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Loss of Common Land, historic landscape

Information in this section is taken from a statement by Katy Andrews, Vice-chair of the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee, made in February 2005, unless stated.

The Hackney, Walthamstow and Leyton Marshes are former Lammas Lands. This means meadows upon which parishioners had the common right to graze cattle from Lammas Day (the Celtic Midsummer Day, August 1) following the hay harvest, until Lady Day (old New Year's Day, March 25). These rights date back to before the Norman Conquest, and possibly pre date the Roman era.

Following the arrival of the railways in Hackney during the 1840s, Lammas Grazing Rights declined in economic importance and by the 1880s were little used in Hackney and Leyton, except on Hackney Downs (where an attempt at stopping commoners grazing led to a fierce pitched battle).

The Lammas Lands on Hackney Marshes were subsequently purchased by the Settlement of St. Mary Eton, in about 1890. This Settlement had been prompted by the manifestation of a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Eton College. St. Mary ordered the College to establish a Settlement in Hackney to benefit the poor children of the area, and the result was the purchase of the Lammas Lands and the setting up of what became the Eton Manor Athletics Club. This was also the start of amateur football and other team sports being played on Hackney Marshes.

In June 1894, the new Parish of Hackney Marsh was established, and Eton Manor gave the marshes to the people of Hackney in perpetuity for recreational use as open space. The Eton Manor Settlement also acquired some adjacent land in Leyton, now occupied by the Eastway Sports Centre, and Eton Manor became active in Leyton as well as Hackney Wick. The Eton Manor Athletics Club still exists and is now based at Eton Manor Cottage in Marsh Lane, Leyton. The original sports grounds on Ruckolt Road were subsequently purchased by the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, set up in 1967. All of the former Lammas Lands of Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes fall within the Lee Valley Regional Park. Most of Leyton's former Lammas Lands (except Seymour Fields, owned by the LB Waltham Forest) are also within the Regional Park's boundaries. All of these areas are designated as Metropolitan Open Space. Since the Regional Park was established, Hackney Marshes (although not Leyton or Walthamstow Marshes) have been registered as Common Land under the 1965 Act. This includes Arena Field, East Marsh and White Hart Triangle.

Grampian conditions attached to the planning applications state that the developing agency must provide exchange land for Common Land and open space taken up by Olympic developments, a procedure required under the 1981 Acquisition of Land Act. However, the New Lammas Lands Defence Committee were told by Hackney Council Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Cllr. Guy Nicholson, at the end of 2005 that planners were defaulting on this obligation. Since then, a clause has been inserted in the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Bill to remove this imperative. Thus Anne Woollett argues that the London Development Agency (LDA) are still legally obliged to find exchange land for areas taken. There are fears than no Common Land will be safe in the future if this precedent is granted. This deficit impacts particularly on the footballers of the Hackney and Leyton Sunday League (see Section 2.3).

We now need a commitment to a change of plan on East Marsh Car Park. The Games cannot make any claims to being 'green' or 'sustainable' while they steal Common Land, public open space and sports pitches for an Olympic car park. The LDA have now declared in a framework document published January 11, 2006, that they are not going to provide exchange land for East Marsh, in spite of the requirements of the 1981 Acquisition of Land Act and Grampian conditions attached to the planning application. It appears that the LDA have simply lobbied to legislate away their own statutory obligations.
Anne Woollett, Chair, Hackney Marsh User Group

Why did the London 2012 say they would not take any of the marshes, when, in fact, they have? And they are taking more at the moment. It's scandalous.
Laurie Wortley, environmental campaigner, Leyton resident; acting chair, New Lammas Lands Defence Committee

The LDA are also proposing to take open land to the south of Marsh Lane, E10, once Lammas lands and bought in 1899 by the Great Eastern Railway Company after several years of negotiation with the Leyton Lammas Defence Committee on behalf of the Commoners of Leyton, to resite nearby allotments, something highly contested by local residents who point the land out as a dump for WW2 bomb rubble and inappropriate for vegetable growing. They also complain of a lack of consultation over decontamination work. Publication of the Final Blueprint for the 2012 Olympic Park on June 7, 2006, now relocates the Hockey Stadium away from the Eastway allotment gardens site, and the NLLDC asserts that there is now no need to move the allotments to Marsh Lane at all.

The drilling [to test for contaminated soil] seems to have started with a lot of haste, and without the LDA having consulted the relevant statutory bodies beforehand. They seem to have no idea of what water courses lie beneath the area they are working on which their operations could damage. This lack of communication and consultation is typical of the high-handed way they have behaved ever since the announcement that the 2012 Games were coming to Stratford. Local residents and our precious open spaces are already being subjected to disruption.
Katy Andrews, vice chair, New Lammas Lands Defence Committee

This essay is part of the Games Monitor briefing papers available for download from our Media Centre page.