E20 is London’s newest postcode. It is basically the Olympic park and was carved out of E15. Here is a press notice from Royal Mail explaining its creation:
And one might add this postcode has the distinction of being the only one where almost everything is 21st century.
So far there is no post office in E20 so we will begin our journey where many people will. That is Stratford Station. I suggest you go out on the “town” side of the station so you can then do a U turn and go back over the railway on the large pedestrian bridge.
Stop 1: Westfield Stratford shopping centre
The centre opened on 13 September 2011. According to Wikipedia, it is the third- argest shopping centre in the United Kingdom by retail space behind the MetroCentre and the Trafford Centre. But taking the surrounding shopping area into account, it is the largest urban shopping centre in the European Union in terms of size.
Now one of the features of 21st Century shopping developments are these outdoor/indoor streets. This runs to the left of the main Mall and I suggest you go along here.
The reason is that you get some views if you look down to the left. First there is the ArcelorMittal Orbit which we shall get to at the end.
And just a little further on, you can see the former Olympic Stadium.
Now head on into the Mall itself and you will see that unusually it has three levels of shops.
I have to say though I think the Westfield at Shepherds Bush is nicer. It just feels more spacious and has a better layout with the large open area in the middle with the food offering.
The anchor stores at Stratford are M & S (at the “town” end) and John Lewis (at the “far” end). Given the size of the place, Debenhams or House of Fraser are conspicuous by their absence. Maybe this was the price of getting John Lewis here.
It is worth a detour into the John Lewis store because you can get a view out over the Olympic Park. First go to the second floor – to the side directly opposite where you came in..
There is also an equivalent area with a view on the third floor, although the dedicated viewing area does not seem to be open. The sign says this is for a private function.
But if you go to the side of this, you can peek in.
And discover that the shop is using the area as a dumping ground! Not quite what you expect at John Lewis.
But you can look through the window at the view. The pattern on the window makes for a pretty picture.
Now exit the shopping mall, and go down the steps.
Just ahead is our next stop.
Stop 2: Stratford International station
Now here’s a funny thing. this station is called Stratford International to differentiate it from the main station which is simply called Stratford. You would think that the “international” tag might mean you could get a train going to foreign parts, especially as the Eurostar trains pass through here. But no. Although this station was designed to allow international trains to stop, they never ever have, and there seems no prospect of them ever doing so. So the station name is a little misleading to say the least.
In fact there are two stations here.
One is served by the Southeastern High Speed trains running from St Pancras International to destinations in Kent.
This has a large airy concourse and is the first you get to from the Westfield shopping mall.
It is much bigger than it needs to be and part of the reason for this is that it was supposed to have more services, in particular international ones. Indeed you can see a whole section which has never been used by the public, which I guess would be where the international passengers might have gone through.
And downstairs there are platforms which are not used at all.
At the end of the concourse furthest from the shopping centre is a little plaque to remind us of what was here before.
This reads: Stratford Depot was here from 1839 to 2006 when it was the largest traincrew depot in Europe. The Eastern Counties and Great Eastern Railways built engines and trains on this site. The world record for the fastest build of a steam engine is still held by the Old Stratford Works, part of the Depot, and stands at 9hr 47min. This plaque commemorates the thousands of railway workers who worked at Stratford Depot.”
And there is a logo of High Speed 1, which is another name for the Channel Tunnel Rail link. But sadly there is nothing left of the actual works today.
Then just beyond, there is the Docklands Light Railway station which is a much simpler affair, without an enclosed concourse..
And you can look down to the tracks below.
Now do a bit of a U turn and have a look at the building going up at the corner.
Stop 3: Manhattan Loft Gardens
This is a 42-storey building which consists of a 150 room hotel at the lower levels with a 34 storey residential tower above with 248 residential units.
It is designed by internationally renown architects, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Their website says
“The design aims to promote social interaction and reflect the area’s diversity. Amenities include leisure facilities, a swimming pool, a spa, meeting and conference spaces, and a roof garden that overlooks Olympic Park. The building also features a series of sky gardens that ensure residents are never more than nine stories from an outdoor space.”
There are lots of information panels on the hoardings around the site.
There may be unobstructed views out from the tower but it seems that the tower itself spoils the protected view of St Paul’s from King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park. See this article from the Guardian on 23 November 2016.
King Henry’s Mound is 15.5km (9.6 miles) from St Paul’s Cathedral and the Manhattan Loft Gardens development is a further 7km (4.35 miles) beyond that, making the new building around 22km (14 miles) from Richmond.
It seems incredible that a view that has been protected for so long should be spoiled by what seems to be an oversight. No one thought that a building so far away could mar the view, I guess.
