A perilous journey by the Alders Brook.

A cutting - unfortunately from an unknown source but which may have been included in George Caunt's 1983 book "Essex yesterdays: Holidays into history"- telling of a horseman's experience whilst riding from Manor Park to Ilford in 1861.

That area of land near to the present-day railway and between the Alders Brook and the boundary fence of the City of London Cemetery is still known to some as "The Butts". Butts were of course archery ranges, and it is known that prior to 1902 (Hansard 4 March 1902), just across the Alders Brook on what is now part of Ilford Golf Course, there was a rifle range of some 80 acres - in this case being used by the Ilford Battalion of Rifle Volunteers...

The "countryman" that the horseman met is interesting. He thought " 'it wor dangeroose' for whilst walking a day or two 'agoo' not thinking, he 'nearly got pitched into by one of them there bullets' ". Echoes of an Essex accent there, I feel - and in Ilford, too!


Part of 1876 O.S. map showing bridle path across the River Roding


The map above is taken from the OS of 1876-82, and shows a path which enters the cemetery at the gates (bottom left), passes by the "Dissenter's" Chapel to exit the (then) cemetery boundary and traverse slightly north of east until a ford across the Roding is met. This would appear to have been the bridle-path referred to. The actual Cran Brook ("the fields of J. Davis of Cranbrook") can also be seen, entering the Roding at middle-right. The Cran Brook is a tributary of the Roding which flows through and from Cranbrook Park - now more often called Valentine's Park - in Ilford. The source of this stream is in the Aldborough area, (Fairlop Plain) from which Seven Kings Water also arises.

Another aspect of what is shown on the map - right by the ford - is the reference to "Ordinary Tidal flow to this point". It is much the same on a modern map, so it is interesting to observe -- as I have done on just a couple of occasions - from considerably further north, ie in what is now the Exchange Land,  the apparent flow northwards of the river, when the moon, time and tide make the flow less than ordinary.


The private footbridge spanning the Roding near the site of the ford. (February 2012)


In the publication "The Club that refused to die" published by the Ilford Golf Club Ltd., it is stated that concern had been expressed during the proposals by Mr. Alfred Toley to open a golf club about the public right of way across the course. The lease from the property company (Messrs. Bezley Brothers) that had taken over when the War Office withdrew its range license in 1900 stated that no right of way existed, but Mr. Toley stated that if a public right of way was proved, then he would fence it in.

The flood plain - which was known as the Roding Valley - was in 1887 occupied by the Morris Tube Company, who made rifle boxes and operated the range on the site. Apparently there had in fact been a public footpath, which ran through the rifle butts as the story seems to confirm. When it became obvious that this was dangerous the War Office withdrew the range license. As there was no longer firing in the area, it might have seemed that the right of way could continue, but perhaps golf-balls were construed as more dangerous than rifle bullets! Notices were erected at the new entrance to the golf club stating "Members only" and this caused some controversy as the following letter to the editor of The Recorder shows:

Sir, Mr.Tasker deserves the thanks of the people of Ilford for directing public attention to the preservation of Ilford‟s footpaths and it is to be hoped that something practical will come of his resolution with regard to the linking up of the footpath across the golf links and that at the side of the City of London Cemetery. It seems a most astonishing fact that there should be no direct means of communication between the people living on the Cranbrook and Wanstead Park Estates, other than through Wanstead Park. It is an exceedingly inconvenient and troublesome matter for anyone who wishes to cross from the Flats to Cranbrook (or vice versa) after the closing of the Park. Anyone who may perhaps have had occasion to visit the district on the other side of the Roding, or who may happen to be in the neighbourhood of Wanstead Flats when the bell has ceased ringing, and the Park has been closed for the night, must, in order to reach Ilford, return either by means of the High Road or via Blakehall Road and Redbridge Lane. In both cases, it is necessary to describe about three-fourths of the circumference of a circle. If the old bridle path were properly made up, a bridge constructed and the path linked up with that on the other side, it would be a great boon and convenience to very many ratepayers...The path itself exists, and the right of way exists, but the latter is not exercised because the former leads to nowhere. G.H.W.

This brings to light another somewhat forgotten fact : the byelaws of Wanstead Park state that there is no public access to the Park after a dusk bell has sounded! The byelaw still exists, as does the bell which can still be seen hanging from the rear of the Temple. Luckily, nowadays there is a route which circumvents both the lost bridlle path and the Park's byelaws: this is via Empress Avenue, past Aldersbrook Riding School, into Aldersbrook Exchange Lands - most of which is now part of Epping Forest but outside Wanstead Park's byelaws - and across the concrete bridge to the Ilford side to eventually emerge on Wanstead Park Road.

 Paul Ferris