Church, hall, school, scout hut, performance space, meeting place, pub

From damp orchards and watercress beds to a hodge-podge of terraced housing, shops and small factories and workshops was a short journey for an inoffensive field in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  For the area between Boundary Road to the south and what is now Walthamstow High Street to the north, the transformation was especially easy as former common land and once-grand gardens went on the market.   And some of what was built survived only a few years, vanishing to make way for higher bidders.

But there are a few places and buildings that have survived unexpectedly, sometimes against the odds.  One of these is a smallish and outwardly unprepossessing structure, now dignified with the title of “Stafford Hall”.  It has been in turn scout hut, dance hall, a school for “mentally handicapped boys”, cinema and photography club, occasional performance space and pop-up pub.  But first of all it was a church.

St Barnabas: The Iron Church in 1903, when it was being used for services

Iron churches were not unusual at the turn of the twentieth century;  this one was bought second hand for £40 from Battersea, and cost an additional £70 to move and reconstruct.  The plot of land that accommodates it as well as St Barnabas Church next door and its vicarage had been donated by H J Casey, city businessman, property developer and owner of The Priory, a grand house in Forest Road.  This was a usual piece of philanthropy at the time – Casey, like many others who were making a second fortune from land, might give away a small patch of their profit to provide the ground for a church for the occupants of the hundreds of new houses.  Commercial premises were automatically part of the plan.  But churches costed – it was a piece of good luck for this relatively poor area that there was a millionaire philanthropist down the road. 

In fact, though, the first ancestor of St Barnabas church was the parlour of Mrs Elizabeth Tracey of Stafford (now St Barnabas) Road.  The Traceys’ must have been a busy place in the 1890s, as only was it home to Elizabeth, her husband Matthew, an iron moulder and children but the living room in their small house was often used for choir rehearsals, prayer meetings and a Sunday school.  Heartbreakingly but not unusually, Elizabeth had borne ten children, of whom only five survived to adulthood – and this was a moderately prosperous family. 

But at the end of the decade the Traceys got their house back.  The original plan had been to use the plot opposite as a mission church, as was often done in the case of newly built-up areas.  Before the 1870s, the nearest church was St Mary’s, a good twenty-minute walk away, mostly across fields in the days before Queen’s Road was laid out to allow access to the new cemetery, opened in 1872.  And, contrary to some assumptions about nineteenth century history, by no means everyone went to any kind of religious service as a matter of routine, and certainly not if it meant two longish walks

Markhouse Road, or rather Lane, was to become the setting of a large and impressive church largely because of the chance of inheritance.  Richard Foster was a City merchant and devout Anglican, and was the heir of his uncle, James Foster, who had lived in a house in Markhouse Lane since the 1830s.  On his death he left much of his estate to Richard, who offered some of the land to the Church of England.  This was the plot that was to become St Saviour’s, built at Foster’s expense.  The architect was T F Dolman, whose design was in the thirteenth century style of the height of the Gothic Revival.   Over the next thirty years, Foster was to spend the equivalent of several million pounds on building churches both in Walthamstow and other newly expanding suburbs. 

St Saviour’s Church in 1916

St Barnabas Church was to be Foster’s final church building project.  The “Iron Church” was in operation by 1900 – it was realised at the last moment that there was no font, so the newly appointed churchwarden, a mason by trade, made a wooden font  overnight.  It was then consecrated by the Bishop of St Albans, and remained in use until the permanent structure was ready.  Foster took part in a ceremony to “cut the first sod”;  there was a lunch afterwards in the iron church.  In his speech, Foster said this last project was a thank offering for a life which had held many blessings.  He was to live to see the permanent church completed, but made only a modest contribution towards the hall that is named after him.

Richard Foster “cutting the first sod” at St Barnabas on his 80th birthday in 1902

So the iron church went on serving as the parish hall for fifteen years after St Barnabas’ Church was completed and the large and elegant vicarage made ready for its first occupants.  This was, and is, the grandest house in the neighbourhood, which was a relatively poor one.  Rather ironically, one of the first parish magazines, dated February 1905, reports that soup had been made at the Vicarage for the benefit of those who were suffering from “slackness of work”.  It was, however, sold for 1d per quart.  The recipe is not given. 

In recent years the name of Stafford Hall seems to have become official.  There have been several very popular pop up pubs there, and at the time of writing it is, after a coat or two of paint and the addition of several sofas, seeing service as a warming room.  

