This is a short history of the Leyton Lammas Lands. It concentrates on what has happened since 1890 to these lands on which local people have rights of access.

As Lammas Land local people have had rights of access for centuries and prior to 1904 local people also had grazing rights on 100s of acres of marsh land.

One of our reasons for writing this history is to draw to people's attention the fact that these lands are supposed to be protected by Act of Parliament as open space for recreation and relaxation.

We do this so that local people will be in a better position to protect their open space in the future.


After King Alfred drained Leyton Marsh and burnt the cakes, he made an Act by which the Marsh became Lammas Land for the grazing of local people’s animals. Between 25th March and August the lord could raise a crop of hay, but this had to be cut before Lammas Day, 1st August, when local people’s animals were allowed on to the land until the 25th March following.

1840 to 1880

The Great Eastern Railway bought stretches of land on Leyton Marsh for the London to Cambridge line in the 1840’s, in many cases without compensation to local people, as the Railway Acts of the time did not recognise Lammas Rights. Later sections of land were bought to build Temple Mills Marshalling Yards. By 1876, 176 acres of Leyton Lammas Land remained for the use of local people. Lammas Rights were now considered to belong to all the people of Leyton without regard to tenement (i.e. unlike many other areas of the country you didn’t have to own a house to have Rights).


The East London Waterworks Co. tried to get powers to compel the sale of Lammas Land, to enable them to lay rails and filter beds. Local people already agitating for the land to be preserved as open space refused to give up their rights.


On Lammas Day 1892 the Waterworks Co. refused to remove their rails and fences, thousands of local people, one of the largest demonstrations that had ever gathered in Leyton, met on the marshes and ripped up the rails and fences. The Waterworks tried to sue one of the demonstrators for damages, so local people set up the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee (LLLDC) and fought the Water Company in Court. The Water Company then admitted defeat, gave up all claim to enclose the Marsh, paid all costs and paid £100 towards a prize for a local essay competition on “The Duties of Citizenship”.


The work of the LLLDC culminated in the 1904 Leyton Urban District Council Act under which 111 acres of Lammas Land to the north and south of Lea Bridge Road where to be acquired by the Leyton Urban District Council: and be vested absolutely in the Council subject to all existing Lammas Rights...and the Council shall from the passing of such resolution and subject to the provisions of this Act hold the same... as and for an open space for the perpetual use thereof for exercise and recreation and shall maintain preserve manage and regulate the same as such accordingly.’’

Lammas Rights were not extinguished by the Act, which allowed for local people to receive other rights or money in exchange for their Lammas Rights. The LLLDC wanted ‘‘rights of recreation’’ in exchange for the Lammas Rights. The decision of the LLLDC to accept recreation rights in exchange is recorded in the Council minutes of 31st January 1905:-

That the Lammas Rights over the Lammas Lands acquired by the Council under and by virtue of the Leyton Urban District Council Act, 1904, be extinguished in consideration of the said Lands being devoted to the purposes of a Public Open Space or Recreation Ground, as provided for by said Act.”

The giving up of Lammas Rights was part of a contract between local people and the Council. The Council and its successors are under a contractual duty therefore to maintain the land as “...a Public Open Space or Recreation Ground..” perpetually. Perpetually here means uninterrupted use at all times as well as “for all time”, thus any fencing off and locking up is not allowed, This duty applied to almost the entire area of 111 acres, the sole exception being parcels of land of no more than 20 acres in total which could be exchanged or sold if the Council felt they were unsuitable for use as “open space or recreation ground.”

The map above shows the extent of the Lammas Lands. You will note that large chunks of our Lammas Land are now no longer Public Open Space or Recreation Ground:
a) The railway sidings now come much further north, the sidings were extended as far as Lea Bridge Road in the 1950s. The Gas Board also occupies some of this land.
b) The Lea Valley Riding School have now taken over all the land between what was once Low Level Brook (now the Flood Relief Channel) and the former Waterworks Aqueduct.
c) The Ice Rink now occupies much of the land between the Waterworks aqueduct and the River Lea, on Porter’s Field.


During both the First and Second World Wars parts of the Lammas Lands were used as allotments and in the Second World War prefab houses were erected for the victims of the blitz on the land that the Riding School now uses. Such measures are necessary when the nation is threatened.

However, it is possible that the time taken to re-house the prefab tenants after the War helped dull local people’s memory of the proper use of the land as Public Open Space or Recreation Ground, and this made it easier for the Riding School to be constructed, even though it involved the fencing off of Lammas Land.


The strength of the protection provided to our open space by the 1904 Act is evidenced by the way in which development pressures have been held at bay by them. On 3rd March 1949 a meeting of the Council is reported which decided to redevelop the Marsh Lane area as a Sports Ground and to provide Leyton Football Club with a Stadium on the Lammas Land. The Town Clerk however advised that: none of these developments could, at the moment be contemplated, because the land is Lammas Land...the only way the land could be used in the manner the Committee had in mind was by sanction of Parliament.’’

The Council resolved to get that Parliamentary sanction, but local people opposed them and petitioned the King. The Council then dropped the section of the 1950 Local Act in which relaxation of the 1904 Act and Lammas Rights contract was sought.


Parliament deems that the sections of the 1904 Act that set out: a) the use of the land as open space in perpetuity, and, b) the total restriction on disposal of land to no more than 20 acres, still stand.

