The Gap in the Hedge
A chance meeting on Wanstead Flats with Wren Conservation Group Newsletter Editor, Tony Morrison gave rise to an interesting question: Why is there a gap in the hedge and line of trees that accompany the length of Capel Road, opposite house numbers in their 120's?.
Much of the stretch of Capel Road which begins at the Golden Fleece pub and runs westwards until a slight bend takes you almost to Ridley Road is lined with English Oak, Quercus robur. There are of course numbers of other species present, including an occasional Ash and increasingly Holm Oak, but the English Oaks are the predominant plant species and were evidently deliberately planted as a road-side amenity tree in the early 20th Century - probably in 1907. Beyond the bend in Capel Road nearing Ridley Road, the hedge-line is not so thick, and the planted tree-species is predominantly Horse Chestnut. It is interesting to note that at that bend in the road, is the boundary between the old West Ham and East Ham Boroughs
But in that East Ham stretch, where the hedge-line of oaks and hawthorn make views of Wanstead Flats scarce in the summer, a major gap is evident about half-way along.
Looking more closely, there is no evidence that there were ever trees there. That is to say, there are no stumps or obvious changes in the ground surface to say they'd been removed. However, it occurred to me that there was once an estate of pre-fabs on the Flats where there are now playing field, stretching from the Borough boundary to almost the Golden Fleece. In fact, when I moved to Capel Road in the 1960s there was a chestnut-paling fence around that whole area, protecting freshly-seeded soil where the football pitches were to be. It hadn't been long since the prefabs had been removed, and postmen that I worked with were saying that only recently they'd delivered there - and what a nice place it was to go.
That estate would have required at least one access road. Was that gap possibly where it had been? Looking at a scanned O.S. map of the area I could see that the gap was exactly where it had been.
Now, it is not to say that there never was a continuation of the line of road-side oaks - they probably were there. But in constructing the access road they would have required to have been removed, roots and all, probably. Hence the gap in the hedge - and a bit of reminded history thrown up by a chance meeting.
Paul Ferris, 29th April 2017