St Barnabas Church when just complete, before the Vicarage and Foster Hall were added

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The Chestnuts: slave traders, bankers and a long wait for a new chapter

At the turn of the nineteenth century, Hoe Street was still a well kept suburban  road.  The houses along each side were spacious, so were the gardens – these were on a less grand scale than country houses in the shires, but needed perhaps half a dozen indoor servants to run, with gardeners, grooms and coachmen too.  This was the leafiest of suburbs. 

Hoe Street was home to people on their way up or down in the world, usually as they made or lost a fortune in the City.  This was certainly true of The Chestnuts in the late eighteen and early nineteenth centuries.  Many residents only stayed a few years, often moving on to a grander, more permanent home – if their luck in the games of City snakes and ladders held good.  In some cases, little is known what later became of them. The house they lived in remains, in many respects, little changed.

Detail of the original plasterwork on the main staircase

One of the better documented is William Alers Hankey, much respected in his time, but whose memory is less than comfortable for some.  Born in 1771, the son of Thomas Hankey and a Miss Alers who was probably the governess in his household, Hankey was educated at the University of Edinburgh, returning to London to enter his father’s bank.    He was evidently a successful businessman,  and gained his father’s esteem to the point of being allowed to add the surname Hankey to his original name of William Alers.  He lived first in Hackney, later taking on the tenancy of The Chestnuts.  He had married Maria Martin, the daughter of a colleague, and he settled down to being a domestic tyrant, requiring his daughters to address him as “Mr Papa”.  Hankey was instrumental in the missionary society movement, and a co-founder of the Foreign Bible Society – there is a town named after him in the East Cape.

A memorial to William Ayers Hankey is still in place in the East Cape

Hankey was among those who claimed to support the abolition of slavery.  He appeared before a Commons Select Committee maintaining  that he wanted to free the 300 slaves he owned on the Jamaica sugar plantation his company had acquired via a mortgage default.  However, he considered that preparation was needed because the condition of enslavement was degrading so enslaved people needed religious instruction before they were fit to deal with freedom.  He had bought and sold slaves as late as the 1820s. When compensation was allocated in 1837, Hankey’s share was £5,777 8s 0d (the equivalent of at least £1.5M today).  He died, aged 88, worth £250,000 – multiply by at least 150 for modern values:  a multi-millionaire.

Hankey’s successor at The Chestnuts  was another City merchant, but a very different character.  Mr Powell, a merchant of Mincing Lane moved his family into the Chestnuts in 1854.  Among his children brought up there was his son, Frederick, a delicate boy whose life was often despaired of.  But he lived to grow up, studying Anglo Saxon at Oxford, later becoming Regius Professor of Modern History and helping to found Ruskin College.  He described himself as a “socialist and a jingo” politically, and a “decent heathen Aryan” in terms of religion.

The last family to live in The Chestnuts were the Reads.  John Read had been born in Jamaica, the child of relatively poor parents – his father was working in a clerical job.  He was sent home aged only four months to live with his grandparents in Woolwich – the young John went on to become a successful stockbroker, putting aside his musical ambitions until he had made enough money to marry and then to settle his wife and six children in a substantial house in Walthamstow, first in Marsh (now High) Street, then moving to the Chestnuts, where they were to stay over twenty years. 

J F H Read, as he was usually known, became noted in the area, where he served as a JP, as a supporter of many charities, as the Chair of the Schools Board and in church circles – he was a church warden of the then newly built  St Saviour’s Church.  Now with time to spare to devote to his music, Read played the viola in the Stock Exchange orchestra, and began to compose music;  many of his pieces were played by the orchestra of the Walthamstow Musical Society.  Lacking a venue big enough for his orchestral pieces, Read put up the money to build the Victoria Theatre in Hoe Street – it occupied the area where the Granada cinema now stands.  Read was also churchwarden at the newly built St Saviour’s Church, and wrote many pieces to be played on the organ there.

J F H Read, photographed in the 1890s

In the time it was the home of the Read family, The Chestnuts was run on comfortable lines, with a domestic staff including a cook, two housemaids, a general servant, a coachman and a stable keeper as well as a governess and nursemaid listed in the 1881 census.   Two of the sons were away, presumably at school, on census night, but four of the Read children were at home.  This was a house with twelve main bedrooms as well as servants’ rooms on the second floor.  Ten years later, the 1891 census lists a similar number of servants, but the governess has departed as all the children are now grown up.  As this was a time when all heating was by open fire and coal and hot water had to be carried, this was a fairly modest staff to run it.  There were also extensive gardens, running southwards to Boundary Road and westwards to Chelmsford Road.  No gardeners are listed in the census, but it is likely that at least one gardener was employed but lived elsewhere.

