The RIVER LEA (or LEE) in
England originates in Marsh Farm, Leagrave
Luton in the
Chiltern Hills and flows generally southeast, east, and
then south through east
London where it meets the
River Thames , the
last section being known as Bow Creek . It is one of the largest
London and the easternmost major tributary of the Thames.
Its valley creates a long chain of marshy ground along its lower
length, much of which has been used for gravel and mineral extraction,
reservoirs and industry. Much of the river has been canalised to
provide a navigable route for boats into eastern Hertfordshire, known
Lee Navigation . While the lower Lea remains somewhat polluted,
its upper stretch and tributaries, classified as chalk streams , are a
major source of drinking water for London. A diversion known as the
New River , opened in 1613, abstracts clean water away from the lower
stretch of the river for drinking. Its origins in the Chilterns
contribute to the extreme hardness (high mineral content) of London
* 1 Etymology
* 2 Course
* 3 River history
* 4 Alleged predator
* 5 Narrative accounts
* 6 In popular culture
* 7 Notable fisheries
* 8 See also
* 9 Tributaries
* 10 References
* 11 External links
The name of the
River Lea was first recorded in the 9th century,
although is believed to be much older. Spellings from the Anglo-Saxon
period include Lig(e)an in 880 and Lygan in 895, and in the early
medieval period it is usually Luye or Leye. It seems to be derived
from a Celtic (brythonic) root lug-meaning 'bright or light' which is
also the derivation of a name for a deity, so the meaning may be
'bright river' or 'river dedicated to the god
Lugus '. A simpler
derivation may well be the Brythonic word cognate with the modern
Welsh "Li" pronounced "Lea" which means a flow or a current.
The spelling Lea predominates west (upstream) of
Hertford , but both
spellings (Lea and Lee) are used from
Hertford to the
River Thames .
Lee Navigation was established by Acts of Parliament and only that
spelling is used in this context. The Lee Valley Regional Park
Authority also uses this spelling for leisure facilities. However, the
spelling Lea is used for road names, locations and other
infrastructure in the capital, such as
Lea Bridge , the Lea
Valley Walk and the
Lea Valley Railway Lines . This spelling is also
used in geology, archaeology, etc. to refer to the
Lea Valley . The
divergent spellings of the river are also reflected in the place-names
Leyton : both mean "farmstead on the River Lea".
The river viewed from
Enfield Island Village
The source is usually said to be at Well Head inside Waulud\'s Bank
Leagrave , but there the
River Lea is also fed by
Houghton Brook ,
a stream that starts 2 miles (3.2 km) further west in
Houghton Regis .
The river flows through (or by)
Harpenden , Welwyn Garden City
Hertford where it changes from a small shallow river to a deep
Hertford Castle Weir , which then flows on to Ware ,
Stanstead Abbotts ,
Cheshunt , Waltham Abbey
Enfield Lock ,
Ponders End , Edmonton ,
Upper Clapton , Leyton,
Hackney Wick , Stratford ,
Bromley-by-Bow (past Fish Island ), Poplar ,
Canning Town and finally
Leamouth where it meets the
River Thames (as Bow Creek ). It forms the
traditional boundary between the counties of
Essex , and
was used for part of the Danelaw boundary . It also forms part of the
Hertfordshire . A pedestrian
suspension bridge spans the boating lake created where the widened
river flows through
Wardown Park in Luton.
For much of its distance the river runs within or as a boundary to
Lee Valley Park . Between
Tottenham and Hackney the Lea feeds
Tottenham Marshes ,
Walthamstow Marshes and
Hackney Marshes (the
latter now drained). In their early days,
Tottenham Hotspur and Leyton
Orient played their matches as football amateurs on the Marshes. South
Hackney Wick the river's course is split, running almost completely
in man made channels (originally created to power water mills, the Bow
Back Rivers ) flowing through an area that was once a thriving
Enfield Lock the river forms the boundary
with the former
Royal Small Arms Factory , now known as Enfield Island
Village , a housing development. Just downstream the river is joined
River Lee Flood Relief Channel . The man-made, concrete-banked
watercourse is known as the
River Lee Diversion at this point as it
passes to the east of a pair of reservoirs: the King George V
Ponders End /
William Girling Reservoir at
Edmonton known collectively as the
Chingford Reservoirs ; and to the
west of the
Banbury Reservoir at
Walthamstow . At
Tottenham Hale there
is a connected set of reservoirs;
Lockwood Reservoir , High Maynard
Low Maynard Reservoir ,
Walthamstow Reservoirs , East
Warwick Reservoir and
West Warwick Reservoir . It also passes the
Three Mills , a restored tidal mill near Bow .
