Along the Riverbank

An afternoon photographing

Late one Saturday afternoon I took the half hour train ride out of London to the small town of Hertford. The purpose of my trip, apart from getting out of London for a short while, was to revisit and rephotograph the Gauge House at the head of the New River.

The Gauge House is an imposing building standing out from the King’s Meadows just outside Hertford. It is on the River Lea where the New River starts. The purpose of the building is, as its name suggests, to gauge the amount of water taken from the River Lea into the New River. The New River was built in the early seventeen century to supply fresh water to London and continues to do so.

When I first learnt of the Gauge House a little while ago I wanted to go visit it. I have explored other parts of the New River closer to home and it seemed appropriate to visit its other end. I was also struck by by the building’s grandeur as befits a piece of Victorian engineering. I had explored it a few weeks ago but as with most of the subjects I photograph I am always drawn back to them time and again. There is always something new to see or a new way of looking at them.

Hartham Common

My walk to the Gauge House started at Hartham Common on the outskirts of Hertford. This sits at the confluence of the Rivers Lea and Beane (two other rivers also flow through this area – the River Rib and the splendidly named Mimram). Today much of the common is now playing fields but it looks like it is prone to flooding; dotted between the football pitches were a series of concrete blocks with covers on top of them; from deep below I could hear rushing water.

Rising above the predominantly flat space and under a suitably dramatic sky they seemed an obvious subject to photograph, especially as the rays of light broke through the clouds. Last time I visited there were beautifully blue skies – which made for a pleasant stroll but more mundane lighting. This time there were banks of clouds with the late afternoon sunshine breaking through.

Gauge House

The clouds also became a feature when I reached Gauge House. I explored different angles on it including coming in very close and looking up at the walls against the sky, and then going further back and including the River Lea and a conveniently positioned canal boat. I also wandered around the back of the building and looked at the head of the New River. Last time there was more evidence of construction work taking place here. Whilst it is still going on (to strengthen Gauge House) the work in the water had been removed and I was able to capture this reflection of the building and the sky.


Two other features struck me that day and played a part in my choice of photographs. One of these was the reflections of the sky in the river and the way the water rippled over them. I took several photographs, some of people walking and cycling by, others of just the sky itself broken by circles and ripples on the surface.


The other thing that struck me (and I was conscious of all the time) was the brutalist A10 viaduct thrumming with traffic; its brutality had been partially softened by the graffiti that adorns its pillars. Photographically the road offeres a brilliant structure with its sweeping lines and strong shadows, especially in contrast to the meadows below. In the end, though I focused on the artwork – I loved its sense of creative subversion.

(Full disclosure – this photo was taken on my earlier visit. I was rather disappointed by the ones I took this time.)

An unexpected sunset

Eventually I needed to turn around and head back into Hertford, leaving the rest of the River Lea to be explored on another day.

This time I followed the River Lea back into the town centre. On the way my eye, and the camera lens, was caught by the lock keeper’s cottage at Hertford Lock; the eraly workings of a new riverside development in its early stages; and, closer into town, some allotments. I was struck by a group of sunflowers still mostly standing proud although towards the end of their season. Elsewhere the beds had already been cleared.

I left Hertford before the sun had set but on the way back I (along with my fellow passengers) were treated to a spectucular sunset.

Published by Stephen Taylor

Freelance e-learning developer and instructional designer, photographer and cyclist

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