It’s fair to say that, because of the Covid19 restrictions throughout the past 12 months, London Shoes hasn’t always been able to keep up its usual strike-rate of undertaking and publishing 1 new blog per week, as it has done since Feb 2017 – however, with the forthcoming potential relaxation of Covid restrictions throughout this coming summer, it is Shoes intention to get back out-on-the-road, and start publishing on a regular basis again (health permitting) – as there is a plethora of stuff on my ‘to do’ list, that I want to knock-out.
Last week, Shoes boarded train for the first time in a few months – and took a short 20mins journey to, in terms of history, is a relatively ‘new’ landmark of interest on the map.
On an overcast day last week, London Shoes paid a visit to the “Olympic Park” in Stratford-E20 – a day which also provided some much needed exercise.
Now – being a ‘local’ I had the good fortune to witness the construction of the Olympic Stadium from its very beginning to the finished product – and was even lucky enough to cap that off by attending events at the Paralympics in 2012.
Also – being a West Ham Utd FC season ticket holder, I get attend the London Stadium (as its now called) every other week, to watch my beloved little “Appy ‘Ammers” (excluding half of last season, and this season….and we all know why that is!!!).
However, it’s not since its formal openings in 2012, that I have spent a day actually roaming around the Olympic Park, so last week was a perfect opportunity to get down there and check-out what’s happening – before the schools break up for Easter.
Before looking at the former Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Park – it’s useful to take a step back and recall the history behind the vast area of land that is now known as the Olympic Park – because it has a fascinating history.
Anyone who, in the past 7 decades or so, has done the train journey to and from London-Liverpool Street via Stratford, will be fully aware of what the land area, where the Olympic Park is now, looked like……it was one mass of dirty industrial wasteland – a right proper grim eyesore.
The entire area from Stratford heading north, taking in bits of Bow and Hackney Wick and beyond, to Leyton, was a battle-scarred industrial legacy commencing from the start of Britain’s ‘Industrial Revolution’.
Although it was the ideal place for heavy & light industry to be located, because of the areas close proximity to rail/road and the River Lea & the River Thames – all that sort of activity didn’t do the local area and environment much good throughout the last century or so.
Victorian land-filling – soap factories – gas works – heavy engineering – metal production works etc, all contributed to the land, (where the Olympic Park now stands), becoming some of the most contaminated in Britain – the soil was full of poisons that has accumulated over the decades, such as ammonia – arsenic – various fuels – tar – lead – chromium – and the local waterways such as the River Lea were equally highly contaminated. Not the sort of place you wanted to visit too often.
However – if all that area were to be cleaned-up, then potentially, it could be the ideal spot for a major world sporting event like the Olympic Games – and that is exactly what happened to the area.
In July 2005, London won the Olympic Bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.
It was decided that Stratford was the ideal site for the Olympic Stadium – mainly because of the large abandoned industrial wasteland area, and its rail / road / air / river transport hubs.
Before any work could commence, 52 electricity pylons had to be removed from the proposed stadium site, and all the power switched to travel via underground cable tunnels.
But the main ‘prep’ work involved the ‘cleansing’ of the toxic acres of contaminated soil – no mean task!!!
In 2008 the construction of the Olympic Stadium and the rest of the Olympic site, commenced.
Over 80,000 workers were involved in the building of the Olympic site – which included a Velodrome – Aquatic Centre – Hockey Centre – Tennis Centre and the Copper Box Arena.
Boris Johnson, who was London Mayor at this time, wanted something extra on the Olympic site, to define the London skyline – and so they forked out £19m to the renowned sculpture Sir Anish Kapoor, to come up with something – which was the ‘Arcelor Mittal Orbit’ structure – which, at 112.5 meters high, is Britain’s largest piece of public art.
I’ve been up to the top of the Orbit a couple of times, but that was a few years ago now. It now has a huge helter-skelter built into it, making it a very popular attraction – (certainly not my cup-of-tea though).
The huge Westfield Shopping Centre (aka Stratford City) that leads out into the Olympic Park – was opened in 2011, and is rammed most days. (pre-Covid of course)
The Royal Mail even gave the site its own postcode “E20”, which had only been previously used for fictional purposes in the TV soap “East Enders”.
Before the London Olympics even started, West Ham Utd FC won the bid for being the tenants of the Olympic Stadium following the Games.
This decision did not go down too well, and was deemed controversial in many quarters – even the faithful Hammer fans weren’t happy about leaving their Upton Park home, where they had been for 112yrs – and that controversy and anger, still continues to this very day.
The Olympic Stadium was converted into a football stadium, and renamed ‘The London Stadium’ for West Ham’s first league game there in August of the 2016/17 season.
Pre-Covid the Hammers were attracting regular home crowds of 60,000– to 63,000 – even though the team were playing diabolical football and not having any success. It’s just my luck as a season ticket holder – our most successful season for decades, has been throughout the Covid19 pandemic, in a completely empty stadium.
Displayed on the perimeter of the London Stadium is the massive ‘Olympic Bell’ that was cast for the 2012 Olympics.
At 6’7″ high weighing 22 tons, the Olympic Bell is the largest harmonically tuned bell in the world – and was cast locally at the local and very famous ‘Whitechapel Bell Foundry ‘ – the very same foundry that cast the iconic ‘Big Ben’ bell way back in 1859.
There is an inscription displayed on the Olympic Bell reads:- “Be not afraid – the isle is full of noise” – taken from Shakespeare’s ‘Tempest’ .
Today – the Olympic Park is the largest urban park in western Europe, and a lot of investment, time & work has gone in to making it attractive and interesting for all members of the public – there is something there for everyone, especially younger children – with playgrounds of different themes, all over the place for them.
It is heavily focused on being protective of the ‘local’ environment – with its ‘wetlands’ – ‘wild flowers’ & new ‘trees’ for the public to wander amongst.
There has been a seriously massive amount building work undertaken within and just outside the Olympic Park site, with creating thousands of apartments and homes – even new streets have been created.
During London Shoes visit last week, the Olympic Park skyline was a sea of large cranes working on even more construction projects – and clearly the Park is attracting some very interesting new occupants, namely:-
*The Victoria & Albert Museum will be opening an annex of the Museum
*The BBC are looking to relocate their current operations in Maida Vale, to the Olympic Park site in Stratford
*The Sadler’s Wells Ballet Company are in the process of having a 550 seater theatre built there.
* The University Collage of London (UCL) are having a new campus built at the site, which will accommodate 4,000 students.
*The University of Arts-London are also having a campus built there, which will house 6,500 students.
In terms of the London Stadium, then, dependent on the Covid19 situation – there are plans to hold a lot more open-air concerts there and a load more sporting events ‘close’ football season.
So – in conclusion, the entire Olympic Park-Stratford site – a positive Olympic legacy for old London town – and with all the construction work currently taking place around its perimeter and its interior, it is only going to grow in its stature and popularity – am looking forward to watching it continue to develop.
Summarised below, is the full gallery of photos taken to accompany this Olympic Park blog