Local Poet Keith Mowatt by Chalk Bridge 2021

The Poem
Our River Lea
by Keith Mowatt

The Lea has been our river
Since the days when we were kids
There was something special about the Lea
As it governed what we did

There was always a sense of adventure
An exciting time for me
A bunch of youngsters out for fun
When we all went ‘over the Lea’

The joy we got from river traffic
Following the barges along the bank
We’d watch cranes unload big tree trunks
Then watch them cut up into planks

If we were very lucky
And politely asked the man in charge
He would sometimes let us hitch a ride
On board his horse drawn barge

The seasons played an important part
In all things we did
Swimming in the summer
And diving off ‘Chalk Bridge’

Groping in the muddy bottom
To see what treasures we could find
It’s surprising what folk throw in the Lea
‘Out of sight, out of mind’

One day we found some metal ingots
While groping around in ‘the drink’
We sold them to the scrapyard
As they turned out to be zinc

We’d never had so much money
You’d had thought we’d won the Pools
The cash we shared didn’t last very long
As we frittered it away like fools

No swimming when when the seasons changed
It’s time for hats and coats
As kids we we still enjoyed the river
As it was time to sail our boats

Most of our models were of course homemade
In various shapes and sizes
Some of our models were destined to fail
But there were one or two surprises

It was considered to be a success
If your boat reached the opposite bank
Some barely got halfway
Then capsized and sank

Never mind, it was all good fun
And experience would show
Next time we’d make a better one
And have another go

I cycled to the Lea a few weeks ago
To the place where we used to swim
Supermarket trolleys, tyres and bikes were being dredged
By the local Waterways team

You certainly could not swim there now
The water looks polluted
Goodness knows what lies on the bottom
Waiting to be uprooted

The water was clean when we were young
And fishing became our sport
The train took us to ‘Rye House’
Where our river meets the ‘Stort’

We fished all stretches of the Lea
With fellow anglers who were keen
All the way up to Hertford
Where it meets the ‘Mimram’, ‘Rib’ and ‘Beane’

We’d shelter under the bridge if it rained
When we fished locally by the ‘Cooks Ferry Inn’
The North Circular Road ran over the top
We didn’t seem to mind the din

If weekend fishing didn’t go as planned
Our disappointment was put to rights
By Freddie Randall and his band
Who played jazz on Saturday nights

Although too young to go inside
We’d stand close to the door
Any enjoyed the music being played
And joined in the shouts for ‘More’

On the land behind the inn
Known locally as the ‘Cooks Ferry Hills’
We took our sledges and toboggans
When we were gripped by winter’s chill

The Lea was generally frozen
In the days when we were kids
With ice so thick you could walk across
As many of my mates did

The ‘Cooks Ferry Inn’ is no longer there
Demolished long ago
The North Circular Road still runs over the Lea
In a layout of new roads

The roads approaching the Lea have changed
As the local roadmaps show
The little used route over ‘Gasworks Hill’
Is now called Leaside Road

Entered from a roundabout
At the junction with Willoughby Lane
Where ‘Jamesons’ made their chocolates
And ‘Solomons’ shoes were made

A road little more than a country lane
Is now Meridian Way
Its now the A1055
And is busy every day

You cross a major junction now
On your journey to the Lea
And pass the land now being cleared
Where the Gasworks used to be

The land by the Lea is being prepared
A gradual clearance can be seen
Along the banks where once we fished
For Gudgeon, Roach and Bream

8000 homes will soon be built
They’re going to build another town
All the woodyards and factory estates have gone
And the offices pulled down

Some serious dredging will have to be done
And the banks will have to be altered
Building will soon begin by the Lea
A new development called ‘Meridian Water’

The new ‘Meridian Water’ station
On the City to Hertford line
Is going to be quite popular
When trains run regularly on time

The station has already opened
And the effects will soon be felt
With commuters into London
When all the new homes are built

The river that we knew and loved
Will soon be changing forever
Let’s hope the new folk look after it
And I hope it brings them pleasure

Our River Lea Poetry Trail is a community heritage project proposed to connect Angel Edmonton to Meridian Water, and the River Lea beyond.

It was one of 13 projects to be successfully funded by the Stories of Enfield grant, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The project concluded in Autumn 2022.

