Hinterlands 3: River Lea Folklore

Enfield 2023-2024 is a grassroots placemaking for wellbeing, and future generations' projects. Artists and community partners will explore culture and community-led placemaking, folklore and climate action, even city planning (by children) along the waterways, and in partner venues. This community-led series of temporary interventions will reimagine, enhance and transform key spaces along the River Lea culminating in Enfield Biennial 2024.

Informed by cross-cultural research on the relationship between rivers and female deities in ancient pagan mythology and folklore, my focus for this project is to build and preserve folklore around The River Lea. The project will run in various strands of investigation, looking at: Collecting stories relating to the river and the local community, engaging people with a variety of creative workshops and using the activity of myth making to raise questions relating to the future preservation of the Lea. The focus of these activities is to create safe spaces for learning, sharing, creation and to revive a sense of respect and unity between the river and its people.

Chapter 01:  A Walk Along The Lea
The weather is warming up, but the sky is grey. As I follow the water from Bloqs to Stonebridge lock, I can see the reflections of the clouds along the canal. A heron swoops past me; a man paddles his kayak; boaters sit out in deck chairs along the path and for a moment, I forget that I am in London...

I turn to my partner “ I never knew this existed.” But, it is impossible to ignore the signs of industrialisation: Rusty metal piping, electricity pilons, graffiti and rubbish interrupt the landscape.

Despite the members of the boating community living along this waterway, I can’t help feel a sense of neglect. The land feels baron and desolate. The water feels forgotten.

Chapter 02:  Local Archives (Selected Research)

  1. Excerpts from The Enfield Lock Story - Extracts from an account compiled by Sylvia L. Collicott. Local stories and a sense of pre-industrialisation nostalgia (courtesy of Enfield Archives).
  2. Supernatural Stories - Extracts from London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of The World’s Most Vibrant City by Steve Roud (courtesy of Enfield Archives).

  3. A Brief History of the Lea - Text extracts and photos from multiple sources (courtesy of Enfield Archives).


Chapter 03: Women and Water in Folklore and Mythology (Selected Research)

Rivers and Female Deities


01. Miriam Reid. River Gods, Lake Monsters and the Abiding Power of Myth: How ancient and not so ancient cultures thought about water purity and contamination.Science History Institute Museum and Library. www.sciencehistory.org/stories/magazine/river-gods-lake-monsters-and-the-abiding-power-of-myth/

02. www.theoi.com/Nymphe/Naiades.html

03. www.pretanicworld.com/mythology/river-goddesses.html

04. Noémie Beck. The River-Goddess in Celtic Traditions: Mother, Healer and Wisdom Purveyor. Mélanges en l’honneur de Pierre-Yves Lambert, 2015. hal-03275671

05. www.brewminate.com/goddesses-in-celtic-religion-water-goddesses/

Chapter 04: River Lea Water Temple
I spent months researching the rich history of the River Lea and discovering its various stages of transformation in regard to how its local community used it; from being a territorial border, to agricultural land; a means of transporting goods, to a place of leisure and then an industrial hub.

My interest in the ancient world lead me to look at the various ways in which these societies cultivated and retained a sense of respect for their natural surroundings, which were fundemental to their belief systems. In particular, the construction and preservation of structures intended for localised worship, such as shrines and temples fascinated me.

I started to question: How did we use our rivers before we became a society fuelled by capitalism and consumption? When the various cultures and societies around the world followed localised ‘pagan’ beliefs and systems of worship, did we have more respect for our waterways? What was the role of a local river in day-to-day life for its surrounding community?

How could I start to engage the local community in building and preserving its folklore and history, to encourage an interest in respecting the water. This lead me to the Temple.

Chapter 05: River Walk, Scroll Making Workshop and Temple Inauguration

24th August 2023

As part of the River Lea event day in August, I co-organised a workshop with practical philosopher, Ayisha De Lanerolle, as a form of holistic research, to get participants thinking, talking and making, with their relationship with rivers in mind.

We started our day with a river walk, beginning at Stonebridge Lock and ending at Bloqs cafe. Ayisha and I initiated this walk with a brief introduction to the history of the river and some of our intial research, highlighting issues concerning community, ecology, river folklore and our personal relationships with water.

