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The Remarkable History of Woodberry Down & Its Waterways - Guided Walk
Situated alongside the New River, a 65 km man-made aqueduct dating back to 1613 to transport clean drinking water to London from Hertfordshire, the area, now known as Woodberry Down, was dairy farmland until the 1820’s until it was opened up by new roads and nearby disused brickfields were transformed into reservoirs in 1833. Woodberry Down, particularly in terms of housing and water systems, has since played an important part in the development of London.
It was hence developed as a home to the wealthy laid out in the late 1860’s with large detached villas and regarded as a particularly select suburb. By the early 20th century this had become “the posh end of Stoke Newington” and home to several wealthy Jewish families and Albert Chevalier, the music hall artiste. However, with the increasing suburbanisation of the area, many of the original residents were replaced by poorer families and social decline continued until the early 20th century when the area was predominantly dominated by the working classes with most houses, all in decay, containing four or five families each.
In 1934, the London County Council compulsorily purchased all of Woodberry Down and the construction of a ‘utopian estate of the future’ began after the Second World War in 1949. The project was completed in 1962 with 57 blocks of flats erected over 64 acres of land. Initially, the enormous estate offered greatly improved living conditions, but, like other utopian schemes of a similar nature, Woodberry Down became a flawed place in which to live. By the late 1980s, many of the flats were in a poor state of repair with many more either squatted or empty and boarded up. The area is now in the midst of another massive regeneration project which has conjured much controversy and debate.
In the meantime and in contrast, the development of the reservoirs remained largely undisturbed, although not without their fair share of controversy, and both the East and West Reservoirs and their associated filter-beds served as operational units until 1992. The former, in fact, still operates as a raw water store for the New River and it remains an essential part of London’s water supply. Remaining closed to the public throughout its nearly 200 year history, the East Reservoir was designated as a Site of Metropolitan Importance was recently transformed into Woodberry Wetlands. The nature reserve was developed by London Wildlife Trust with an aim protect and enhance the reserve’s biodiversity interests and create free public access to the reservoir for the public to enjoy and learn about the resident wildlife and the importance of the site’s heritage. And, in May 2016, Woodberry Wetlands opened to the public for the first time.
There are several Grade II listed buildings constructed in the early 19th centre of particular interest still standing on the site. Along with the pumping station and filtration plant, built on the West Reservoir, now known now as ‘The Castle’ for its disguise as a medieval fortress built in the Scottish Baronial manner, the Ivy Gate Sluice House and the Coal House represent working water works structures of the time. The Coal House was recently subject to major renovation works to rescue it from the Heritage At Risk Register and now operates as a café and visitor centre.
If you love London heritage, architecture, nature & wildlife or simply walking in a beautiful waterside setting, this is a riveting tour not to be missed. The stories told by the surrounding developments alone, make the area an absolutely fascinating place to visit.
This event is suitable for ages 14+
Please note: No dogs are allowed at Woodberry Wetlands except guide dogs for the sight impaired.
Disabled Access Information: Please visit our WEBSITE or email email@example.com for facilities information or to arrange access requirements