Length: 74 km / 46 miles
Catchment: ?? km2 / ?? miles2
If we took a walk down the river Lea, we would start at the source at Five Springs which is located behind the flats at Marsh Farm, the water from these springs doesn't have far to go before it is joined by the flow from some stronger springs that bubble up by Sundon Railway bridge, between the two marshy woods known as Rotten Corner.
This stream then flows across Leagrave Common and receives a tributary called Knapps Brook which emerges from culverts under the railway embankment and Toddington Road. Napps Brook itself is a combination of brooks from East End, Houghton Regis and from the Lewsey Estate near the old Lewsey Farm.
The River Lea then crosses under Bramingham Road and follows a clearly defined channel across Leagrave Marsh. Recent work to clean up the river has included the construction of some small riffles which help the water to pick up oxygen and allow small fish to live in it.
Some seventy years ago the local youths excavated the soft mud to form a swimming pool from the widened and deepend river course. Normal river silting soon filled the hollow up again and its outline is no longer visible.
On the left the flat land is being cultivated in a group of allotments and no doubt the soil proves very fertile since it is the result of deposits from the Ice Age and more recent accumulations of river mud in the marshes.
Passing in from Mead Farm the river goes under a modern bridge at Neville Road. Older people may remember this a White Bridge which was the name of an earlier narrower structure with a ford for horse drawn vehicles at its side.
On the right bank you could until recently still see the remains of some fish stews used by the monks of Biscot in the middle ages to keep the fish they caught in the river until they required it for the table. The hollows were once extensive, but have now been filled and levelled during the house building.
A little further along the river meets the Old Moat House and its moat, the farm dates from about 1400AD and restored now serves as a restaurant.
The river then enters the left bank as the Catsbrook and then the river flows on between Riddy Lane perhaps once called Reedy Lane, and Fallowfeild Road, across flat land which is still marshy after a rain fall.
The Lea then crosses under New Bedford Road and Kingsdown Avenue and goes past some more allotments on its way to Stockingstone Road. This area was once noted for its osiers, thin whippy shoots of willow, which were regularly cut by the local basket maker.
Then comes a mistery, the Lea disappears into culverts under Stockingstone Road and is not easy to find again. In fact the culverts under lead it under the corner of Wardown Sports Ground and under New Bedford Road again, a bridge once known as the mud arch. It reappears to flow westwards behind some houses and gardens turning again between them and the swimming pool to disappear again, below New Bedford Road and re-emerge before it enters Wardown Lake.
Wardown Lake is of course artificial. Part of it was formed when the constructed at the downstream end in the latter part of the last century when the park was laid out as the grounds of the private residence, which is now Wardown Museum, The upper end which once a swimming pool, was easily excavated in the soft valley floor when the park was taken over by the council in 1903.
The River Lea then again passes under New Bedford Road to flow at the foot of the Moor, from this point for the next mile or so the river's course is not easy to follow. It is visible for a short distance by the Royal Hotel car park in Mill Street. It then passes under Mill Street and re-appears briefly at the exit of the co-op car park and then disappears below Bridge Street. The mill and the bridge give the street their name are bygone features of the rivers course.
Until recently it used to be possible to see the river where it passed near to the Engine Hotel in Bute Street but has now been covered by the construction of the Arndale entrance there.
The river again emerges and can be seen at the junction of Guildford Street and Church Street. Beyond Church Street the Lea is again covered again by Power Court. Again another brief appearance in Henry Street, then disappears below the new roundabout and then emerges again at the side of Windmill Road.
After this the River Lea then leaves Luton under Osbourne Road and then winds on to the lakes at Luton Hoo from there it crosses through Batford, Wheathampstead and Lemsford.
Eventually entering the Thames at Blackwall.
Luton is physically on the northern boundary of the London basin and its valley is part of the drainage system of the River Thames.
from "Our Luton", a geographical study. - JL Jenkins