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The river flows through (or by) Luton, Harpenden, Welwyn Garden City, to Hertford where it changes from a small shallow river to a deep canal at Hertford Castle Weir, which then flows on to Ware, Stanstead Abbotts, Hoddesdon, Broxbourne, Cheshunt, Waltham Abbey, Enfield Lock, Ponders End, Edmonton, Chingford, Tottenham, Walthamstow, Upper Clapton, Leyton, Hackney Wick, Stratford, Bromley-by-Bow (past Fish Island), Poplar, Canning Town and finally Leamouth where it meets the River Thames (as Bow Creek).It forms the traditional boundary between the counties of Middlesex and Essex, and was used for part of the Danelaw boundary.
It was the channels created for these mills that caused the Bow Back Rivers to be cut through the former Roman stone causeway at Stratford (from which the name is derived).The spelling Lea predominates west (upstream) of Hertford, but both spellings (Lea and Lee) are used from Hertford to the River Thames.The Lee Navigation was established by Acts of Parliament and only that spelling is used in this context.Its valley creates a long chain of marshy ground along its lower length, much of which has been used for gravel and mineral extraction, reservoirs and industry.Much of the river has been canalised to provide a navigable route for boats into eastern Hertfordshire, known as the Lee Navigation.It seems to be derived from a Celtic (brythonic) root lug-meaning 'bright or light' which is also the derivation of a name for a deity, so the meaning may be 'bright river' or 'river dedicated to the god Lugus'.
A simpler derivation may well be the Brythonic word cognate with the modern Welsh "Li" pronounced "Lea" which means a flow or a current.The River Lea in England originates in Marsh Farm, Leagrave, Luton in the Chiltern Hills and flows generally southeast, east, and then south through east London where it meets the River Thames, the last section being known as Bow Creek.It is one of the largest rivers in London and the easternmost major tributary of the Thames.The name of the River Lea was first recorded in the 9th century, although is believed to be much older.Spellings from the Anglo-Saxon period include Lig(e)an in 880 and Lygan in 895, and in the early medieval period it is usually Luye or Leye.It also forms part of the boundary between Essex and Hertfordshire.