|Top London Loop beauty spot: crossing the Turkey Brook in Hilly Fields Park
This is a single longish official section of the Loop, though with several opportunities to break at bus stops. There’s an intermediate station right on the route too, but it’s a relatively short distance from the end.
|Rolling parkland in Trent Park
Trent Park is one of the London Loop’s undisputed gems. This 3.2 km2 site with its swathes of parkland, woodland, lakes and sculpted vistas still reveals layers of ancient forest, mediaeval hunting park, Georgian country seat, post-Jazz Age confection and late 20th century municipal amenity. It has a rich past and rather an uncertain future.
As mentioned in the previous section, this part of the old Forest of Middlesex evolved into an extensive hunting park. Its boundary was first marked out in 1136 by its then lord, the Earl of Essex, Geoffrey de Mandeville, who once held sway over much of Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex. The name Enfield Chase first appears in 1322, and by 1421 it was a royal forest. The future Elizabeth I hunted deer here in 1557, having been escorted on horseback from Hatfield House by 12 ladies in white satin and 120 green-clothed yeomen. But though hunting on the chase was strictly reserved for the royals and their guests, local people, or commoners, were traditionally free to use the land for other purposes, such as grazing and gathering timber.
The first attempt to break up the Chase was in the 1650s under Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate, when the government began selling off patches of it to cover arrears in the army payroll. This provoked violent resistance from the commoners, and ceased following the restoration of the monarchy. Ultimately, though, it proved impossible to regulate unauthorised use of such a large open area, and by the mid-18th century, the combination of a growing local population that needed feeding, and illegal activities like unauthorised timber cutting and poaching, swayed the argument in favour of inclosure. So in 1777, the area, which then totalled 34 km2, was legally ‘afforested’, with part becoming Monken Hadley Common, crossed in the previous walk.
As well as a multitude of smaller plots, two large estates were created. One was Beech Hill Park, also mentioned in the previous section. The other, to the east of Cockfosters Road, was intended to remain as a hunting park in miniature. George III gave this to the royal physician, Dr Robert Jebb, in gratitude for successfully treating his younger brother, William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester, for mental illness. It appears poor mental health ran in the family: as is well known, George himself suffered from it, developing dementia at a relatively early age. When Jebb treated him, William Henry was recuperating in what was then the prince-bishopric of Trento or Trient in the Südtirol, now the partly German-speaking region of northern Italy that borders Austria. Thus the new estate became Trent Park.
It was Jebb that built the first iteration of the mansion, and engaged a landscape gardener, most likely Humphrey Repton, to remodel the grounds. The work included a lake created from three streams, one of which eventually flows into Salmons Brook, which we’ll encounter later. The original house was modest and undistinguished by the standards of the day and the setting, and was progressively extended and remodelled by subsequent owners, including the Bevans, a family of Quaker bankers, who lived here between 1833 and 1908.
|Trent Park mansion, viewed from the Sassoon obelisk
A keen pilot and sometime government air secretary, Sassoon built a private aerodrome in the grounds to hold his own aircraft collection. He also added a golf course, a Japanese water garden, various statues and monuments and a menagerie of exotic birds for the lake. Trent Park became a social focus for the great and the good of the day, and guests included Charles Chaplin, Winston Churchill, T E Lawrence (of Arabia), George Bernard Shaw and Rex Whistler. Tory politician Robert Boothby recalled:
The summer weekend parties at Trent were unique, and in the highest degree enjoyable, but theatrical rather than intimate. He [Sassoon] frankly loved success, and you could be sure of finding one or two of the reigning stars of the literary, film or sporting worlds, in addition to a fair sprinkling of politicians and, on occasion, royalty…. I remember one weekend when the guests, who included the present King and Queen, were entertained with an exhibition of ‘stunt’ shots at golf by Joe Kirkwood after lunch, with flights over the grounds in our host’s private aeroplane after tea, with a firework display over the lake after dinner, with songs from Richard Tauber, which we listened to on the terrace by moonlight before going to bed.Sassoon always remained one of the most eligible bachelors of his day. His response when pressed on this was to say that he would only marry when he found someone as lovely and perfect as his sister Sybil. In reality it’s likely he preferred the young airmen he befriended through his government work and entertained at Port Lympne, although Sybil discreetly destroyed all his papers following his death from influenza at age 50 in 1939, so the exact truth about his private life remains obscure.
