The Capital Ring – Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington – Part Two

View over the West Reservoir

Dear Readers, after our bagel and coffee we leave Woodberry Wetlands nature reservoir and walk alongside the edge of the West Reservoir on the edge of Stoke Newington. There is a sailing club here, and today the air was full of the sounds of small children screaming with terror/excitement, and the muffled cursing of couples who’d misheard one another and were now stuck in the reeds. Ah joy, I well remember family holidays which had a boat-related component and how much fun they were. The filter house still stands and looks very impressive with the sun shining through its windows. Apparently it houses a café and you can still see some of the filtration equipment.

The old filtration building

But what is that strange castle-like thing in the middle of the first photo?

The Castle Climbing Centre

Believe it or not, this used to house the reservoir pumping station. The Victorians did love a folly, and many of their industrial buildings, from train stations to water works, look more like cathedrals or castles than anything more mundane. And after all, what could be more important than clean water, or enabling people to get from place to place safely and comfortably? We take so many things for granted that were novel for the Victorians. Current revelations about the inefficiency of our water companies, and the mismanagement of our railways are reminding us of what happens when things aren’t right.

But as usual I digress. These days this impressive ‘castle’ houses some rather fine climbing walls, and last time we did this walk we ended up having a cup of tea and a sandwich and watching the youngsters scuttling up the walls at great speed while we gawped in amazement. There is a rather nice video showing the goings-on here.

Then it’s onto the main road for 200 metres, before turning into Clissold Park. On the way we pass this magnificent carved lion, which surely previously marked the edge of some grand estate.

Clissold  Park itself used to be the estate of Jonathan Hoare, a Quaker, philanthropist and anti-slavery campaigner. There are two lakes, named Runtzmere and Beckmere after John Runtz and Joseph Beck who persuaded the Metropolitan Water Board to buy the estate in 1887 and to use it for the public good. This heron was definitely enjoying the resource!

There are some truly astonishing trees in Clissold Park – just look at this plane tree.

And then there is this tree, which is a bladder senna (Colutea arborescens). You might remember that I saw it growing alongside the railway track at Black Horse Road, but it seems to be a popular street tree in Stoke Newington, much to my surprise. It is very striking, but clearly someone has a taste for it. Correction – this is actually a Koelreuteria paniculata (Golden Rain Tree), I got carried away at the sight of the bladders!

Golden Rain Tree (Koelreuteria paniculata )

From here you also get a view of the magnificent St Mary’s Church, completed in 1858 and designed in  Gothic Revival style by George Gilbert Scott. The church is thought to be based on the design for Salisbury Cathedral, and is Grade II listed. Apparently the preacher in the church that used to stand on the site was so popular that it was decided to build a bigger church, but the funds had to be raised piecemeal, and so that magnificent steeple wasn’t added until 1890. I suspect very strongly that the tree standing next to it has been judiciously pruned so as not to obscure the view.

St Mary’s Church, Stoke Newington.

Hiding around the corner, however, and looking rather sorry for itself is the Old Church, which dates back to 1563, and is apparently the only Elizabethan church left in London. The graveyard contains members of the Wilberforce family, who were heavily involved in the anti-slavery movement. It is now an arts and community centre. We were unable to get inside, but it’s good to know that it is still being used for the good of local people.

St Mary’s Old Church

Stoke Newington was a centre for dissenters and nonconformist groups, particularly the Quakers, who moved to the village in the 18th and 19th centuries. Amongst the notable residents were Daniel Defoe, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stewart Mill and Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin, David Hume and William Wilberforce were regular visitors. Until recently it was something of a hub for alternative thinkers of all stripes, but property prices are having an effect on who can afford to live here – for a long time Stoke Newington was far enough from the tube for people to think twice about buying a house, but now that so many people are working from home it’s anybody’s game.

The town hall at Stoke Newington is also listed Grade II – it was completed in 1937, and is built in a rather strange mixture of styles to my eyes, from 1930s Modernist plus some Doric columns. It apparently has a sprung dance floor made from Canadian maple which is surely something of an asset. The building was painted in camouflage paint during the Second World War, and a sign by the front door indicates that this is still visible, though sadly not to me.

Stoke Newington Town Hall

And across the road is yet another golden rain tree, and very fine it is too.

By now we are flagging a little, poor old things that we are, so we are less than happy to see that the entrance to Abney Park Cemetery on Church Street is not accessible and we have to walk around the corner and negotiate a mass of building work. Once inside, though, the place is absolutely magical. There are no new graves here, and the London Borough of Hackney is managing it both as a refuge for wildlife, and as a historical site with the graves of many famous people including William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. I think that Abney Park will deserve a visit all of its own at some point – it was set out as an arboretum, and has a beautiful and desolate chapel in the centre, which had stained glass windows reflecting the cemetery’s rosarium, which had over 1000 varieties of rose. The chapel has been vandalised over the years and is now considered ‘at risk’, though the council are hoping to raise the money to restore it.

For now, here are just a few photos to give you an idea of the place. I’ll definitely be back.

And so we make our weary way to the bus stop, for lo! there is a train strike today. And so we get the 106 to Finsbury Park and then the W7 to Muswell Hill and then the 102 to East Finchley,  admiring the fine houses with their ornate plaster and brick work that line the streets. It’s been a great walk, and I can’t wait to get stuck into the next leg next week, when we’ll be going from Stoke Newington east towards Hackney Wick.

7 thoughts on “The Capital Ring – Finsbury Park to Stoke Newington – Part Two

  1. Ann Bronkhorst

    Abney Park cemetery has been on my to-do list for years.
    Stoke Newington Town Hall reminds me of Senate House in Gower Street. Handsome.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      The cemetery is a bit of a stramash at the moment, but it is very, very atmospheric…and yes re the Town Hall. Just wish I could identify the camouflage paint….

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Oh Eliza, how funny, thank you for letting me know. I must have seen the bladders and got carried away. I’ll do a correction on the blog.

  2. Liz Norbury

    It’s interesting that there are different street trees in different areas.

    William Wilberforce was born in Hull, and there’s a statue of him and a museum there. When my sister returned to London after graduating from Hull University, she chose to give our newly-acquired white kitten the name Wilberforce. Sadly, Wilberforce disappeared when we’d had him for less than six months, and we never found him. On a happier note, it was always a treat for my son to visit the Castle Climbing Centre during his childhood trips to London.


Leave a Reply