On Sunday I jumped on my bike and headed towards Lea Bridge Road to deliver some Christmas Cards. I decided to take the scenic route and cycle over the marshes, a decision I’m really glad I made. As I trundled down Coppermill Lane towards the low bridge, I noticed someone standing on the top of the Coppermill Tower. This can only mean one thing, I thought to myself, the viewing deck must be open. All thoughts of delivering Christmas cards disappeared. I turned in to the Wetlands, locked my bike to the stands by the mill stream, and went exploring.
I’ve always been fascinated by the old Coppermill and its arch topped tower. Like a brick sentry it stands guard at the place where marsh ends and Walthamstow begins. It cuts a fine figure in the East London skyline, especially when its brick arches are silhouetted against the sinking sun. This building is an iconic landmark, but until now it has been completely off limits. The wetlands project has bought the grade two listed tower in to public use after sitting empty for decades. Now that the tower is open we can cross the old mill stream, climb up the inside of the mighty mill and take in the views from the top, views that are so beautifully framed by the brick arches.
In the entrance to the tower is a timeline for the mill and the mill site. Starting in 1066 with the first mention of the watermill in Walthamstow, the timeline runs through its history as a gun powder mill, leather mill and paper mill. You can also read about the Walthamstow tokens, coins made by the British Copper Company to boost the local economy. The timeline leads visitors along the entrance lobby towards the base of the tower. As you get closer, the staircase gradually comes in to view, teasing you with the the promise of things to come.
Climbing the tower is really pretty amazing. The large arched windows that line the front of the building offer carefully framed glimpses of the outside world. Snippets of the mill stream, flashes of green and glimpses of the reservoirs accompany you as you climb towards the top. The brick work is pock-marked and has been patched over the years. Ancient timbers embedded in the walls carry nail marks and dents. The inside of the tower still feels industrial, raw, like it could still be a working mill tower. It’s been restored, sure, but it hasn’t been prettied up. This is no Disney tower, this is a mill, it’s tough and cold, and stunning.
As you might expect the views from the top of the tower are pretty spectacular. Stand right up close to the arches and you get uninterrupted views across the water to the other side of the Lea. Stand back and the brickwork frames the view for you, it’s like you are looking at giant living paintings in a brick built gallery. Each arch offers a slightly different view over the landscape. Perfectly framed views of near by pylons, widescreen shots of the wetlands, aerial shots of the mill stream below and the coots that call it home. The Coppermill Tower really is a triumph, and the viewing deck is a great new addition to the spectacular Wetlands.