World War II broke out only a few months after Sassoon’s death, and events at Trent Park were about to get even more extraordinary. Most of the site was requisitioned as what appeared to be a prisoner of war camp, but was actually a top secret interrogation centre under the direction of a unit codenamed MI19. Prisoners were assigned large and comfortably furnished rooms with numerous home comforts, and given access to parts of the beautiful gardens and grounds. Some inmates were even treated to days out at the seaside.
But all the rooms were secretly bugged, and connected to listening and recording equipment, in the hope that the prisoners, most of them high-ranking officers who had been deliberately selected for their likely strategic knowledge, would lose their guard and open up to each other and to staff. Other techniques including circulating fake newspapers with stories intended to provoke potentially divisive or informative discussion, and employing civilian welfare staff who were actually intelligence officers trained to gain the detainees’ trust. By no means all the captured officers were enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi regime, and over time the prison community split into factions, tacitly encouraged by MI19.
Among the intelligence gained this way was the location of the V2 rocket development site at Peenemünde, prompting a series of Allied bombing raids, and much information about submarine movements. Trent Park was also one of the first places where evidence began to emerge of the looming Holocaust, as the Nazi party moved from persecution of Jewish people and others regarded as ‘degenerate’ to deliberate mass extermination. The activities of MI19 are said to be at least as important to the war effort as the better-known codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, and have provided the subject of both a TV documentary and a radio and stage play written by the son of one of the secret listeners.
Following the war, the house became a teacher training college, and in 1951 Middlesex County Council compulsorily purchased the whole of the surrounding grounds to preserve as Green Belt. After the estate passed to the Greater London Council in 1965, it was designated as a country park, which opened officially in 1973 and has since been inherited by the London Borough of Enfield. Educational use of the house expanded, and in 1974 it became a campus of Middlesex Polytechnic, which was converted to a university in 1992. So during the 20th century the site has provided not only one of the country’s most beautiful settings for a prison, but one of its most beautiful settings for a university too.
Today, the country park continues in use, for now at least, as a popular and much-loved public amenity, but a question mark hangs over the house and its immediate surroundings. Middlesex University relocated to a big new building at its Hendon campus in 2012, and the next year a private Malaysian university, Allianze University College of Medical Sciences, bought its old site, but went bankrupt only a year later. The site is now in the hands of developer Berkeley, who are shortly expected to make a planning application for conversion to 262 homes.
The developer has promised to restore many of the historic features, get rid of the ugly annexe buildings added in the 1960s and 1970s and open part of the mansion as a museum. In response to concerns raised by the local Friends group and others (and perhaps bearing in mind the situation at Bentley Priory back along the Loop, another country mansion that played a historic wartime role), the plans don’t include gating the residential areas but instead seek to integrate them better into the surrounding country park. So this could be a good outcome for a remarkable site which is currently languishing into dereliction behind fences and hoardings, but time will tell.
There’s much more history to read: I recommend the pamphlet A Concise History of Trent Park by Alan Mitellas, published by the Friends group and downloadable from Enfield council’s website, which I’ve drawn on extensively here.
The Loop enters the park immediately on leaving Cockfosters station, along a green strip beside Trent Park Cemetery. This was opened on former farmland attached to the park in 1960 by Islington council as an out-of-borough facility, and is still managed from Islington today. A path then runs through the woodlands of Church Wood and along the side of meadows dotted with mature trees to reach the main drive. If you decided to miss out Cockfosters, you’ll follow this drive all the way from the main road. One of the routes in Enfield council’s work-in-progress Greenway cycling and walking route network also runs along the drive, taking an alternative route from Cockfosters Station. The entire remaining part of this section is also designated as part of the Greenway network.