Read’s obituary tells us he died “a comparatively poor man”.  Certainly, although he retired at least twice but returned to work to top up the coffers, he finally gave up The Chestnuts and moved to a house with only eight bedrooms.  The 1901 census return, taken just before his death, finds him widowed and living in Wanstead with three of his daughters, two nurses, a cook and a house parlourmaid.  His eldest daughter Mary is now listed as a professional musician – she was to go on to have a successful singing career in the years following her father’s death. 

It is sad that Read is scarcely remembered in Walthamstow, despite his years of service and of philanthropy.  His grave, in Queen’s Road Cemetery, was resold in the 1970s and is covered with a memorial to the new owners.   The Chestnuts was sold to the local authority, and was used for twenty years as a mental hospital – in the terminology of the time a “woman’s lunatic asylum”.  Minimal alterations were made for its new use, but these included nets under the first floor landing so as to reduce the risk of any patient throwing herself downstairs.  The house  has been used for a variety of educational purposes through much of the twentieth century, but is currently lived in by property guardians

Local schoolchildren rehearsing on the main staircase at The Chestnuts

The Chestnuts belongs to the people of Waltham Forest, and after multiple false starts, there is still no sign of a plan that will restore this precious survival, currently badly neglected, and ensure it is made accessible to everyone.  Just before the pandemic Clio’s Company arranged some school visits, events  and an open day.  On just one afternoon there were over 400 visitors of all ages.   A “to let” sign went up in early 2022.  Now, in September, it is still there.

Poem written and presented by one child in response to a visit to The Chestnuts

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Music – and a dark lady?

A time traveller going back five centuries would be likely to get lost In Walthamstow.  St Mary’s Church is in the right place, but is a different shape, inside and out.  The Ancient House is more reliable, but lacks a wing, is weatherboarded and surrounded by farmland.  Hoe Street is there, without a single chicken shop, and fringed with substantial houses set back from the road.

St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow

This was a desirable place to live, with good farmland, but within easy reach of London.  In the 1520s there were 99 taxpayers, which probably indicates a population of about 400.  And by the sixteenth century Walthamstow was home to a number of City merchants.  One of the most influential was Sir George Monoux, a draper and former Lord Mayor London who bought a large house and estate just outside Walthamstow.  He was generous to his new community, founding a school and almshouses and paying to have the parish church virtually rebuilt.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century London was not in the first division of European cities.  With a population of around 30,000, it was dwarfed by not only Paris, which was perhaps seven times bigger, but Milan, Venice, Florence and Naples.     This applied, too, to the economy, battered by civil war, and to English culture, as there had been less money or resources to spare for art and building.

Early Tudor London was hardly bigger than the present-day City, covering just about a square mile.  Tower Hamlets were indeed hamlets, there was some small scale development south of the river at Southwark, and Westminster remained a separate city, reached via the Strand, although this was lined with grand houses belonging to an assortment of nobility and bishops.  But Henry VIII was determined to raise the status of his capital city, and of his court.   When he was crowned king in 1509, he was a cultured, athletic and ambitious eighteen year old – and the royal exchequer was healthy after a quarter of a century of Henry VII’s enthusiastic tax gathering.  And the new king was happy to take the credit for the building and cultural work his father had begun.

So the young Henry VIII, inheriting a full exchequer, began a programme of enthusiastic spending – on building new palaces and on improving those he had, on defence, especially ship building, and on surrounding himself with the best artists, artisans, designers and musicians to be found, anywhere.  King Henry’s ambassadors and agents soon began to recommend talented makers who might adorn the English court.  And ambitious people from all over Europe began to think of London as a place to make their career and their fortune.  The painter Hans Holbein was to be one of these.

Page from Psalter made for Henry VIII

Venice was one of the independent states that made up sixteenth century Italy.  It also had its own overseas possessions, including Crete, and had for centuries been a centre for international trade.  The city had a diverse and international population as a result of all this. Although its political influence was beginning to wane, it remained one of the great European centres for all the arts.

The Bassano family had appeared in Venice in the late fifteenth century.  The surname they finally took was that of the village in the Veneto where they lived for a while, probably making a living by trading in silk.  There is some evidence that the family was of Jewish origin, moving from Sardinia or Portugal when Jews became unwelcome there.

