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Essex Field Club
Essex Field Club
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Geology Site Account

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Walthamstow Reservoir Excavations, WALTHAMSTOW, London Borough of Waltham Forest, TQ350890, Historical site only

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Historical site only

In 1853 Parliament approved new reservoirs in the Lea valley between Walthamstow and Tottenham Hale to improve the water supply to London. The first reservoirs were constructed south of Ferry Lane in the 1860s and in 1869 the works were reported to cover more than a hundred acres with an average depth of excavation of less than 10 feet.

One of the first geologists to examine the works was Henry Woodward, keeper of geology at the Natural History Museum in London who reported his discoveries in the Transactions of the Essex Field Club. The floor of the reservoirs consisted of iron-stained gravel containing fossils from the last glacial (Devensian) period which included a tooth and parts of the tusk of a mammoth. Above this was the younger river alluvium of post-glacial (Holocene) age consisting of shell-marl and peat with abundant trees and other vegetation. Numerous mammal bones were found including those of wolf, elk, bison, wild boar and beaver. Of particular interest was the occurrence of beaver which was very abundant judging from the large number of trees that were found not connected with their stumps. Beaver dams must originally have been a common sight on the River Lea with streams converted by the beavers into a series of falls with large pools of deep, clear water.

Several decades later, in 1901, there were excavations further upstream for the construction of the Lockwood and Banbury reservoirs. These were visited at the time by parties from the Essex Field Club and the Geologists’ Association, the members being transported over the bed of the reservoirs by a locomotive with trucks fitted with seats. However, the reports of these visits state that a ‘steam digger’ was now in use leading to the finds of fossils being far less numerous, and offering a marked contrast to what was found in the 1860s when excavations were entirely carried out by hand digging.

Members of the Geologists’ Association visiting the excavations for a new reservoir in the Lea Valley at Tottenham in 1901. The photograph is of some historical interest as it shows the required mode of dress for geological excursions at the beginning of the 20th century! Photo © The Geologists’ Association


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Reference: Adams 1877-1881 (p.70), Cole 1902, Holmes 1901, Monkton 1902, Woodward 1883 (p.3-9).

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