At the junction where the main drive bends off towards the house along a grand avenue stands one of the park’s three obelisks, two of which are on the Loop (the third, known as the Emma Crewe Pineapple, is at the opposite end of the main drive). None of them is actually native to Trent Park: all three were moved here by Sassoon in 1934 from Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, home of the Grey family, whose members they commemorate.
This one, a rather dumpy pyramidal structure known as the Duke of Kent obelisk or the Duke’s Pyramid, is dedicated to Henry Grey, who died in 1740: the inscription also refers to the creation of gardens in 1706, but this actually applies to Wrest Park. In the 1970s the GLC proposed to move this and the pineapple back to their original site, but Enfield council successfully argued that, together with the tallest and best-known of the three which we’ll encounter later, they had become an integral and well-known feature of their current home.
|The Sassoon obelisk in timey-wimey Trent Park.
The trail now climbs Camlet Hill, and heads off into the trees of Moat Wood. Both names refer to a Scheduled Ancient Monument, Camlet Moat, just off the path on the right approaching the woodland edge. It’s the site of a mediaeval manor house or lodge, which may have been Geoffrey de Mandeville’s original Enfield manor house, and/or the headquarters of the chief forester, or ‘cock foster’, of the Chase.
It was demolished in 1439 and its materials sold to raise money for repairs to Hertford Castle, and only the moat and some earthworks are visible today. Though there’s little evidence for this, the name is widely believed to be a corruption of Camelot, prompting all sorts of fanciful speculation about the site’s connection to King Arthur and its supposed location on a ley line. This explains the charms, ribbons and other mystical paraphernalia you might spot on nearby trees.
Reaching the edge of the wood, a short detour for a close-up view of the obelisk is well worth your time. The ingenuity of the Vista becomes apparent, as the structure is in direct line of sight from the house. The 20 m pillar, known as the Earl of Harold obelisk or Sassoon’s Obelisk, commemorates the birth of George Grey, son and long hoped-for heir of Henry, who died only a few months afterwards, extinguishing the family line.
Fans of the BBC’s long-running time travelling TV series Doctor Who may find the setting looks familiar. It was used as a principal location in ‘Mawdryn Undead’, one of the key stories in the era of fifth Doctor Peter Davison in 1983. Scenes were filmed not only at the obelisk but around the mansion, which took the role of a fictional public school. Perhaps the mason who engraved the inscription also went through a time warp, as he’s recorded the date of poor baby George’s birth as 1702 when it was actually 1732.
|The field paths of Enfield at Park Farms.
The brook rises just over the Hertfordshire boundary in Spoilbank Wood, to the northeast of Hadley Wood suburb, and runs roughly southeast via Bush Hill Park and Edmonton to join the Pymmes Brook just south of the North Circular Road near Angel Road, not long before the latter reaches the Lee Navigation at Tottenham Lock. The origin of its name might sound obvious, but it’s actually most likely named after the Salemon family, who were prominent in Edmonton in the 13th century. The Loop turns east to follow it, but you’ll need to look carefully as it’s hidden behind hedgerows for most of this stretch.
Finally, the path heads up the other side of the valley, climbing Cuckolds Hill and crossing a small and relatively young community woodland, Brooke Wood, planted in 1991 in commemoration of Roger Brooke, a prominent local councillor. Then make sure you admire the view to central London before a stile provides an exit onto the aptly-named Ridgeway, the narrow but rather busy road linking Enfield and Potters Bar. The construction of this highway along the gravelly ridge between the Salmons Brook and the Turkey Brook was stipulated in the 1777 legislation that divided up the Chase. When I last walked this way, the council had already installed a Greenway sign pointing back the way I’d come, optimistically including a cycling symbol, though the path certainly wasn’t suitable for the average cyclist.
