Narrow Boats

Walthamstow Marshes is a tranquil and beautiful oasis between Hackney, Tottenham and Walthamstow. One of London’s last remaining semi-natural wetlands, it was formerly Lammas Land (land farmed by commoners) and has been designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. The River Lea which flows through the area, forming the Lea Valley – originates in Bedfordshire, flows through Hertfordshire, Essex, and London, joining the river Thames at Bow Creek. To many it comes as a surprise; this beautiful area, abundant with wildlife sandwiched in the middle of urban and overpopulated North East London, but for others it is a home.

Whilst the River Lea is no longer an essential artery for trade, it is still a lively and accessible area. Hundreds of people choose to live on the river, and have built an alternative community flowing throughout London and beyond.

These photographs focus only on Walthamstow Marshes, and the area around Springfield Marina. Springfield Marina has had a marina on the site since at least the 1930’s and was owned by the same family from the 1890s until the 1960s. Hundreds of people live cheek by jowl on house boats in the marina with permanent moorings there, whilst others are ‘cruisers’ – who, by law, can spend up to two weeks in one spot before moving on.

I have begun to document this community as it’s somewhere I find fascinating. My morning rush hour commute takes me across the river, and the train often pauses on the marshes as if to take in the peace before heading on into the heart of the city, just ten minutes away. I often wonder about what it’s like to live on a boat, and the freedom that might bring. So I spent several weeks chatting to people, some of who had lived on boats for generations, some of whom had only recently made the transition and some who spend their weekends there. I found a friendly and welcoming group with a genuine sense of community, of looking out for one another, and people who are in-tune with their impact on their direct local environment.

These images come at a possible time of transition for the River Lea. The Olympic Park sits on one side of the river, and this regeneration has seen thousands of flats being built along the river bank. For the duration of the Olympics, narrow boat dwellers will have restricted access to the canals and waterways due to security concerns. I wonder what the Olympic legacy will be for the people who live on the Lea and for those who treasure it.

These images were produced for the launch of Backyard magazine.