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The River Lea

River Lea

The River Lee Country Park is a maze of lakes, water courses, streams, inlets and marshland, created by the River Lee as it approaches the north eastern edge of London.

River Lea 

The name Lee – also known as Lea, both spellings are used interchangeably – comes from the old English word ‘lug’, meaning ‘bright or light’. This means that the names of the towns of Luton and Leyton have the same meaning – ‘farmstead on the river Lea’.

The distance between the two places is over 30 miles, and the river is even longer – starting in the Chiltern Hills and flowing into the Thames.

River Lee River Lee

The River Lea’s most important contribution to history was during the Anglo-Saxon times. In the late 800s Alfred the Great draw up an agreement with Guthrum, the leader of the invading Vikings, dividing England between them. The East and the North became Danelaw, and the rest was controlled by Alfred. The border between the two territories in part run along the course of the River Lea.

Viking Border post Viking border

In 894 the Danes sailed up the river to Hertford and built a fortified camp around there. Alfred dug up a channel to divert some water from the river, the water level dropped and the Danes could not sail back.

To commemorate the role of the river in this ancient history, the park now has two wooden sculptures – a post showing the director of Mercia and Danelaw, in case a stranded Viking loses his way. Further in the park there is a representation of a Viking ship – certainly not going anywhere now!

Viking Ship

The park has many routes to explore – we only went along the shortest one, with the wooden sculptures. Properly paved paths make a much more civilised walk than any of the parks we’ve visited far this winter!

The Shrine, carved out of the trunk of a cedar tree, has the face of the Green Man and a seat behind it, with a couple of benches opposite, also beautifully carved.

Shrine River Lea

The sculpture trail

Scuplture Trail, River Lee Park

The Beetles in the park

Beetles in the Park

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Morden Hall Park and Snuff Mills

Morden Hall Park

Now a National Trust property, the Morden Hall Park occupies the land, which in the middle ages belonged to Westminster Abbey, and, after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII,was acquired by the Garth family, the rich local landowners.

Morden Hall Park

The River Wandle meanders poetically through Morden Hall Park – eventually it will flow into the Thames, as most rivers around London do. It provided good opportunities for mills in the area. In the 19th century the mills at Morden Hall were set to grind tobacco into snuff.

River Wandle River Wandle

When tobacco was introduced to England in the 1700s, it became popular to take it as snuff. In 1834 tobacco merchant Alexander Hatfeild leased (and later bought) the mills here to grind dried tobacco leaves into snuff. The firm that he partly owned, Taddy & Co, sourced the tobacco from plantations in Virginia and run a factory in the Minories in London.

Snuff Mill at Morden Hall Park

The business was successful, but by 1920s the habit of using snuff was replaced by smoking cigars, and Alexander’s grandson Gilliat shut down the factory and the mills. He had a large fortune and used it for philanthropic activities, such as offering the main hall for a military and convalescent hospital during the First World War and garden parties for local children. When he died in 1941 he gifted the estate to the National Trust, stipulating in his will that the park should be available for free to the local community.

Morden Hall Park