A little along the Ridgeway is one of the few hotels directly on the London Loop, and once again it’s an upmarket one, the Royal Chace Hotel, in a generously-proportioned 1930s mock-Tudor building. The suburban sprawl of Enfield laps at its door, and a little further down, just across the road, are two big hospitals, the private Kings Oak and the NHS Chase Farm, on a site that was originally developed as a municipal children’s home in the 1880s. But the Loop deftly dodges all this to stay within the Green Belt, following the drive of Rectory Farm down into another valley.
|Barns near the Turkey Brook at Rectory Farm
Past the farm, now a clay shooting school with a rather derelict-looking clump of old barns, the track crosses the Turkey Brook on the valley floor. I’ll say more about this watercourse later, as the trail leaves it behind for now, continuing uphill again. An old red brick bridge then takes you under the Hertford Loop railway line. This was opened in 1910 as an extension of the Great Northern’s branch line from Alexandra Palace to Enfield Chase station. At first it terminated at Cuffley, not much further north, though was later extended via Hertford North to re-join the East Coast Main Line at Stevenage, creating a relief route that avoided the restrictions of the Welwyn Viaduct.
|Some of the few remaining commercial glasshouses at Crews Hill.
The cluster of development known as Crews Hill is surely one of the capital’s most curious edgelands. It’s officially the most northerly settlement in Greater London, though completely isolated by the Green Belt from adjacent built-up areas. As it was part of Enfield Chase, and therefore within Enfield parish, it was included in the Municipal Borough of Enfield in the 1850s and passed on to the London Borough of today.
Once this was a far-flung corner of the open chase, though some of the land was farmed after being annexed to the nearby Theobalds Park estate, just over the Hertfordshire boundary to the north, by James I in 1607. One of the gates to the Chase used to stand just a little further on from where the Loop now turns off into Hilly Fields, where Flash Lane, which marked the eastern boundary, meets Strayfield Road. Following the 1777 inclosure, the rest of the land became cultivated: the name most likely refers to the family that lived here around this time.
Like parts of the nearby Lea Valley, Crews Hill became a centre for market gardening, and towards the end of the 19th century, glasshouse nurseries began to appear. These developments were further encouraged by the opening of Crews Hill station on the Hertford Loop Line in 1910, and for the first half of the 20th century the neighbourhood was a major supplier of fruit, vegetables and flowers for the London markets. By the 1970s, though, the nurseries were becoming uneconomic, so their owners began to switch to the retail trade, converting them into garden centres catering to a growing leisure market.
Since then, Crews Hill has grown into something of a gardening phenomenon, claiming the title not only of London’s but the UK’s garden centre golden mile. You won’t see much of this if you stick to the Loop, which just grazes the southern edge, passing some of the few commercial glasshouses left around here, which now grow aquatic plants. But by continuing to the crossroads and turning left up Theobalds Park Road, you’ll soon find yourself on a horticultural promenade of unbroken garden-related businesses. There are plants and flowers, of course, most of which aren’t actually grown here, and gardening tools and materials. But there’s all manner of other stuff, some of it only tangentially related to gardening, including fencing and decking, exotic fish, wood burning stoves, upcycled furniture and even fake grass.
In the middle of it all stands one solitary residential area, a small estate of bungalows built in the 1930s before further development was halted. Without the Green Belt it’s certain that all the nurseries would ultimately have been redeveloped for housing too. What we’ve ended up with may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s certainly unique in London.
At Crews Hill, the Loop encounters another walking trail, shown on Ordnance Survey maps though mainly unsigned on the ground. This is the Hertfordshire Chain Walk, here slightly overstepping the parameters of its name by dipping into London and former Middlesex. Devised by the East Herts Footpath Society in 1987, the trail runs south-north across the largely rural eastern part of Hertfordshire, cheating at its northern end too as it nudges into Cambridgeshire at Ashwell.
In an ingenious response to the frustrations of those walkers who won’t countenance leaving their cars at home but still want to complete linear long distance trails, it’s designed as a series of linked circular walks, thus ‘chain walk’. The Loop briefly shares the southernmost arc of the southernmost link in the chain. It’s 63 km from Crews Hill station to Ashwell by the most direct route, but much more than double that if you walk every circuit individually. The Chain Walk also provides a couple of options for linking the Loop with the London Countryway at Newgate Street or Broxbourne Woods.
Turkey Brook and Hilly Fields
|Bandstand at Hilly Fields, with Turkey Brook beyond.