River Lea at Amwell , home of the
Amwell Magna Fishery , was
Izaak Walton – author of
The Compleat Angler
The Compleat Angler The
Kings Weir Rowing boats on the
Bow Creek (tidal) meets the
Limehouse Cut (canal) with a view of
London's Docklands The river flows south from
The large housing development to the west, Bream Close, is situated on
a small island in the river, whilst in the distance the Gospel Oak to
Barking Line crosses the river on a high bridge.
Roman era , Old Ford, as the name suggests, was the ancient,
most downstream, crossing point of the River Lea. This was part of a
pre-Roman route that followed the modern
Oxford Street ,
Old Street ,
Bethnal Green to
Old Ford and thence across a causeway through
the marshes, known as
Wanstead Slip (now in Leyton). The route then
Colchester . At this time, the Lea was a
wide, fast flowing river, and the tidal estuary stretched as far as
Hackney Wick . Evidence of a late Roman settlement at Old Ford,
dating from the 4th and 5th centuries, has been found.
Somewhere between 878 and 890 the
Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum was
drawn up that amongst other things used the course of the Lea to
define the border between the Danes and the English. In 894, a force
of Danes sailed up the river to Hertford, and in about 895 they built
a fortified camp, in the higher reaches of the Lea, about 20 miles
(32.2 km) north of London.
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great saw an opportunity to
defeat the Danes and ordered the lower reaches of the Lea drained, at
Leamouth . This left the Danes' boats stranded, but also increased the
flow of the river and caused the tidal head to move downriver to Old
In 1110, Matilda , wife of Henry I , reputedly took a tumble at the
ford, on her way to
Barking Abbey and ordered a distinctively
bow-shaped, three-arched, bridge to be built over the
River Lea (The
like of which had not been seen before), at Bow. During the Middle
Temple Mills , Abbey Mills ,
Old Ford and Bow were the sites of
water mills (mainly in ecclesiastic ownership) that supplied flour to
the bakers of Stratforde-atte-Bow, and hence bread to the City. It was
the channels created for these mills that caused the Bow Back Rivers
to be cut through the former Roman stone causeway at Stratford (from
which the name is derived).
Improvements were made to the river from 1424, with tolls being
levied to compensate the landowners, and in 1571, there were riots
after the extension of the River was promoted in a private bill
presented to the House of Commons . By 1577, the first lock was
established at Waltham Abbey and the river began to be actively
managed for navigation.
The New River was constructed in 1613 to take clean water to London,
from the Lea and its catchment areas in
Hertfordshire and bypass the
polluting industries that had developed in the Lea's downstream
reaches. The artificial channel further reduced the flow to the
natural river and by 1767 locks were installed below
Weir on the canalised part of the Lea, now the
Lee Navigation with
further locks and canalisation taking place during the succeeding
centuries. In 1766, work also began on the
Limehouse Cut to connect
the river, at
Bromley-by-Bow , with the Thames at
Limehouse Basin .
River Lea flows through the old brewing and malting centre of
Ware , and consequently transport by water was for many years a
significant industry based there. Barley was transported into Ware,
and malt out via the river, in particular to London. Bargemen born in
Ware were given the "freedom of the River Thames" — avoiding the
requirement of paying lock dues — as a result of their transport of
fresh water and food to
London during The Great Plague of 1665–66. A
local legend says that dead bodies were brought out of
London at that
time via the river for burying in Ware, but there is no evidence for
Waterworks River , a part of the tidal
Bow Back Rivers , has been
widened by 8 metres (26 ft) and canalised to assist with construction
of the Olympic Park for the
2012 Summer Olympics
2012 Summer Olympics . In 2009, Three
Mills Lock was installed on the
Prescott Channel to maintain water
levels on the Lea, within the park at a depth of 2 metres (7 ft). This
allowed access by 350–tonnes barges to ensure that at least 50% of
the material required for construction could be delivered, or removed,
by water. (These figures are under review. It is stipulated that the
governing body has re appraised these figures)
On 5 August 2005, a
Canada goose was pulled underwater very quickly,
as observed by some boat trippers. Several cygnets have also
mysteriously disappeared and it was suggested that the creature
responsible was a large fish or caiman . The goose's attacker was
speculated to have been a crocodile as a pike would probably not have
been able to take such large prey; authorities however strenuously
denied that there might be a crocodile in the river.
On 13 December 2011, a similar attack occurred when another Canada
goose went "vertically down". Observed by two boat trippers on a
section of the
Old River Lea close to the
2012 Olympic Stadium , the 7
kilograms (15 lb) goose vanished "in the space of half a second". The
observers did not see any sign of the creature. Again a pike or mink
was suggested, in view of their predation upon ducks, although it was
still argued that a goose would be much too large for such a fish. Yet
British Waterways stressed the absence of a crocodile. It was
presumed that the creature was still at large, if it existed at all.