Sometime in the early 1530s the Bassanos were approached by one of Henry VIII’s agents about the possibility of moving to London, and four of the brothers, Alvise, Anthony, Jasper and John, were invited to England to play for the King.  They stayed for about a year, playing in one of the bands that were employed at court, on standby to play for Royal guests, but then returning to Venice.  But in 1538 all six of the younger generation of the family moved to London, bringing with them their whole stock of instruments, and taking permanent court appointments.  The grandfather of the family became known by the surname “Piva”, meaning “bagpipe”.  And at some point the Bassanos moved from silk to music, with some success, as they obtained a place at the court of Venice’s ruling doge, where they both played and made musical instruments.  The memory of the silk was kept alive by the maker’s mark they chose for the instruments they made:  two silk moths.

Sometime in the early 1530s the Bassanos were approached by one of Henry VIII’s agents about the possibility of moving to London, and four of the brothers, Alvise, Anthony, Jasper and John, were invited to England to play for the King.  They stayed for about a year, playing in one of the bands that were employed at court, on standby to play for Royal guests, but then returning to Venice.  But in 1538 all six of the younger generation of the family moved to London, bringing with them their whole stock of instruments, and taking permanent court appointments. 

The Bassanos also found premises, first in the former monastic buildings at the Charterhouse, then in Mark Lane near the Tower of London where they set up a musical instrument making business.  Like almost all Londoners of their time, they were churchgoers:  their names appear on the records of All Hallows by the Tower, where members of several generations of the family were to be buried.  A plaque to one of them is still in place.

The Bassano memorial at All Hallows by the Tower

And once they were settled and prosperous enough, the Bassanos began to buy property away from, but within reach of, the City.  Walthamstow, with its good communications and rich farmland, was not a surprising choice.  The first  Bassano house here, on what is now Walthamstow High Street, was called The Starlings – as time went on other members of the family  bought houses and property locally.  It is likely that, like other City people, they commuted here for peaceful weekends and holidays away from the noise and dirt, and that their children lived here full time.

In early Tudor times most music was played, sung and listened to in private houses and churches.  Not only was there no recorded music – there were no public concert halls, and public theatres only began to appear later in the century. For most people, if they wanted music they would  play and sing it themselves.  Any educated person was expected to be able to sing, dance and, preferably, be competent on one or more musical instruments.  This was especially important  for anyone hoping to get a job in a grand household (and this was the usual way up in the world).  Students going to university or law school were often provided with musical instruments as part of the equipment they took with them.

Musical instruments were prized items, and the Bassanos were clearly skilled and adaptable makers.  An inventory of a wooden chest of instruments for sale lists over a dozen different kinds of wind instrument, and there are other references to stringed instruments such as an inlaid ebony lute.   The Bassanos, like other makers, signed the instruments they made, in their case with two silk moths. Probably in reference to their silk-dealing past.   And these instruments often sold for high prices – Sir William Petre of Ingatestone Hall paid nearly £1 for a lute for his son – this at a time when £5 a year was a decent income.

The six brothers all had children of their own;   many of them became musicians and instrument makers – there were Bassano musicians at court until at least 1630, and over the intervening years most of the sovereign’s musicians were family members or part of their circle. The name of one of the second generation, Emilia Bassano, later Lanier, has recently  become famous as there is evidence she may have been Shakespeare’s Dark Lady of the Sonnets.  And it is now claimed that this exquisite miniature by Nicholas Hilliard is of her – certainly the sitter has silk moths, the mark of the Bassanos, embroidered on her bodice.

Emilia Lanier, nee Bassano by Nicholas Hilliard

There were Bassanos in Walthamstow and nearby at Waltham Abbey for at least a hundred years – one of them had to pay extra tax in 1615 instead of helping to maintain local roads.   And in London, there were Bassanos living at their house in Mark Lane until at least the 1640s.  There were a number of families of Italian descent in the area.

In the nineteenth century the name Bassano again became famous when Alexander Bassano became a fashionable photographer specialising in rehearsal shots of theatre productions – this one is from a “Henry VIII” of the 1890s.  In the 1960s Bassano and Vandyk were well known society photographers – and there are Bassano musicians in London today.  As to their instruments, only a few years ago a Bassano recorder, complete with silk moth logo, was found for sale in a market – still in a playable state.

