Monday, April 12, 2004

Manor Park, East London

Manor Park in East London is often mixed up with Manor House in North London. Apparently people don't know the difference between a park and a house. Manor Park sits at the southern tip of Epping Forest, the ancient oak forest that King Henry VIII saved for himself to hunt deer. There aren't enough forests left in Southern England. Like the others, this one survived only because it has poor, gravelly soil that isn't suitable for cultivating hungry crops like wheat and barley.

Manor Park has a Railway Station (not a Tube Station), on the Gidea Park/Shenfield trains out of Liverpool Street. It is the stop between Ilford and Forest Gate. The New Essex commuters whizz through it to their jobs in Central London. The greenest greeting outside any station in East London holds its breath for you. Immediately to your left, the North, you see a triangular corner of the Wanstead Flats, as this section of Epping Forest is known. Your view to the right (south) of the station is not so kind, because a clutter of tortured neighbourhoods stretches towards East Ham.

The Wanstead Flats are essentially a heath, with open grassed areas, some woodland, a lot of gorse and broom. It also has a large number of football playing grounds that are available for hire on Sundays. Until about six years ago, there used to be free-ranging cattle here from April to September: it was the only place in London where you would find free-grazing livestock. The cows added an incredible dimension to this precious jewel in London. They exerted a life force that was greater than that of the greed of the men and women who flock to London to earn unnecessary things like BMW's, and bling-bling jewellery. Then the BBC (British Bovine-spongiform-encephalopathy Crisis) and the FMC (Foot-and-Mouth Crisis), created a paranoia about beef and cows that has since joined the list of Tony Blair's cleverly forgotten mistakes. So now the cows are gone, but the cars never seem to go away.

Manor Park is the dead centre of London, because of the City of London Cemetery, which is the largest municipal cemetery in Europe. The cemetery is maintained to very high horticultural standards by hard-working, low-paid, unappreciated temp agency gardeners. It offers tree trails for the perfect visit. The entrance to this cemetery is a 6 minute walk directly up the road as you turn left out of the station.

Do not confuse this cemetery with the still-in-active-service Manor Park Cemetery: you reach that one by turning left as you come out of the station and turning left immediately again, and walking 200 yards. If you arrived by the train from Liverpool Street, this is the cemetery that you saw on your left as you approached the station.

There are also the Woodgrange cemetery and the Plashet Jews cemetery, reached by walking south towards East Ham.

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