Guided with prompt cards created by Ayisha, we stopped at various key points along the river bank to discuss our thoughts as a group and tell stories.

One local couple, who had lived in the area for years, told of the logging indsutry that use to exist on this stretch of the Lea. They painted a vivid picture of these mountains of logs being transported up and down the river and that there was a strong smell of freshly cut wood.

We concluded our walk at the river temple I had created, which one of the participants inaugurated with an improptu magic trick!

Inspired by my research on Tibetan prayer flags, I had prepared some hand-dyed textile scrolls along with some fabric pens, for people to fill with their thoughts and stories relating to rivers. The idea was that the stories on these scrolls would carry with the wind, echoing the function of Tibetan flags, which are hung high in the mountains to spread good will.

In this workshop, I wanted to encourage creativity to materialise in whatever shape or form, whether that be through writing, figurative drawing, pattern or simply with colour. It was incredible to see how everyone’s creative output differed and to see so many adults and children engaging with this activity.

The day finished as I hung the scrolls inside the temple, inauguarating this space as a place of storytelling, community and preservation.

The temple and scrolls remained for the following month, blowing, moving and changing direction with the wind.

Chapter 06: Consolidation of Research

As I come towards the end of the year, I take a moment to reflect on what I have learned of The Lea so far.

Transitions in its function and its inhabitants throughout history. Local supernatural experiences and tales of witchcraft. Memories of its recent past. A spirit of community in its present. Visions of its future. 

Through both archival and holisitic research of The Lea, I have found that the water is not forgotten, but instead in need of revival and continued preservation by its local community. Inspired by the connection between rivers and femininity, which exists in folklore and mythology from around the world, I enter the new year with thoughts of a creative vision that adopts pagan ideologies and methods of ritual to revive the river. 

The below text was created using words and imagery from the scrolls created by members of the local community.

Wild, cluttered, the land around the river was divided.

Tread the 500. We tread in our ancestors footsteps.

Nettles and brambles invade the path, the Earth’s secrets are protected.
Bitter berries, tasting freedom.

Water calls out to us. The rapids flow and we are one with the water.

We fish and swim for leisure. We live and grow together.
Joy. Freedom. Connecting.

Hear a ripple.

The Water Flows.

I am the water bearer.

We move, we float, we drift. Free as a fish. Water helps my hair grow.

Fluidity, swirling, changing, moving.

Born in water. It is our nature.

Transformation. Divination. Protector.

Mother Earth.

If we build and preserve our river’s folklore... perhaps we’ll learn how to respect it.

Chapter 07: Echoes and Reflections 
January 2024
A crisp breeze cuts through my body and the sky is luminous with white winter light.

Branches push through from beneath the concrete path and there is a visible edge to the moss where our footsteps cannot reach.

The moss edges form miniature landscapes along the river’s edge. Muddy tracks show us where we have stepped.

Brambles grow through metal fences. Bird song fights against the whooshing sounds of the north cirular road.

Twisted trees. Broken trees. A single berry surviving winter.

An engine rumble ripples through the water.

Sancutaries are carved out from the river bank. Shrines and minaiture rooftop gardens.

Boaters stay warm and safe in floating houses, as the smell of wood and smoke burns through the cold air. Others make their way down the path quickly, passing through.

Echoes and reflections of our natural and urban worlds ripple through the water. 

Chapter 08: Ceyda Tanc Dance Workshop at Boundary Hall 

May 2024
This event marked the start of a collaboration between Ceyda Tanc Dance and myself in preparation for our final piece, which will be performed at the River Lea Festival in July. In partnership with Boundary Hall community centre, the group showcased several extracts from one of their dances in various locations within the Joyce and Snell’s Estate. This event was designed to give the community a preview of the final performance, but also encourage a sense of community through dance. 

Following these performances, women from this community will be invited to two creative workshops, which will focus on unpicking ideas relating to feminine power and understanding their personal relationships with water. These ideas will inspire the choreography and design of the final performance. 

It was an incredible experience to see how dance can bring people together. Two Turkish women took over the music and ended up teaching the dancers some traditional moves. 

... Followed by an invite back to one lady’s house for homemade borek and tea. 

Dance truly overcomes any language or cultural barriers.