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Six hundred years of shape changing: Walthamstow’s Ancient House

A wing of it, beautifully restored,  recently went on the rental market for around £2,000 a month.  A hundred years ago it was a row of rather sorry-looking shops.  Before the first Tudor became king it was already too small and old-fashioned to be a manor house.  In between it has been a farm, an auction room, a bike repair shop and a café.  It was saved from collapse and given a new roof in memory of a local  builder in the 1930s.  It has featured in countless photographs and indifferent paintings.  It only became known as The Ancient House of recent years.

The Ancient House during restoration, with a view of the crown post roof

There has been a house on the site, conveniently situated opposite the equally ancient St Mary’s Church, since perhaps the twelfth century, when Ralph de Toni married Alice, a niece of William the Conqueror.  Their descendants were, initially, Lords of the Manor of Walthamstow.  As time went on the manor was divided up, initially into two – the high and low halls.  But the high hall became known as Walthamstow Toni, and over time several other manors were chipped off the two main ones.  And it seems that the first manor house was no longer big enough or up to date enough for the tastes of its late mediaeval occupants.  So they built themselves a new home in what was one day to become Shernhall Street (its stables and outhouses were still in place until a few years ago).  And it looks as if the old manor house – probably a hall with a fire in the centre – was demolished and replaced with the current one.  The beams of its roof were still trees in the 1430s.

That new house appears to have been rented out as a farmhouse, complete with a small parcel of land.  It may have belonged initially to the Vicar of Walthamstow, John Hill, who owned several properties locally.  From the description, this could have been a property called Kykelwoldys, one of the houses Hill left to various relatives in 1480.  The property was a copyhold – a form of leasehold – from the Manor of Walthamstow Tony, and was home to a number of different residents in the next two centuries.  By 1757 the building had gone down in the world, becoming two separate dwellings, both owned by one Theophilus Green.  Walthamstow was growing, albeit slowly, now with a population of around 3,000.  The main commercial area was still around Orford Road – Hoe Street and Marsh Street (the present day High Street) were lined with grand houses, mostly in extensive gardens, for the most part the homes of City merchants who needed easy access to their places of work.  They would have scorned the Ancient House as being too small and too old fashioned.  It survived because it went on being useful.

The Ancient House features on an early twentieth century postcard – still in use as several down to earth shops and workshops

Through most of the nineteenth century the building was in use as several small shops, a workshop and, at one time, a smokehouse.  It became very run down, and, in the 1890s, narrowly escaped being sold as being “ripe for development”.  At that time the commercial centre of Walthamstow was moving with the arrival of the new Hoe Street station (now Walthamstow Central) and development further north and west.  Marsh Street became the High Street, the outdoor market arrived, and the grand houses began to be replaced by shops.  Yet also at this time Walthamstow, as other places, became aware of its own history.  The Antiquarian Society was founded, and some of its members began to write, in the local paper and in their own publications, about the history of the area in terms both of buildings and of people.

The Ancient House gained its name but continued to go downhill.  Early twentieth century pictures show it with a weatherboarded front and a sagging roof.  The Fuller family, already established as local builders, bought and restored it in honour of their grandfather.  Two thirds of the weatherboarding went, and the building was given what was then regarded as a Tudorbethan appearance.  The Fullers continued to let it out as several small shops for some years – by the 1980s these became flats, and in 2000 more structural work was needed, and different choices made in terms of windows and the layout of the courtyard garden.  The flats, relatively small, were charming but without central heating.  The one in the central range included a hallway open to the roof with a mezzanine bedroom including a large and much needed fireplace.  It was worth the effort of carrying coal, as this was the one way of keeping warm on a bitter night.  Now it appears that there is central heating – less authentically early modern, but with far less carrying involved.

This romantic image dates from the 1930s, after the restoration – the car almost certainy belonged to the owner of the garage round the corner

There are benefits and drawbacks to living in an icon in what is now termed “the heart of Walthamstow Village”.  Residents have to get used to would-be visitors peering through the windows and scrabbling at the doors at all kinds of hours, hoping for a guided tour. But there is always the prospect of coming home to beauty and having an evening drink surrounded by six centuries of history.   The tenants of the past century or so would certainly recognise the place, but would probably be bewildered by the curious or envious eyes outside.

