Back in the 1960s the Lee Valley was largely derelict, ignored and unloved – known as “London’s privy, workshop and backyard”.

historical photo of Lee Valley Regional Park
Lee Valley Regional Park

The history of the Lee Valley is explored in at a new temporary exhibition charting the five decades since Lee Valley Regional Park was created.

From Wasteland to Playground: Lee Valley Regional Park at 50 runs at New London Architecture 3 - 27 July.

It accompanies a new book by Professor Tony Travers of the London School of Economics which shows how over the last half century Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, along with partners, has transformed rubbish dumps, gravel pits, scrap yards and industrial sites into glorious award winning open spaces and world class sports venues. The park now attracts more than seven million visits a year – from people taking part in sport in world class arenas to those enjoying open spaces that are home to a variety of British wildlife.

The book, also called From Wasteland to Playground: Lee Valley Regional Park at 50 is published in July and which shows how the valley has changed over the past half century.


The book and the exhibition trace how the Lee Valley became home to an array of industries, factories and workshops devoted to armaments, engineering, electronics and chemicals among others, as well as sewage works, rubbish dumps, scrap metal yards and railway sidings.

Wartime bombing, changes in industry and post war reconstruction meant that 50 years ago, much of the land in the Lee Valley was derelict, neglected and unloved.

Sir Patrick Abercrombie
Sir Patrick Abercrombie

Architect and City Planner, Sir Patrick Abercrombie, recognised what the Valley could be and, in 1944, suggested that it be regenerated to create a green lung and ‘a playground for Londoners’ in his seminal Greater London Plan

The plans lay largely dormant until the 1960s when the Mayor of Hackney, Alderman Lou Sherman – who also saw the region’s potential for leisure and recreation – took on the challenge to regenerate it. By 1963 he had the backing of 17 other local authorities and The Civic Trust. In 1966 the Lee Valley Regional Park Bill was passed leading to the formation of the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority in 1967.

Fast forward 50 years and Lee Valley Regional Park now provides state-of-the-art sports centres, urban green spaces, heritage sites, country parks, farms and nature reserves for everyone to enjoy.


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