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LONDON TUBE RAMBLES WALK ending at WEST HAM (about 3 miles) 

Bow Road and Three Mills 
Bow Road Tube station (1902) itself is an attractive single storey affair, with a fanlight over the entrance. After you have admired it, cross over the main road at the lights and turn right. passing a Georgian terrace with small front gardens. At the end is a handsome Police station (1903). Those interested in Moderne architecture will want to pop down Addington Road to see the white 1938 stable block and flats added when the station became the headquarters of the divisional stables - the tall chimney was for the forge. Badly in need of restoration. Soon there is a viaduct with a compact station building (currently a betting shop) that served the London and Blackwall railway and its successors from 1869 to 1962.  The Little Driver pub follows. Nice sign.

[Bow Church DLR station is a little further along the road on the other side, opposite a car rental business. If you are joining the trail from there you will be able to pick up the route at this point by going left to a crossing.] 

Continue walking. The Italianate style Bow Bells pub is over the road - I'm not sure what it has done to deserve the glaring orange paint that has been slapped on its lower half. However, on the wall in the alley is a splendid black and white mural depicting a couple dressed in traditional Pearly costume. Worth crossing Bow Road to have a look. It's simply signed 'Pang'. The next building is the elegant Registry Office.

Back on the north side of the road is a college, originally the 1930's Poplar Town Hall.  On the ceiling of the entrance porch is a mosaic depicting the docks, while the exterior walls are decorated with reliefs showing construction workers. Just after Fairfield Road watch out for the beehive adorning the curved pediment of the old Stratford Co-operative and Industrial Society, another reminder of the value of hard work. Go on until you get to a Roman Catholic Church. Squeezed up to it is a former convent with stepped gables. The wall to the street was part of the nunnery - now art studios. Enter Bow Arts Lane. It's narrow, and the high walls of the convent on one side and an old industrial building on the other make it slightly forbidding. At the end you find yourself in a small park, once part of the grounds of the long-gone Grove Hall. 

Return to Bow Road, where a statue of Gladstone presides over the defunct toilets in front of the medieval  Bow Church marooned on its island between two busy roads. (Incidentally, the bells of this church are not the famous 'Bow Bells' - they are in another church, St.Mary-le-Bow, in the City of London.)  The building has been isolated in this way for centuries - one description stating that it is 'in the middle of the King's highway'. Cross at the zebra to reach the churchyard (the church itself is not normally open to visitors).  At first you walk down a long, conventional path, but at the west door bear left to reach a wild garden area that stretches towards the flyover.  It's a surreal experience. There will be a lot of changes over the next few years when the church is due to be restored and the gardens landscaped in connection with major changes to the road layout, so don't leave it too long before you enjoy the special quality of this odd bit of greenery trapped in such an inhospitable setting. 

Once in Bow Road again, continue east past a variety of buildings, including a Police garage. At this point you will wonder where I am taking you, but on the corner with Paynes Road is a jewel, the tiny Greenlight Youth Club. The two overhanging bays are late seventeenth century, while the street level is a nineteenth century shop front. Turn round and pass the church,  going over to Bromley High Street at the lights. It isn't actually a High Street any more, mainly social housing blocks, but it means a few minutes less hurrying along the ghastly Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. Walk past a small shopping centre and the Council blocks. At the junction with St. Leonard's Street you will see an stone archway. Cross over to read the info board from which you will learn that there was once an ancient priory on the site.. Sadly, the graveyard,  once kept up by the local community as a park, is in need of some TLC. 

Return to the road, follow it to the right as it slopes down to the A12,  Right here, continuing a few minutes until a subway. Once on the other side, walk a little to the right, down steps, cross Hancock Road at the zebra and left towards Tesco. (Step-free access: take slope from underpass and double back at street level to crossing.) Go into Three Mill Lane, passing the store. Cross the bridge over the River Lea. Suddenly you are in a different world. This has been a trading site for over 900 years. When fully operating, Three Mills was the largest tidal mill complex in England. The mills that exist today were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now restored as a museum the House Mill was last used in 1941 to make flour, but in earlier days gunpowder was manufactured. A variety of other industry was also served by the Bow Back Rivers , a series of interrelated water courses that meander between Bow and Stratford, connecting the River Lea to the Thames.  At the end of the cobbled lane notice the iron tramlines. These may have been used by trucks carrying the fuel needed to fire the boilers of the various gin distilleries which until the 1960's operated on the site of Three Mills Studios, the largest independent film and TV production studios in London. 

