A Lost River Rediscovered

The source of the River Lea in Leagrave.

The River Lea or Lee is one of London’s lost rivers and stretches for 58 miles.

Its source is in Leagrave, just north of Luton, before it flows down through Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City, Hertford, Ware, Stanstead Abbotts, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey, Enfield, Chingford, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Leyton, Hackney Wick, onto Stratford, Poplar, Canning Town and then into the River Thames.

The name seems to have derived from the Celtic meaning for ‘bright or light’, meaning ‘bright river’. Its name is reflected in two of the places it flows through; Leagrave, Luton and Leyton, which all mean ‘farmstead on the River Lea’.

In Anglo Saxon times, the river was a natural defence to the east against invading Vikings. In the 9th century, King Alfred the Great messed with the water levels on the river, causing some Viking ships to be trapped upstream.  The invaders had little choice but to abandon their ships and flee.

Map of the River Lea, from source to estuary into the Thames

Go forward in time over 1000 years to 1940, the river was incorporated in the Outer London Anti-Tank Line, with the length of the river forming a physical barrier against any invading tanks.

In the 18th, 19th and early 20th century, the River Lea valley was the industrial centre of London, with many factories and warehouses sitting on its banks.  Today, much of industry has gone and its changing into an area of apartments and trendy bars.

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