I could happily spend hours each day out on the marshes. I love to run across them, walk on them or even just sit and watch the world go by. I’ve explored pretty much every corner of thr marsh, but there is land and buildings near by that I’ve never had access to. The reservoirs take up a huge amount of land between Walthamstow and Tottenham, but I’ve never ventured beyond the metal fences that keep them separate from the marsh. Today all that changed, the reservoirs and two of the buildings that stand on the land were part of the Open House London weekend. At one o’clock, along with about 130 others, we gathered outside the Thames Water building on Forest Road and waited for our guided tour.
The Walthamstow reservoirs were recently awarded funding which will see them transformed in to the Walthamstow Wetlands, opening up this complex of 10 reservoirs to the public. There are also major plans to transform two historic buildings that stand on the site, and tour started at one one of them, the Marine Engine House. This former pumping station is just off Forest Road near the Ferry Boat Inn. The imposing red brick building will be a visitor centre, exhibition space, cafe and education block. At the moment though, it’s unloved and in a state of disrepair.
We gathered outside first to hear about thr plans for the grand old building before being taken in for look around. The first room we visited was cavernous, huge windows filled the space with the grey September light. The engines that once filled thus room are long gone but evidence of its industrial past remain. Chains hang from the ceiling and the engine pit takes up the centre of the room, though it is now full of water. Although the white paint is peeling of the walls and ceiling, the engine room is still an impressive space.
The next room we went in will be the education block but currently is home to a number of pigeons. Some of the equipment still remains in this room but it is caked in pigeon poo. Thr smell in the room was pretty bad, but I’m glad I got to see inside before all the equipment is taken out. When we left the marine Engine House we headed along Coppermill Stream towards the reservoirs. Along the way our guide stopped to tell us more about the wetlands project. A joint venture between Waltham Forest Council, Thames water and the London wildlife trust, this project will create the largest urban wetland nature reserve in London. Already a site of special scientific interest, this project will protect and enhance what is allready in place. And what’s already there is pretty stunning.
Our walk continued along what will become the main path on the new site. It weaves between two of the reservoirs and will eventually connect to Walthamstow marshes via a new bridge. As we walked I climbed the bank of one of the reservoirs and the view was stunning. I carried on walking along the bank as we headed to our final stop, the old Coppermill on the edge of the marsh. The mill slowly revealed its self as we got closer, more of it becoming visible through the trees as we approached.
I admit ti getting a bit excited as we walked to the Coppermill, I live the building but I’ve never seen it from this angle before. The large tower st the back once the home of a pumping engine and a water wheel before that. Most of thr mill is used as a store room by Thames water but the tower will come in to public use as part of the wetlands project. It will br turned in to a viewing platform, offering views across the wetlands and the lower Lea Valley.
The current plans will see some of the historic arches at the top of the tower bricked up, I think this is the only part of the project I don’t like. I think it would be a real shame if the view of the mill was changed. I do like hr idea of opening the mill to the public though. This historic building has been off limits for years, it’s long past time to throw its doors open and let people in.
We gathered in front of the mill for a while hearing more about the wetlands project and the time frame for its development. After our guide hsd finished talking we were given free reign to explore the reservoirs and go off for a wander. Although it was a grey day, it eas easy to see that this is a very special site. The wetlands are due to open to the public in 2017, and at least from the point of view of the two buildings, there is a fair bit of work to be done before then. But if it is done right, this will be a very exciting project to have right on our doorsteps.