In 1908, with the opening of the Hertford Loop railway through Gordon Hill and Crews Hill imminent, there was much local concern about the impact of the intensive development that would inevitably follow. In response, Enfield council bought 25 ha of farmland along the Turkey Brook, between the two projected stations, which opened in 1911 as Hilly Fields Park (not to be confused with several other similarly-named parks, including one in Lewisham). As recounted on the park friends website, this was a controversial move, particularly among eager local builders, and ultimately proceeded only on the basis of a one-vote majority.
Thankfully the park remains an attractive and well-used space today, and the Loop makes good use of it. The trail descends through a strip of woodland known as Kings Wood to encounter the brook again at a footbridge, a picturesque spot where the river sparkles under a thick, dark canopy of gnarled mature trees.
The Turkey Brook rises not too far to the northwest, in Pond Wood just over the M25 and the Hertfordshire boundary. From Hilly Fields it runs fairly straightforwardly east towards the River Lee Navigation at Enfield Lock. Like many of London’s rivers, it’s the core of a green corridor left largely undeveloped due to flood risk, and acts as a near-constant companion to the Loop for the rest of this section, which ends just short of its confluence. As with the Salmons Brook, the obvious explanation for the Turkey Brook’s name turns out to be the wrong one, as it has nothing to do with the bird or the country. It’s most likely taken instead from the settlement of Turkey Street, further downstream, which in turn was named after a local family, Toke or Tokey.
In 2012-13, the riverside path was improved as part of the Enfield Greenways scheme, and for much of the way you’ll be walking on broad and accessible crunchy gravel tracks shared with cyclists, though not too busy and still comfortable to walk on. The Loop is still signed along its original route, though, which climbs a little away from the brook on narrower paths across the grassy hillside. You could take the slightly more direct option of sticking to the greenway here, but the old route has the advantage of wider views over the valley.
Shortly, a traditional park bandstand appears between the river and the path, dating from the early 1920s. Back then, as many as 5,000 people attended brass band concerts here. But interest in such music gradually dwindled and by 1997 the stand was so badly decayed that the council decided to demolish it. The proposal prompted the formation of the Friends of Hilly Fields campaign group, which was ultimately successful not only in resisting demolition but also in securing a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to restore the structure, and since 2001 there’s been a regular programme of summer concerts and other events.
|Rose and Crown pub, Clay Hill.
The park and the surrounding streets now form part of the Clay Hill Conservation Area. The interwar suburban growth of London reaches immediately to the southeast here, but the scene in front of you as you leave the park still almost looks like a country lane. Here, the road known as Clay Hill dips into a hollow, Beggars Hollow, to cross the Turkey Brook, creating a dramatic setting for the Grade II-listed Rose and Crown pub, made from a low-slung and delightfully irregular string of rustic cottages.
The oldest part, on the left with the dormer windows, is a timber-framed building from the 17th century or earlier, with a 18th century brick front. The taller building was tacked on in the early 19th century. The interior has been altered many times, and for much of the early 21st century the pub was neglected and seemed likely to be lost, but when I last passed by it had been spruced up under new management. Almost opposite is the ornamental Gothic-flavoured early 19th century Clay Hill House Lodge and there are more historic buildings along the road and off the trail to left and right. The character of this area is partly due to its relative remoteness from public transport into the early years of the 20th century, but also to the old Enfield council’s foresight in conserving land like Hilly Fields Park in advance of the post-war Green Belt.
|Tudor-era ponds adjacent to the site of the lost Elsyng Palace
On the other side of the road and behind the pub, the Loop enters Forty Hall Park, another fine remnant of a country estate with links to the Tudors and their sporting enthusiasms. Back in the 14th century this was a separate manor on the edge of Enfield Chase known as Elsyng, after the family name of its lords. Among its occupants was Thomas Lovell who in the 1490s held a variety of important posts including Chancellor of the Exchequer and Steward of the Royal Household, and the first Tudor king, Henry VII, was a regular visitor.