Now head away from the shopping mall along the broad boulevard, which goes by the name of Celebration Avenue.
This is not the only name round here which has just a whiff of 1984 and Big Brother. Further on we will see Victory Park and Prize Walk.
Take a right turn at Liberty Bridge Road. Ahead just after the corner of Cheering Lane (another 1984 name) is our next stop.
Stop 4: Sir Ludwig Guttman Health and Wellbeing Centre
Sir Ludwig Guttmann (1899 – 1980) was a German-born Jewish doctor who had escaped Nazi Germany just before the start of the Second World War. He is considered to be one of the founding fathers of organised physical activities for people with a disability. His role in establishing the Paralympics is why he gives his name to a health centre on the Olympic Park.
The site here was actually used for the 2012 Olympics Medical and Doping Centre, and was then adapted for NHS use post-Games.
The building uses a number of green technologies. Rainwater is collected to flush toilets; a green roof has been planted to improve biodiversity and reduce roof temperatures; and electricity, heating and cooling is fed from the energy efficient combined heat and power plant scheme that supplies the Olympic Park.
Now go down Cheering Lane and our next stop is ahead.
Stop 5: Chobham Academy
These buildings that were first used during the 2012 Summer Olympics as the main base for organising and managing teams. They were rebuilt after the games to become an education campus consisting of a nursery, a primary school, a secondary school, a sixth form and an adult learning facility. It opened in September 2013.
And just outside the Academy is this red marble wall with an inscription.
This is by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) from his epic poem “Ulysses” written in 1833 and published in 1842.
“.. that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
It seems that this quote popped up in the 2012 James Bond movie “Skyfall” when it was deployed by no less than Dame Judi Dench.
There is a nice blog about this here:
Follow the road round and take a right back into Celebration Avenue. Keep going past Honour Lea Avenue.
(Makes me think of the song “Puff the Magic Dragon” except he came from the land of Honali or possibly Honalee. Not that he actually came from anywhere as he was not not real)
Here Temple Mill Lane comes in from the right and does a 90 degree turn so straight ahead is also Temple Mill Lane. Then go left into Abercrombie Road, presumably named after Sir Patrick Abercrombie (1879 – 1957) who was best known for the post-Second World War replanning of London.
Our next stop is ahead on the right.
Stop 6: The Lee valley Velopark
You can see the Velodrome in the distance, but there are also some outdoor facilities.
But the Velodrome itself is the star here. It is one of the iconic buidling of the Olympic Park.
But actually to build this meant destroying the Eastway Cycle circuit which had been created in 1975. Here is a piece mourning the loss of Eastway:
This concludes: “Although there is now a world class Velodrome, the Velopark lacks what Eastway had – community and usability”
Just beyond the Velodrome building is a docking station for the bike hire scheme.
There was a not a single bike available in the racks. Mind you there were almost no people here when I visited!
Keep walking and go over the bridge and then turn left. You will see some Olympic Rings on your left.
I wondered why there was no colour but walking on, you discover that this is the back and the rings are coloured on the other side.
A little further on we get to the Paralympic symbol which comprises three “agitos”, coloured red, blue, and green, in an asymmetrical crescent . (“agito” means “I move” in Latin)
The picture below is taken looking back so we see the “front” and if you closely at the picture you can see the Olympic rings in colour in the far distance.
As we walk along you will see one of the other Olympic venues on your right. This is the Copper Box Arena, used for handball, modern pentathlon, fencing and goalball during the 2012 Games. It has retractable seating for up to 7,500 spectators, and can host a wide range of different sports and activities including basketball, wheelchair basketball, handball, volleyball, netball, fencing, badminton and gymnastics.
I have to say that this is not the most inspiring building, and it is not even copper coloured!
In front of the Copper Box are three letters spelling the word “run”
Keep walking and you will come across the next stop.
But do look over to you left back towards Stratford, and the Manhattan Loft Gardens building and the Westfield shopping centre
If you had been looking the other way you see the City, although it seems strangely small from this angle..
Keep walking ahead crossing over the road.
Stop 7: Mandeville Place
Then stop at this seemingly random selection of brick columns and other stuff. It actually has a story.
According to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park website:
“The name Mandeville Place has been chosen to reflect the fact that the Paralympics started in Stoke Mandeville, England in 1952, and after the 2012 Mascot, Mandeville.
Taking inspiration from the use of apples in the 2012 Opening Ceremony, Mandeville Place features a stunning orchard … the area brings together apple and other fruit trees with man-made elements, such as a pavilion made from the original Athletes Village Paralympic Wall.”
Our next stop is just ahead on the left.
