The Filter Beds

February 23, 2011

When you pass over the Bridge of Shit you come to a low brick wall running the length of the tow path. Pass though a set of iron gates and you’ll find yourself in ruins of Middlesex Filter Beds, a Victorian water treatment plant.

Concrete pathways rise from circular beds of twisted briar and converge on a giant stone circle. Service ladders disappear into pools of reeds. Fragments of machinery jut from the ramparts. You can run your hands over defunct cogs and the skeletons of old pulley systems. Everything metal has been coated in thick gloss black paint. It’s as if a volcano erupted and left this corner of the industrial revolution forever preserved in tar.

At first glance this place looks like a scene dreamed up by HG Wells. The Time Machine hurtles a shocked sewerage worker forward from 1895 to 2011. He wakes to see his workplace dried out, abandoned, bristling with reeds and trees.

He staggers across the mossy ramparts, weeping.

What happened here? What happened to the great leap forward for London? We were conquering the world with our industry, our thirsty workforce sated with clean water. How could it have come to this? Dear God, what has become of mankind? Who is th-

Oh.

Our sewerage worker has stopped at an information board. He sees a patronising cartoon of himself poking at the beds with a stick. There’s a description of how the dirty water was filtered through difference sized rocks. He runs his finger over the the logo of the Lea Valley tourist board.

He turns and takes a second glance at this place. He sees sawn stumps where trees have been felled. He sees the machete-hacked clumps of undergrowth. He sees a park bench beneath a giant steel pylon. He sees that someone has placed giant ceramic fish heads in one of the filter beds. A plaque tells him this installation is called “Rise and Shine, Magic Fish.”

“The wankers are still here!” he thinks.

If our Time Traveller had walked towards the other of the filter beds, more evidence of human existence would have startled him. In a corner near the wall by the Weir, huge rectangular blocks of stones lie toppled. A plaque tells the Time Traveller this is a construction titled ‘Nature’s Throne’ by a woman called Paula Haughney.

But as the curly haired man walking past with his cocker spaniel tells him:

“Ignore that shit. Everyone calls this ‘Hackney Henge.”

That man is me, by the way. I love freaking out turd-sifting Victorian ghosts. You could call it a hobby.

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