In 1539 Lovell’s successor swapped the estate with Henry’s son, the notorious Henry VIII, who saw it as an ideal base for hunting on the Chase. So the manor house beside the Turkey Brook was expanded into a royal palace known as Elsyng Palace, the third of Henry’s palaces encountered on the Loop (after Nonsuch and Hampton Court near Bushy Park). Henry’s daughter Elizabeth, later Elizabeth I, was staying here when she heard the news of her father’s death in 1547. By the end of the 16th century, though, Elsyng had fallen out of favour, with Elizabeth preferring to stay with her close adviser William Cecil at Theobalds House a little to the north. Theobalds itself became a royal palace when James I acquired it, and Elsyng was part-demolished in 1608 to provide materials for it.
In 1629, a fine new house began to appear on the modest prominence of Forty Hill, a little to the south of Elsyng, on what was originally a separate estate. This was Forty Hall, built for Nicholas Rainton, a wealthy London mercer (textile merchant) who later became Lord Mayor. His nephew and heir expanded the estate by annexing Elsyng sometime in the 1650s, at which point what remained of the palace was demolished and replaced with barns. These had gone too by the early 18th century when the site was re-landscaped as parkland, with a grand avenue of lime trees running down the hill between Forty Hall and the brook. By the 20th century, even the exact site of the palace had been forgotten, until it was rediscovered by archaeologists in the 1960s.
The estate continued as a country home until 1951. The last in a succession of private owners were the Parker Bowles family, who now have royal connections through Prince Charles’ second wife Camilla. They sold it to the council, completing an extensive swathe of public green space on the London fringe. The house, which is now Grade II listed, became a museum, a function that has been reinvigorated by a refurbishment completed in 2012. The site of the former Elsyng Palace is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
|The remains of the original course of the New River at Forty Hall.
The current course starts at Chadwell between Ware and Hertford, and ends at Stoke Newington, although originally it continued to New River Head near Sadlers Wells in Islington. The ditch here was once part of a lengthy loop following the boundaries of Forty Hall Park and neighbouring Whitewebbs Park, along which the New River originally negotiated the valley of the Turkey Brook. It fell out of use in 1859 following the construction of the Docwra Aqueduct, a little further along the trail.
The trail continues alongside the brook through increasingly attractive surroundings. Soon, it’s running through shady woodlands and then there’s water on both sides as you reach the long and narrow artificial pond, fed by the brook. This is one of the few visible relics of Elsyng Palace, for which it would have provided both a decorative and a practical function as a fishpond. It’s been much remodelled, though, and is now surrounded by a particularly large collection of rhododendrons which burst into colour in summer.
The artificial island at the far end could date back to Tudor times or earlier. Had you been standing here before 1650, looking across the island to the opposite side of the pond you would have seen the palace looming ahead, as its site is just across the water here. Nothing of it is visible today, but there are extensive buried remains, including foundations of rooms and courtyards, drains and water tanks.
Beyond the pond, the woods give way to open parkland, and soon the trail passes the end of the double avenue of lime trees which still provides a dramatic viewpoint up to the Hall. As part of the early 18th century landscaping, the brook here was dammed to create a reservoir, and the avenue continued on the other side to create the illusion of trees marching across a large body of water, but today only the southernmost section of the avenue remains.
|Maidens Bridge near Forty Hall.
Captain Raleigh found the queen walking, till, meeting with a plashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Raleigh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground; whereon the queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits.The bridge is known as Maidens Bridge because of its connection to the supposedly virginal queen, and the brook is also sometimes known as Maidens Brook. There’s likely been a bridge at this site since the 11th century, and Elizabeth would certainly have been familiar with this location, but there’s no factual evidence to substantiate the cloak story. The current bridge dates from 1824, though has undergone extensive repairs since. It carries an old Middlesex County Council plaque discouraging its use by heavy vehicles. The road here, incidentally, is part of the same old drove road that runs through northeast London as Green Lanes, now one of the capital’s longest streets.
|New River Path at the Dell, Enfield.