Other suggestions for the predator have been a snapping turtle or,
more likely overall, a wels catfish (which are known to exist in small
numbers in the Thames and its tributaries).
The poem A Tale of Two Swannes is set along the River Lee. It was
William Vallans and published in 1590. The river also
features in the early chapters of
The Compleat Angler
The Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton
A guide to walking along the river valley was written by Leigh Hatts,
and an account of a walk along the complete length of the river in
2009 was published as a blog by "Diamond Geezer".
In 2014, German writer Esther Kinsky published a novel, Am Fluß
("Along the River"), based around her walks along the River Lea
beginning at Horseshoe Point and ending at the river's mouth where it
joins the Thames.
IN POPULAR CULTURE
A documentary about the river was presented by
Griff Rhys Jones and
broadcast by the
BBC in 2009.
Two episodes of the 2008 television programme The Compleat Angler
presented by Geoffrey Palmer and Rae Borras feature the river.
On November 20, 2015,
Adele released her album 25 , including a song
River Lea whose lyrics refer to the river as a symbol of
roots, history and change.
River Lea is a track on singer Nick Mulvey\'s EP Fever to the form
released in 2014.
River Lea features in the second series of the ITV crime drama
Unforgotten , broadcast in January–February 2017 – the plot
revolves around the discovery of a long-dead corpse in a suitcase
which is fished out of the river. The precise location is not made
clear but it appears to be in the north
London reaches of the Lea.
Amwell Magna Fishery
* UK Waterways portal
Bow Back Rivers
Lea Valley Walk
* List of rivers in
* List of reservoirs and dams in the
Locks and Weirs on the River Lea
* Tributaries of the
Lea Valley Lines
Walthamstow Pump House Museum
* For a full list of tributaries, please expand the box entitled
River Lea / Lee, England' at the bottom of this page.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to RIVER LEA .
* ^ "The New River Path" (PDF). Thames Water. Retrieved 27 June
* ^ "EC1A 7BE — Water quality in your area". Thames Water.
* ^ J.E.B. Glover, Allen Mawer, F.M.Stenton (1938). The Place-Names
of Hertfordshire. English Place-Name Society, vol. XV. Cambridge
University Press. CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link )
* ^ Anthony David Mills (2001). Oxford Dictionary of
Oxford University Press
Oxford University Press . p. 133. ISBN 0-19-280106-6 .
* ^ Mills, A.D. (1991). The Popular Dictionary of English
Place-Names. Oxford: Phaidon.
* ^ Stepney,
Bethnal Green (1998). "Bethnal Green: Communications".
A History of the County of Middlesex. 11: 88–90. Retrieved 15
* ^ Hadfield, Charles (1968). The
Canal Age. Plymouth: Latimer
Trend & Company. pp. 15, 19. ISBN 0-7153-8079-6 .
* ^ "William Vallans: A Tale of Two Swannes.".
spenserians.cath.vt.edu. Retrieved 2016-07-17.
* ^ A B Enfield.gov.uk
River Lee History
* ^ "Ware – The Story so Far – 3 of 3". Ware Online. Retrieved
2 March 2010.
* ^ Milestone 5 demolish, dig, design January 2008 (The Olympic
Delivery Authority) accessed 25 April 2008
* ^ "Boat trip fuels \'river croc\' tale". BBC. 5 August 2005.
* ^ "Goose-killer lurks in River Lea". BBC. 13 December 2011.
* ^ News report Retrieved 1 July 2012
* ^ English Poetry 1579–1830, William Vallans:A Tale of Two
* ^ L. Hatts, The
Lea Valley Walk, Cicerone Press, 2nd edition,
2007, ISBN 978-1-85284-522-3 .
* ^ Diamond Geezer, Walking the Lea Valley, with more photos on
* ^ Times Higher Education – Esther Kinsky book review Retrieved
29 May 2015
BBC One, Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones: The Lea, first broadcast
16 August 2009.
The Compleat Angler
The Compleat Angler Retrieved 30 May 2013
* ^ "
Adele – What she\'s singing about on 25" The Guardian, 19
November 2015. Retrieved 21 November 2015.
* ^ "River Lea". Soundcloud.com. Retrieved 9 March 2016.
* ^ Ben Travis (5 January 2017). "Unforgotten, Series 2: cast,
locations and three other things to know as the ITV crime drama
returns". Evening Standard. Retrieved 21 February 2017.