Stop 8: Carpenters Road Lock
Finally we get to see a little reminder of what was here before the Olympic park.
This is possibly the oldest thing we have seen. It is called Carpenters Road lock.
It is located on the Bow Back Rivers and was constructed in 1933/34. It is apparently the only lock in Britain with rising radial gates at both ends (not sure what this actually means!). British Waterways, the then owners, were hoping to restore it as part of the upgrade to Bow Back Rivers which took place for the London 2012 Games. However the gantries which enabled the gates to be raised were demolished to accommodate a wide bridge giving access to the main stadium. After the games, most of the overbridge was removed. Now it seems funding for the restoration of the lock has been found and the lock is due to be brought back into use in 2017. Mind you when I was there, no one seemed to be working at the site so who knows.
From here you get a great view of our next stop.
Stop 9: The London Stadium
Now we can hardly come to the Olympic Park and not see the main stadium.
This has some impressive screens
It was built as the principal stadium for the 2012 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, hosting the track and field events and opening and closing ceremonies. It has subsequently been renovated as a multi-purpose stadium, with its primary tenants being West Ham United Football Club and British Athletics, although there is some controversy about the deal and its finances. There is also some concern about the building’s suitability to operate both as a football ground and an athletics venue, given they have different spectator needs and it seems the costs of switching from one sport to another has been wildly underestimated.
Our next stop is just to the left of the Stadium.
Stop 10: ArcelorMittal Orbit
This is the largest piece of public art in the UK standing some 114.5 metres tall. It was built for the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games and intended to be a permanent lasting legacy of London’s hosting of the games. Situated between the Olympic Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, it allows visitors to view the whole Olympic Park from two observation platforms.
Orbit was designed by Turner-Prize winning artist Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond of engineering Group Arup.
The project was said to have cost £19.1 million, with £16 million coming from steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman of the ArcelorMittal steel company, and the balance of £3.1 million coming from the London Development Agency.
The name “ArcelorMittal Orbit” combines the name of Mittal’s company, as chief sponsor, with “Orbit”, the original working title for Kapoor and Balmond’s design.
The ArcelorMittal Orbit closed after the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, while the this area of the Park was reconfigured for a public outdoor space. It reopened to the public on 5 April 2014.
In the summer of 2016, the structure was modified to incorporate the world’s tallest and longest (178 metres) tunnel slide. This was designed by Carsten Höller who had previously put slides into Tate Modern.
Basically this is a way of getting more visitors here. You can peek through the railings and see where the slide comes out. From time to time a person does pop out, but it did not seem very busy when I was there.
Just by here is another artwork, called Pixel Wall.
There is a sign which has clearly been ignored.
And indeed when I was there it was being ignored!
Now our next stop is just over the way and is another of the iconic building of the Olympic Park
Stop 11: Aquatics Centre
This was actually designed by architect Zaha Hadid in 2004 before London won the bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics. It was built alongside the Water Polo Arena, and across the Waterworks River from the Olympic Stadium.
The complex has a 50m competition pool, a 25m competition diving pool and a 50m warm-up pool. Because the centre was designed before the Olympic bid was completed, the spectator wings were not part of the original design. They were later added to give the venue a capacity of 17,500 and made it look rather ugly.
The two temporary “wings” have been removed, reducing the capacity to a regular 2,500 with an additional 1,000 seats available for major events. And it has regained it sinuous profile.
Here is a slightly surreal picture of me taking a picture of the glass end wall.
But in some places you can go up to the windows and look in, although it was remarkably hard to get a picture because of the reflections.
Stop 12: Since 9/11 memorial
Now go to the left of the Aquatic Centre and down the path to the car park. you will see our next stop on a little mound across the way on your left. Go round and back up to it. This is the “Since 9/11” memorial.
It is made from steel from the World Trade Centre which was destroyed in the attack on 11 September 2001. It was created by american artist, Miyo Ando.
“Since 9/11” is an educational charity based in Britain which supports pupils to learn about the events, causes and consequences of 9/11. According to the BBC, the 28ft tall artwork was gifted to the UK by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010 on the condition it was permanently sited. It was originally placed in Battersea Park in 2011 but was removed after a few weeks. It languished in storage until this home was found. The then Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled it here in March 2015.
Well we are now at the end of our E20 walk, and one that has been unique given the fact that this is basically a new district. It is a huge area and one wonders how long it would have taken to redevelop if the Olympics had not provided the impetus. And whatever you might think of the developments, it does seem some thought has gone into to making this a “place”, albeit something quite different from what we are used to in London.
We are now close to the Westfield Shopping centre and Stratford International station. You can either go from there or else walk through the shopping centre to the main Stratford station where there are many more options for onward travel.