But more is going on here than just the aqueduct, as you may realise from the sounds of pumping and rushing water often heard here. Although about a third of the water still continues to Stoke Newington, since the 1990s the rest has been diverted at this point through underground pipes to the Walthamstow Reservoirs in the Lee Valley. The New River Path runs alongside the eponymous watercourse here, northwards to Broxbourne and the London Countryway and on to Hertford, southwards to Alexandra Palace and the Capital Ring at Stoke Newington and on to Islington.
|1920s car-friendly planning: the Great Cambridge Road near Turkey Street.
In mediaeval times Enfield was the second-largest parish in Middlesex after Harrow, occupying the county’s northeast corner. Besides the Chase, the parish was characterised by three linear features running roughly north-south, one natural and two artificial. The first was the river Lea, which we’ll encounter in the next section: this important tributary of the Thames formed not just the eastern boundary of the parish but of the county too. West of it, just clear of the surrounding marshes, ran the Roman road, Ermine Street, the first of London’s Great North Roads. And west of this, on higher ground, ran the old drove road, the northward continuation of Green Lanes which we’ve already crossed at Maidens Bridge, now variously named as London Road, Silver Street, Baker Street, Forty Hill and Bulls Cross.
Like several Middlesex parishes, Enfield was rather scattered. The closest thing to a centre was on the higher ground just to the southeast of the Chase, where the drove road crossed the east-west route to Barnet. The parish church stood there since at least 1086, and a market, still held today, began on the green adjacent to the church in 1303. By the 17th century, this area had become a small but dense and busy market town. Its proximity to the Chase attracted wealthy inhabitants to properties like the fine 18th century houses that still stand on Gentlemens Row, which once overlooked open ground.
But the bulk of the population and of the economic activity were always concentrated further down the Lea Valley to the east, along the old Roman road. Even by the 18th century this part of Enfield was showing signs of ribbon development, as small roadside hamlets gradually expanded and merged into each other, a process accelerated by the arrival of the railways, which also followed the grain of the valley. This continued into the postwar period when large council estates were built adjacent to the road, perpetuating an east-west divide along class lines. As you travel along the main road today, it’s difficult to tell exactly where you pass from Ponders End to Enfield Highway, Enfield Wash, Turkey Street and Freezywater.
Ermine Street was built between the years 45-75, originally linking London and Lincoln and later extending northwards to York as Roman rule advanced in the same direction. We don’t know how the Romans referred to the road: its modern name dates from Saxon times and refers to the Earningas tribe, who lived around Royston. Though there have been various realignments over the millennia, much of Ermine Street can be followed today: it runs via Bishopsgate, Shoreditch, Dalston and Stoke Newington and once over Stamford Hill begins to track the Lea Valley via Tottenham, Edmonton and Enfield before continuing into Hertfordshire.
For well over a millennium the road was the main link between London and northern England, but by the 13th century, it was suffering from flooding and erosion. One particular problem was the crossing where the Lea valley curves westwards but the road continues north. Originally Ermine Street deflected slightly west at Cheshunt and bridged the river near Ware Priory, but this bridge was lost prior to the Norman invasion. The London Countryway briefly follows part of this old alignment, now a footpath, at Wormley West End.
Subsequently the neighbouring towns of Hertford and Ware competed to provide the crossing point, and to secure the lucrative trade associated with it. The competition sometimes became violent: in 1191 a party from Hertford deliberately destroyed a new bridge at Ware. Ultimately these issues prompted the creation in the 13th century of a new Great North Road via Islington and Highgate, crossed at Barnet in the last section of the Loop, which re-joined the original route at Alconbury in Cambridgeshire.
The old road, now known as the Hertford Road or the Enfield Highway, now took on the slightly lesser role of linking London to Cambridge and Ely. It was turnpiked in 1713 by the Stamford Hill Turnpike Trust, and labelled A10 in the road classification scheme of the 1920s, although by 1923, what was now the congested stretch of high streets from Tottenham to Turnford was superseded as a through route by a lengthy dual carriageway bypass. This runs to the west, between the drove road and Ermine Street, and is known as the Great Cambridge Road. In 1980 this too was superseded when the M11 opened as the main link between London, Stansted Airport and Cambridge, this time further to the east. So you’ll no longer see Cambridge named as a destination on the Great Cambridge Road. The original route, meanwhile, has since been renumbered A1010.