After passing through the Mills complex turn left past a muddy backwater to reach Three Mills Green. A little way along Three Mills Wall River, where pleasure boats are moored, you will find a monument commemorating men who lost their lives working on the waterways - in particular the four who died in an well accident in 1901. 'Helping Hands' (Alec Peever) marked the centenary of the tragedy. At the time of the 2012 Olympic Games the whole green was poshed up. Trees were planted, masses of wild flowers sown and stone table-tennis tables and seats installed. 

From the gravel paths that snake round the grassy mounds of the park you will get a sight of the famous old Abbey Mills Pumping Station and its sleek successor (more about these later). If you wander a bit beyond the green you will see the giant Olympic torch installation, with Anish Kapoor's 'Orbit' in the distance. Retrace your steps as far as the left-hand turning just beyond Three Mills Green.

Walk down this towards some iron gates to inspect the 2009 Three Mills lock with large deco-style control block. The Victorian buildings on the right were part of the distilleries mentioned above. Go through the small swing gate* on the left to reach the £22m lock. Unfortunately it didn't live up to expectations. One of the purposes of its creation was to take lorries off the road by using barges laden with construction materials for the Olympic site and Stratford City. For a number of reasons this didn't happen, and it was possible to watch massive amounts of water weed being removed from the lock area while the Olympic venues were already rising a short distance away. The weed still flourishes.

Cross over the bridge and follow the path towards some trees. Once through the (now unlocked) gate, there is a sharp left turn. The water on the right is the Channelsea river. According to the state of the tide it will be either a fully-fledged water course or a muddy stream. On the other bank is a railway line and behind that the stately frames of gasholders of the old Twelvetrees Bromley-by-Bow gasworks. Continue for about ten minutes until the path forks. This is where a concrete cycle track joins. Bear right to reach the Greenway via two sets of steps. (There's an easier access option - a concrete zigzag at the end of the cycle track.) Either way, you will pass an intriguing piece of discarded machinery - a giant, brightly painted snail-like pipe. Underneath the broad Greenway is the Northern Outfall sewer which runs in huge tubes under what used to be grassy slopes before they were given a smart new surface for 2012.
 Make your way left for the magnificent  ‘Cathedral of Sewage’  (Joseph Bazelgette 1886).  This was constructed as part of the works to stop the ghastly stench which arose as a result of the Thames being used as a main (open) sewer. As the population of London grew, the lack of adequate sanitation became increasingly serious, causing outbreaks of cholera. The Great Stink of 1858 finally prompted the authorities to tackle the problem and provide a proper drainage system which was so well constructed that it is only now having to be modernised by the Thames Tideway Scheme.  
Return to the bridge. Looking back down the river (now Abbey Creek) you can see the sluice arches that during a storm surge vented untreated stuff into the watercourse.   On the other side of the bridge the view is of light industry and housing (the curious chimneys belong to accommodation built for Abbey Mills workers), plus multi-storey blocks rising in the distance.  Continue along the Greenway, crossing Canning Road. Immediately after the wide road/rail bridge take the steps (or the slope a few minutes further on) down to Manor Road. Go left and continue walking a few minutes on the main road to West Ham Tube station. This is particularly useful (apart from not having toilets), as it serves the District, Hammersmith & City and Jubilee lines as well as the DLR and National Rail (c2c).

Click on photos to enlarge


*If you are pushing a buggy,  I suggest accessing the lock via the nearest gravel path on the Green. This section of the walk is not really suitable for wheelchairs.  This is just one route from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings to be found in the area covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the link above and see the other destinations explored You'll be amazed at what's out there!