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In vaulted spaces once used chiefy as storage units and garages, a revolution is afoot: a new generation of makers, producers and creatives has brought fresh life to neighbourhoods below the tracks.

Through the first half of the 19th century, Brunel and his contemporaries transformed the landscape of Britain with a web of hulking railways, bridges and tunnels. In London, great brickwork viaducts built to carry steam engines cut paths above the city’s streets. The infrastructure would inadvertently bestow a secondary gift upon the city. Nearly two centuries on, the railways’ negative spaces – once nothing more than gaps between ground and brickwork – have provided opportunity for London to grow. It is arguably the ultimate of upcycling projects: from nothing into an ever-evolving something, a legacy surely worthy of its pioneering heritage.

The weekend food market on Bermondsey’s Maltby Street

These arches share architectural DNA: a liberating sense of space overhead, walls that arc up and back down to earth without so much as a hint of a corner or buttress. When the shutters are raised, light foods in. It is striking that two of London’s most valuable assets – space and light – should be an original byproduct of an industrial revolution that threatened to dispossess its city dwellers of both.


London Fields has long dodged the spotlight, deferring to its bigger, brasher neighbour Hackney, the heart of East London. The opening of the London Overground line in 2015 has changed that: small, unassuming London Fields is now on the rise, known for its independent cafés, barbecue-welcoming park and local produce champion Broadway Market.

Morning dawns over Mentmore Terrace, and with it comes a yeasty waft of sourdough. The great glass doors to e5 bakehouse have been folded back, and its contents spill onto the sunlit pavement – families, laptop tappers, loafers with books. A dog sighs, chin to floor, under a table. The rumble of trains overhead competes with the whirr of a coffee grinder, and behind the counter, aproned bakers follow a well-rehearsed choreography from board to oven to high-stacked trolley.

Breakfast at e5 bakehouse;

It may look like a country bakery, but this is no small-time village affair: the team make between 500 and 1,000 loaves a day here and use only local, organic ingredients and renewable energy sources. It’s an ideal space for baking, because arches don’t heat up or cool down too quickly. The business has been a labour of love for founder Ben Mackinnon since it opened in 2010. ‘We knew we wanted to do things incredibly well. It took us two years to decide on a recipe for our Hackney Wild loaf, because there are so many perfectionists in the bakery. But good things take time.’

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Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Lonely Planet - September 2017
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