Bow Back Rivers and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 

In the 1980s the Bow Back Rivers clearly showed the signs of years of neglect. With the advent of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, however, they have been given a new lease of life.

In 2005-7 I extensively photographed the part of the Lower Lea Valley that was to be compulsorily acquired for the construction of the London 2012 Olympic Games. This included Stratford Marsh, through which run the Lea, City Mill, Waterworks, Pudding Mill and Channelsea rivers. The Olympic Stadium itself sits on top of Pudding Mill River, which has been culverted. Building the park involved an enormous amount of re-landscaping that has dramatically changed the topography.

1983. Three Mills at Bromley-by-Bow. These mills date from the 18th century and were still                                                                                         being used as industrial premises in the early 1980s.

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2017. The House Mill (far left), is the largest surviving tide mill in the world and is now owned by The River Lea Tidal Mill Trust Ltd. which plans to restore   the Grade 1 listed building and reinstate the heritage machinery to working order. The house to the right of the mill was rebuilt in the 1990s using reclaimed materials.


2018. Interior of the House Mill awaiting restoration.


2018. One of the four existing water wheels that are to be replaced with new ones to enable the mill to function once again. The plan                                is to use them to generate electricity.

1983. View looking north along Three Mills Wall River towards Stratford High St. 


2018. Three Mills Wall River today. A dam now cuts off the river to the south and a permanent mooring has been created. The                                 extensive new housing development on the opposite (west) side of the river is called Sugar House Island.

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2016. Three Mills Lock on the Prescott Channel, opened in 2009. This lock effectively cuts off the Bow Back Rivers that run through the Olympic Park     from the tide, thus opening them up for recreational use.  


2018. Prescott Channel looking north towards Stratford High St.

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2018. Abbey Mills Pumping Station. A cornerstone of Joseph Bazelgette's London sewer system, Abbey Mills was built in 1868 to                                  pump North London's effluent to a treatment works at Beckton. Now Grade 2 listed, the station is still operational.


2018. Interior of Abbey Mills Pumping Station. The current electric pumps were installed in the 1930s to replace the original                                           steam-driven pumps.


2016. St. Thomas Creek, looking east from Pudding Mill Lane.


2016. City Mill Lock, refurbished in 2015. 

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2005. Waterworks River, looking south from Bridgewater Road. The white building in the centre is Warton House, once used by the                                firm of Yardley & Co. Ltd. to make packaging for cosmetics. 

2005Yardley's famous 'sheaves of lavander' advertising logo is still visible above the Stratford High Street entrance to Warton House.

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2005Stratford High Street


2015Old industrial buildings are being replaced by apartment blocka all along the High Street

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2005. Pudding Mill River, looking south. This became the site of the Olympic Stadium and the river has been culverated

2006. Junction of the River Lea and Pudding Mill River (on the left). 

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2016. The same view today. 

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2006. Samuel Banner & Co.'s chemical storage and distribution depot on the west bank of the City Mill River.


2016. The same view today.

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2005. Junction of the City Mill River (left) and the River Lea just south of Carpenter's Lock.

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2016. As it is today.

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2016. Carpenter's Road Lock on the River Lea during rebuilding.

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1983. Factory fire by the Waterworks River, viewed from Carpenter's Road.

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2016. The new landscape of Stratford Marsh, looking south-east. The Waterworks River joins the River Lea just below Carpenter's Road (right).

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2006. The somewhat overgrown Channelsea River near Bully Point Nature Reserve at the north end of what would become the Olympic Park.

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2016. 10 years later the landscape is completely unrecognisable. The Channelsea River now runs underground.

2006. The River Lea looking south from a narrow bridge that once connected Manor Garden Allotments (left) to Waterden Road before the landscape was re-modelled for the Olymic Games. This process obliterated both the allotments and all of the businesses on Waterden Road. 

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2016. The view from a similar vantage point today.


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    © Mike Seaborne 2017