An occasional blog about walking in the edgelands of North East London and various other places

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River Roding: Leg 9 - To the Source ...

River Roding: Leg 8 - The Roding Villages

Across to Two Tree Island

River Roding: Leg 7 - Through Fyfield

River Roding: Leg 6 - Upstream to Ongar

The Land Art of Theydon Bois

What Is It With All This Walking and Writing?

The Heights of Epping Forest

River Roding: Leg 5 - Out of London

River Roding: Leg 4 - Through the Leafy Suburbs

River Roding: Leg 3 - Ilford up to Woodford

The Lost Lido of Leytonstone

River Roding: Leg 2 - the Barking Barrage to Ilford

River Roding: Leg 1 - Thames to the Barking Barrage

A short walk in Leytonstone, ending with an attempt to locate the remains of Whipps Cross Lido.


19 June 2015

I’ve walked in Epping Forest ever since arriving in London, some thirty years ago. On a few occasions in the 1990s, I came across what looked like an artificial bank of some sort, with a flat area behind it, lost in the bushes between the Hollow Ponds of Leytonstone and Snaresbrook Road. I’d always wondered what this was - and then a couple of weeks ago, John Rogers, author of This Other London - Adventures in the Overlooked City, mentioned in a blog post that the area once contained the Whipps Cross Lido, an open-air swimming pool that had been created in 1905 but filled-in and left to the forest in 1983: “somewhere beneath the grass north of the Hollow Pond between Lea Bridge and Snaresbrook Roads”, wrote John, “there lurks the lost lagoon of Leytonstone”. Surely what I had seen was the remains of the Lido?

So I got on the tube to Leytonstone for a short walk revisiting the Hollow Ponds. Leytonstone is noted as the birthplace of Alfred Hitchcock, and the tube station there contains a number of mosaics portraying scenes from his films:

Mosaic for “Rear Window” (you can see all 17 of the mosaics here)

I walked out of the tube station and through the suburban streets until I reached the narrow strip of Epping Forest that leads up to the Hollow Ponds area. As John Rogers says in his video blog, when you stand in the open area by the ponds it does feel like the edge of London - the forest may narrow in places further on as it squeezes between the suburbs of North East London, but you know that you can follow it out of the city to reach the countryside.  However, there are also small stretches of the forest which reach back into London, such as this one south of the Hollow Ponds, or Bush Wood on the other side of the tube line.

The forest south of Hollow Ponds

I quickly reached Whipps Cross Road. Fifty yards to the right is - what else? - the Alfred Hitchcock pub.

The Sir Alfred Hitchcock is not a recently-themed pub; it has been here since 1980

Crossing over Whipps Cross Road brought me to the large open area of Epping Forest that lies beside the Hollow Ponds. The forest is common land, managed by the City of London Corporation, and is saved from being enclosed by private landlords by means of the Epping Forest Act of 1878. Cattle still grazed here under commoners’ rights until the BSE outbreak of 1996, occasionally managing to wander across the main road into the streets of Leytonstone. I recall driving to visit friends, turning into their street, and finding a solitary cow stood in the middle of the road.

The Hollow Ponds - first formed by gravel extraction

I now turned left and began to skirt round the Hollow Ponds. Perhaps I could recognise the structure I’d seen all those years ago as I walked along by the side of the ponds … but I couldn’t see any sign of it. That didn’t particularly bother me, because I’d normally come across it when approaching from the other side. So I followed a path to Snaresbrook Road, worked out the direction I would have taken on my normal route in the 1990s, and then walked back towards the ponds … still nothing, except a path with a jogger and a woman walking her dog.

I was now concerned that my memory was at fault. I thought I remembered a straight bank, obviously artificial, running at right angles to Snaresbrook Road. But memories, so the psychologists tell us, are essentially constructs: so was my memory of what I believed I’d seen some 15 or 20 years ago as fictional as the scenes in the mosaics at Leytonstone tube station, as misleading as the plot of one of Hitchcock’s films?

I thought I’d give it one last go. I’d read that the old access track to the Lido still ran from Snaresbrook Road, so I returned to the road and walked along it until I found the Lido track and followed it into the forest. It eventually petered out in a small clearing: ahead of me I could make out the ponds through the trees, but to my left was a path leading up a bank a few feet high. Walking up it led me to an area full of nettles and short bushes. I wandered around until I finally noticed a narrow strip of concrete embedded in the earth - was this all that was left of the Lost Lido of Leytonstone?

Carrying on I found that the bank was actually the side of an oval area raised above the surrounding ground. As I wandered around I started to notice other remnants: a couple of metal pipes protruding from the earth, a small area of brickwork, more bits of concrete - the Lost Lido was slowly emerging from the ground to greet me.

In truth, there was very little there. Here is all that remains of the Lost Lido of Leytonstone … these small scraps, plus a few photos and the memories of those who once used it.

Eventually, I felt that perhaps I was starting to see the same objects over and over again - so I walked down the bank, across to the ponds, and away to the tube station.

(Thinking back, I’m still rather puzzled - why should the remains of what was a large filled-in swimming pool be on the top of a six-foot-high bank? Was this perhaps an area of piping, pumps, etc., that resided by the side of the pool?)

Next up - probably in a couple of weeks - will be Leg 3 of my attempt to follow the River Roding from the Thames to its source somewhere in Essex.