40 by 40 - update on the Moselle Brook

The Carbuncle Passage culvert at Pymmes Brook
The Carbuncle Passage culvert at Pymmes Brook

Congratulations to Joyce Rosser and her colleagues! 36 people joined the second Moselle River walk, from Wood Green to Markfield Park, on Sunday. As a late arrival I made up a 37th just in time for the last steaming of the wonderful Beam Engine and a couple of valuable conversations with Chris Barker and Ian McLaughlin. Filled with further questions I then retraced my steps for half the route. 

For the moment the Haringey Rivers Forum’s campaign to recognise and restore the Moselle is raising more questions than answers. As one sympathetic local politician put it to me integrated catchment management is still a ‘niche’ matter in Haringey. In that spirit our next meeting (with Professor Sarah Bell, environmental engineer at University College) will explore the issue of water quality in greater depth. Here I want to share some of the wider uncertainties about the Brook and its future. If we were to succeed in getting 40% of the Brook deculverted by 2040, what would be looking at?

Slow and silty beside Markfield Park
Slow and silty beside Markfield Park

A continuing question mark concerns the drainage chamber at the eastern end of Carbuncle Passage. The guide to the walk says the Moselle can be glimpsed here just before the railway. But is this really the river? On Sunday, after a day or so’s consistent rain, the silt on the bottom was no more than moist. Had the flow been diverted south down another culvert which branches off just after Scotland Green? Hard to tell. There was a fair amount of water moving sluggishly through the open culvert besides Markfield Park just before it meets the Lea but it hardly looked the body of water you’d expect from the substantial stream seen earlier in the day in Tottenham Cemetery. 

No more than moist silt despite the rain
No more than moist silt despite the rain

Where is it, for a start? For much of their length Haringey’s short hidden rivers are also part of the surface water drainage system. Their routes have changed over the years and plans for their culverts are often buried in the archives. An extensive survey of the culvert on the Heartlands by St William has shown it to be several feet east of where it had been assumed to be. Meanwhile the Haringey parks departments’ recent inspection of a culvert beneath Chestnuts Park, widely thought by some of us to be the Stonebridge Brook, revealed a storm drain with no more than a few millimetres of water in it. It may have been installed in the 1960s in anticipation of a housing development that never took place.

The Passage – room for a river here?
The Passage – room for a river here?

Perhaps instead the bulk of the stream was flowing into Pymmes Brook down another channel north-west of Ferry Lane (yet another culvert this time which follows Tamar Way and goes under Down Lane Park)? As far as I know - without donning waders - you can’t tell: the discharge takes place out of sight in a short tunnel beneath the main road. And who would be organising such changes of direction in the first place? Do such sluices actually exist? So back to square one. It turned out that there was a decent flow of water discharging into Pymmes Brook downstream of Carbuncle Passage (and after it crosses crossing beneath Tottenham Marshes.) That would suggest the chamber before the railway line isn’t the actual Moselle but part of a surface drain that sits on top of, or alongside, the main culvert.

The implication for the future – bearing in mind that flood risk management must come in as well – is that if a decent naturalised river is to feature in Tottenham it would require a consolidation of the three channels below Scotland Green. What would opinion be if Carbuncle Passage was taken up and the Brook restored there and then opened up across the Marshes? Is it feasible? How would it be paid for? And would the gains outweigh the losses? 

John Miles, Acting convenor, Haringey Rivers Forum

One comment on “40 by 40 - update on the Moselle Brook”

  1. An interesting commentary John. It's clear that there's more to the Moselle than we realise at least where it enters the floodplain east of the High Road. My view is that the sharp right turn of the river when it leaves While Hart Lane and then runs parallel to the High Road indicates that it was a drainage channel dug by the Romans when they built Ermnine Street - the course of the present High Road. East of that there were probably numerous ditches dug to drain the marsh. You're probably right that the drainage chamber at the end of Carbuncle Passage is not the river itself. Whilst there is usually no water in it there is a discharge into Pymmes Brook due east of that point.

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