What was there before London’s Olympic Park?

olympic site

Artists impression of the completed Westfield Stratford City with Olympic Park in the background. (Photo by EG Focus, CC BY 2.0)

The London Olympics 2012 are about to begin. As you watch the opening ceremony and view the Olympic Park it will be hard to believe that this was once a landscape of marshland, and later an industrial site intersected by watercourses and railways which in recent decades had declined into an industrial wasteland.

The 250 hectares site is intersected by the River Lee as it makes its way south to the River Thames. In this area it spilled over onto a flood plain which became known as the Hackney and Bow marshes.

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On the site archaeologists have found evidence of an Iron Age settlement, Bronze Age occupation, and Roman flood defences.

This series of maps show the area during the 19th century. Scroll down the page on each link to view the map.

1800: Topographical Map Of The Country Twenty Miles Round London published by William Faden.
The Olympic Park is sited just below the words ‘Temple Mill’. This name originates from a water mill built on the site by the Knights Templar. A mill remained on the site until 1858.

Cary’s New Plan Of London and Its Vicinity, 1837.

Wyld’s New Topographical Map Of The Country In The Vicinity Of London, c1872.
At this time the railways begin to make their impression on the area. Lines criss-cross the site. To the south the Eastern Counties Railway, later the Greater Eastern Counties Railway, established a large railway depot.

Because of improved transport links, industry was attracted to the area and a wide range of factories and warehouses were built: oil manufacture, bone processing, ink manufacture, pharmaceutical companies, timber yards, meat factories, a gas production factory, and a steel tube fabricating plant. After the mid-20th century these industries declined leaving derelict buildings and their environmental legacies.

During the World War an anti-aircraft battery was situated on the site.

Also gave way to the Park was Hackney Stadium built in 1932 and used for greyhound and speedway racing – not at the same time, I should add.

I wonder how long it will be before our descendants look back and say, “This was once the site of the London Olympics, it’s all gone now”.

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