The Middlesex Filter Beds comprise a small nature reserve at the northwestern corner of the Hackney Marshes, sandwiched between the River Lee Navigation’s Hackney Cut and the River Lea itself.
Throughout the 18th century and into the 19th, the area was occupied by several watermills, established here because of the fast-flowing river. First they provided flour, then wooden pipes for carrying water and finally they were used to power lathes for sharpening the points of pins and needles. In 1833 the site found a new purpose, and right up until 1969 the Middlesex Filter Beds, alongside the adjacent Essex Filter Beds (another nature reserve I’ll be visiting soon) purified water flowing from the River Lea which was then pumped to the homes of the thirsty populace of North East London. After lying empty for nearly twenty years, the then Lee Valley Regional Park Authority acquired the site in 1988 with the goal of reintroducing local flora and fauna.
Unlike the WWT London Wetland Centre down in Barnes, the Middlesex Filter Beds themselves have remained in situ – wildlife has simply been encouraged to establish itself within the confines of the concrete and brick-lined structures. As a result there are now four areas of sunken woodland and brush, home to many species of native plants as well as bird life, including blue tits and goldfinches all the way up to larger species such as kestrels and herons.
Now I don’t want you to think the title of this post is misleading – there really is a Stonehenge of sorts. Large concrete blocks used to secure the heavy machinery on the site have been moved and then arranged in a circle at the northern end of the nature reserve – a ‘post-industrial’ henge if you will. It’s a really quiet spot and a very pleasant place to spend an hour or two – you can get to the Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve by leaving the Lea Bridge Road at the canal towpath which runs behind the Prince of Wales pub and then walking for about 50 yards. You then cross the footbridge over to the other side of the canal and the entrance to the nature reserve is about another 10 yards on your left. There a few more images of yesterday’s visit here.