and shifted decisively towards the UK as a service economy. At times I very much felt I was recording a post-industrial wasteland.

Since then, I've returned to the Lea Valley and photographed it again at some depth at roughly ten year intervals. I've worked in both black and white and colour, and, more recently using panoramic cameras and, in the past few years working with digital. Only a few of my pictures are on this web site, and there are quite a few I hope to add when I get time, particularly from the 1990s. There are also currently few images since 2005 on this site, but quite a few can be seen on another of my sites, My London Diary.

With the redevelopment of the lower Lea Valley to accomodate the needs of the 2012 London Olympics, much of the unique nature of the area and its rivers is likely to be lost, covered in acres of concrete and much of the smaller rivers encased in conduits. The current time seems a particularly important one to record.


Many of the pictures from this site are among the 244 in my Blurb Book

Before the Olympics by Peter Marshall

All photographs on this site are © 1980-2010 Peter Marshall.

Pictures are available for commercial use - please email me for terms and hi-res files..

Permission is normally granted for suitable non-commercial use without cost - please email the above address. I also welcome comments and questions about the work.

Docklands Light Railway crosses the River Lea, 1992