Approaching from the west, the Loop first crosses the Great Cambridge Road at a substantial footbridge. Elsewhere, interwar semi-detached houses line the road, but the Turkey Brook has kept them at bay here. There’s green space on one side and the substantial Enfield Crematorium, opened in 1938 by the Tottenham and Wood Green Burial Board, on the other. The trail runs along the north site of the crematorium, then passes under the railway known as the Southbury Loop (originally the Churchbury Loop), opened in 1891 between the Great Eastern Railway’s branch line to Enfield Town at Edmonton Green and Cheshunt, on the same company’s line to Cambridge, now known as the West Anglia Main Line.
Originally the financial returns from this short stretch of railway were lower than expected, as the residential developments the company had hoped for were slow in appearing. Passenger services were withdrawn in 1906, though the line remained open to goods traffic and as a diversionary route, and a service for munitions workers operated during World War I. It was only reopened permanently as a passenger railway in 1960 after much of the former Great Eastern was electrified. Since 2015 it’s been operated as part of Transport for London’s London Overground network.
|The Turkey Brook Guardian with its folk-etymology egg.
The small green area in front of the station, previously known as Waltham Gardens, was refurbished in 2013, and renamed Turkey Street Gateway Open Space. Despite the sort of cumbersome name that could only have been dreamed up by a council planner, the refurbishment is rather pleasing.
Its most striking feature is the Turkey Brook Guardian sculpture which greets you at the entrance, designed by artist Tim Shutter in collaboration with local schoolchildren. It portrays a mythical creature which combines features of a fish, a bird, a squirrel and a dog, all creatures you’re likely to see in the park, unashamedly embracing folk etymology by sitting atop a giant turkey egg studded with pebbles from the brook.
The official Loop route simply follows Turkey Street here, but I suggest that instead you brave the Guardian by crossing the brook into the park and walking for a short distance along a pretty riverside path in front of houses. You’ll soon return to Turkey Street anyway for its final stretch to the Hertford Road. The current alignment of the road is likely a little to the east of the original course of Ermine Street, which has been lost beneath subsequent development. The point where the road crosses the Turkey Brook was originally a ford, and the area is still known as Enfield Wash, although a pedestrian bridge existed by 1675, supplemented by a carriage bridge in 1827. Today it’s a fairly uninspiring outer London high street, lined with betting shops, fast food outlets and convenience stores.
|The Hertford Road at Enfield Wash. Roughly the course of Roman Ermine Street.
On to Enfield Lock
|Beside the Turkey Brook at Albany Park, Enfield Wash.
On the other side of the Hertford Road, the Loop heads off-road again on the Prince of Wales Footpath. You’ll once again find yourself beside the Turkey Brook, though it now runs in a concrete culvert and is almost devoid of wildlife. Soon, Albany Park opens up on the right. This is a further fruit of the old Enfield council’s forward-thinking open space policy, opened in 1902 on a site that was previously farmland known as College Farm, belonging to Trinity College Cambridge, but which otherwise would have been built up. It was named after the Duke of Albany, Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, who died in 1884. The space was subsequently enlarged several times, most recently in 1935 as part of the King George’s Fields initiative.
Another steep footbridge takes the trail over the West Anglia Main Line, opened in 1840 by the Northern and Eastern Railway, which later became part of the Great Eastern. Originally it was a branch from the Eastern Counties Railway at Stratford, from where it ran along that company’s lines to its first central London terminus at Bishopsgate. Northwards the railway originally initially terminated at Broxbourne but was subsequently extended to Bishops Stortford and Cambridge. In 1872 it was connected by a more direct route to the Great Eastern’s new terminus at Liverpool Street via Clapton and Hackney Downs, though some trains still follow the original route to Stratford.
This section of the Loop stops just short of the River Lee Navigation and Enfield Lock itself, just over a little humped footbridge across the brook. A short street link from here takes you to Enfield Lock station on the West Anglia Main Line, opened a few years after the railway itself in 1855. Its original name was Ordnance Factory, as it main purpose was to serve the Royal Small Arms Factory close by – but that’s a story for the next walk.