1971 and after

Lea Valley Regional Park buys all the Lammas Land to the west of the old Cambridge Railway Line from the Council under a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO). The Park takes the view that it now has the absolute freehold of the land it holds and does not acknowledge the need to maintain it as Public Open Space or Recreation Ground as provided for in the 1904 Act or contract under which Lammas Rights were given up.

The Riding School has been built on the former Lammas Land and the Park has from time to time denied local people right of way over the land it occupies. The Ice Rink has also been built (partly on land sold by the Council to a private fairground at a time when the 20 acre limit for disposal/ exchange under the 1904 Act had not yet been exceeded and partly on Lammas Land proper). From time to time the Park proposes even larger developments, which would involve building on even more of the Lammas Land. Over the years the Park’s denial of rights of way over our Lammas Land has been resisted. Shortly after the CPO in 1971, people refused to stop using the ancient Porters’ Way route from the Black Path to Lea Bridge Road by Essex Wharf.

It is understood that the Park found that they were unable to deny people’s right to use that particular path. More recently, in 1993, the Park attempted to enclose a large field on Walthamstow Marsh for the exclusive use of Riding School and private horses.


In our view the Park’s compulsory purchase and occupation of the Leyton and Walthamstow Lammas Lands raises an important issue. Although the Act setting up the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority superseded the 1904 and 1934 Corporation Acts, it has never been clear whether the Park does in fact retain a duty to uphold the terms of the 1904 Act relating to the Leyton Lammas Lands. What is clear, though, is that local people in Leyton only gave up their Lammas Rights on condition that the land be used as Public Open Space or Recreation Grounds and that they were to have access to the land “in perpetuity”. Since then, local people’s attention has been drawn to several issues:

Existing paths have been closed off or diverted by the expansion of the Riding School, including the mediaeval “Porter’s Way/Black Path” route. At times, the Park has tried to erect warning notices to keep people out.

The Riding School is not cheap, and is therefore little used by the local community. Lea Bridge Ward is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in London.

The Riding School also operates a livery stable business. stabling privately-owned horses and ponies for the rich few who can afford this luxury.

The Riding School has expanded. and now has paddocks to the South of the Riding School buildings. This is on land formerly used by local families for informal picnics and recreation.

The School has encroached upon Walthamstow Marshes, enclosing a large wildflower meadow as a paddock and overstocking it with animals. This use was not allowed for in the Park’s own statutory 10 Year Plan. Frustrated horses kept here have ring-barked part of the line of poplar trees marking the Parish Boundary. As a result of the Park’s planning & development policies and the School’s expansion, especially its private stabling business, land intended as Public Open Space for all local people is becoming private land with access increasingly denied to the local community. This clearly goes against the contract made with local people when they gave up their Lammas Rights in 1904.


The Lea Valley Regional Park is not the only threat to our rights to use our open land. We must also protect the remaining part of our Lammas Lands still in Council care. In 1993 the Council proposed fencing off over one third of Seymour Fields at Marsh Lane so that it could be used only by people prepared to pay for the use of the football pitches. The Council also proposed an income-generating fenced off “Astroturf” football pitch, with a 15 foot high fence and huge floodlights. Three consultation exercises received an overwhelming negative response from local people. and Conservative and Liberal Democrat Councillors were persuaded to vote against the scheme and overturn it. However, pressure to generate income from our open spaces remains.

Waltham Forest Council is now committed to building the Leyton Freight Road (since the first edition of this leaflet renamed the “Leyton Relief Road”). In 1989 local people defeated plans to put Freight Road spurs across Marsh Lane Fields, but the Council and the so-called “Lea Bridge Gateway Partnership” are now driving the Freight Road scheme through, against massive local opposition and despite its rejection at the 1994 Public Inquiry. This would run alongside the railway line between Lea Bridge Station and the Leyton Yard hypermarket development site south of Ruckholt Road. It would cut the valuable wildlife corridor link between the Lammas Lands on either side of the former Temple Mills marshalling yards - Marsh Lane Fields and Dagenham Brook on one side and the Pitch and Putt course (and Hackney Marshes) on the other. It will bring noise, pollution, and yet more traffic on Lea Bridge Road, but make it impossible to put in any screening or landscaping in the event of the old marshalling yards being brought back into operational railway use (as a result of Channel Tunnel railway developments at Stratford). The Temple Mills sidings should have reverted to open Lammas Land on their disuse, but in 1981 the law on railway lands was changed and we can no longer enforce this. The former sidings are presently (1998) a naturally-regenerated birch woodland, recognised by the London Ecology Unit as a Grade 1 Site of Ecological Importance.

Preliminary works on the northern end of the Leyton Freight Road began on 5th January 1998. The former Tip Site at Low Hall Farm. designated as open space in the Lee Valley Regional Park, is being “remediated” for Allied Bakeries to expand onto - they plan to double their output by 2002, causing 4,000 vehicle movements a day. Construction of the main road contract is due to begin in late Autumn 1998.

If you would like more information, or want to join the fight to protect our Public Open Space for the “perpetual” use of local people, please contact:

1) New Lammas Lands Defence Committee, c/o Hornbeam Environmental Centre, 458 Hoe Street, London EI7 9AH. Tel: 020 8539 2156 or 020 8558 5527.

2) Southern Lea Valley Federation, c/o 19 Avon Road, London E17 3RB. Tel: 020 8521 4400

© 1998 NLLDC
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