The Project
A Connective Poetry Trail

October 2022
Keith’s poetry reading at the concluding celebration of the Stories of Enfield project at the Culture Palace in Enfield Town.  As part of the project’s legacy, we published 'Book of Rhymes' - a collection of Keith's poems which touchingly capture his life growing up in Upper Edmonton in humorous detail.

September 2022
Photos from the launch of the poetry trail. A big thank you to those who attended and for your support, we received some wonderful feedback.

August 2022

November 2021 
Upper Edmonton is an area with a rich history that is on the cusp of major regenerative change.  The area contains a rich mix of diverse communities, from voices of the elderly who have lived in the area all their lives, to multicultural communities who have made their homes here in the past decades. Following the development of Meridian Water, the Joyce and Snells estate and the Upton Road area, Upper Edmonton will welcome even more new residents to the area.  To residents old and new, we wish to provide a glimpse into what life was like in Upper Edmonton in days gone by and how strongly it was and hopefully still can be influenced by nature and the River Lea, especially given the hard urban environment of the area.

The project seeks to explore the significance and impact of the River Lea to life in Upper Edmonton, through the memories of local poet Keith Mowatt, via a new poetry trail connecting Fore Street with Meridian Water.  The selected poem is ‘Our River Lea’, which reflects on his lived experiences around the River Lea, and musings on the future of life following the redevelopment of Meridian Water.  The poem joyfully and tenderly explores a variety of themes, evoking imagery from the area’s industrial past, fishing on the river, a changing of the seasons and climate, as well as nightlife and nature, offering a colourful portrait of life by the River Lea and a questioning, but optimistic window to the future.

Following our engagement event on 13th November 2021 held at Raynham Primary School, with your input the trail route has been updated to include Alston Road, birthplace and home of the poem’s creator Keith Mowatt.

The engagement event was held as part of the REACT November residents meeting and featured a presentation of the project, Q&A and a live recital of the poem by Keith Mowatt. 

We had lots of great conversations where you told us:
  • The trail route should be changed to include Alston Road, the birthplace and home of Keith Mowatt.
  • It would be great if local schools could become involved with the project.
  • You loved the idea of painted murals as part of the trail, though this pay be challenging in terms of seeking permissions.
  • If the trail could extend through the Meridian Water development, which is currently partly under construction.

Our River Lea Poetry Trail

START: Trafalgar Place Alley, just off Fore Street. The nearest shop is Threadz (previously Gift Land), 136 Fore Street, N18 2XA.
FINISH: Ladysmith Open Space park, N18 2DP on the corner of Kimberley Road and Ladysmith Road.
Find out more about the project at www.ourriverlea.co.uk

Poetry reading by Keith Mowatt in Pages & Blendz as part of the Fore Street For All event in December 2021.

The Poet 

Words by Keith Mowatt

I was born in the old North Mid in 1936 and have lived in Edmonton all my life.  I was educated at Raynham Rd School Juniors, and then on to the higher grade school in Wilbury Way.

I spent my working life in the furniture industry and still make the odd piece for the family.  I’ve lived in the same house for over 84 years.  I bought it together with my wife while serving in the R.A.F.  We brought up our daughter and son, who now have their own families, and now as a widower and great grandfather, I still live there with my memories, which form the basis of my rhymes.

The Scout movement played an important part in my life as a youngster, gang shows, camping etc. When I was 13, Ralph Reader chose me to play the lead in the ‘Boy Scout’ pageant at the Royal Albert Hall, with nightly shows for a week in 1949.  I remember broadcasting on the BBC “In Town Tonight” programme, and the “Voice of Scouting” on Radio Luxembourg.

Those of our old troop who are still alive are still in contact with each other and meet for reunions.  I was asked to write an article for our reunion dinner and it started to sound like a rhyme, so I thought why not? So that was the start of it all.  I’ve been writing rhymes as a hobby ever since.

Apart from the fairy stories which I wrote for the great grandchildren, all my rhymes are based on events, happenings, and incidents, in my lifetime.  I have a folder with over 60 rhymes.  Some will jog your memory of former years, some you may find daft, however they are all a bit of local history.

Past events:
Stories of Enfield celebration event.
Launch of poetry trail + Open House Festival walking tour.
Presentation and consultation at REACT’s residents meeting.
Presentation at Enfield Heritage Forum

Get Involved!
How do I take part?

The project has now come to an end however there are lots of ongoing opportunities to celebrate our local heritage.  If you have any enquiries please get in contact by using the contact link on the homepage.