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Shadows and Damp: the early days of The Chestnuts

Three centuries ago the trees met over the head of any traveller up Hoe Street. A time traveller from 2022 would depend on the street layout to be sure of the way – Hoe Street runs the same course, but with an unreliable surface and little lighting.  There are houses, but only a few, mostly large and set back from the road in their own grounds.  Heading north, the High Street, too, is in place, but called Marsh Street.  It, too, is fringed with substantial houses;  no market, few shops, and the marshes in the name are evident underfoot.  Further north again, Forest Road goes under the name of Clay Street.  There is farmland, claypits and, again, a few large houses.  In the hamlet that will one day be Walthamstow Village there are the first possibly-familiar buildings:  St Mary’s Church is in the right place, but with worryingly different porches and windows;  the Ancient House is there, covered in weatherboarding and with a farmyard behind.  And that’s where the shops are.

This is a world where Walthamstow is scarcely big enough to be a town.  A century before the advent of the railways, the residents of many of the substantial houses are  affluent people who have a central London home as well as a larger, weekend house a comfortable carriage ride away.  In the 1660s Samuel Pepys could set off first thing and be in Walthamstow in time for a late morning dinner with Sir William Batten.  Later in the eighteenth century there was a stage coach service to and from Bishopsgate for daily commuters.  And the poor, wanting to take goods or live animals to market could always walk along the Black Path as their ancestors had done.

Hoe Street in the 1870s – the Chestnuts is behind the trees to the left. Image courtesy of Vestry House Museum

Still relatively small – its population had risen to about 3,000 by 1800, Walthamstow was never a country backwater.    Some of the City merchants who lived in the grand houses had international business interests, and were used to dealing in property as well as in other commodities. Only a few of the richest and most influential families, such as the Conyers and the Maynards stayed in the area for several generations.  Much of the area round Hoe Street was owned by the Conyers family at this time – it was they who had built the mansion one day to be called Grosvenor House, leaving its name to Grosvenor Park Road and surviving two world wars only to be burned down, possibly by accident, in 1945.

Rich though they already were, the Conyers were not averse to lucrative property deals.  It is not  known exactly when and with whom they agreed to lease a plot of land south of their Hoe Street home, and who built the first house on the plot where the Chestnuts now stands, squeezed between a garage and a school.  But we do know that it was surrounded by a garden, orchard and farm buildings.  The first resident may have been Lancelot Staveley, a London merchant and stock holder in the East India Company.  He was very typical of the people who were to live in the substantial houses in the area – this kind of property was among the desirable status symbols made accessible by a City career, and that career often had international connections.  These were people used to travel and change, and very often the merchants either became so rich they moved on to grander surroundings than Walthamstow or their fortunes foundered and they vanished downwards in the game of City snakes and ladders   

Early maps, such as the one made for the Forbes family, do not show the Chestnuts, although these were a way of recording property owned individuals rather than providing a complete record of the area.  But there is a 1722 lease between John Conyers and an Inner Temple lawyer, Edmond Clark.  It is clear that the agreement makes official an existing state of affairs – this was a house that had been in existence for some years, and had been home to a previous Edmond Clark, by then dead.  The plot of land, or messuage, included gardens, outhouses, yard, gardens and orchards.  And the house was a substantial one with a hall, withdrawing chamber and parlour downstairs.  There was a “great” staircase and back stairs, and a kitchen, servants’ hall, wash house, brew house, dairy and coach house behind the main rooms, and a first floor with bedrooms and a garret floor above that.  The lease mentions fireplaces, panelling and tiling in the ground floor rooms – evidently a comfortable middle-sized house, just the place for a London lawyer or merchant to spend his leisure time and settle his family.  

Yet Edmond Clark soon vanishes from the record.  And in 1743 a new lease was issued between the Conyers family and Thomas and Catherine Allen, who were already living at the property.  Thomas Allen was a successful international trader, with connections with the Levant Company in Aleppo.  He is also listed as an Ottoman Merchant, doing business with the Ottoman Empire – as he was a member of the Mercers’ Company he is likely to have been importing luxury goods for the London market.  We know, too, that he held East India Company stock.  Evidently this network of trading interests was lucrative, as he could afford to build a new house on the Chestnuts site, funded by taking out a £1,600 loan secured on £1,000 of East India Company stock.   Yet Edmond Clark soon vanishes from the record.  And in 1743 a new lease was issued between the Conyers family and Thomas and Catherine Allen, who were already living at the property.  Thomas Allen was a successful international trader, with connections with the Levant Company in Aleppo.  He is also listed as an Ottoman Merchant, doing business with the Ottoman Empire – as he was a member of the Mercers’ Company he is likely to have been importing luxury goods for the London market.  We know, too, that he held East India Company stock.  Evidently this network of trading interests was lucrative, as he could afford to build a new house on the Chestnuts site, funded by taking out a £1,600 loan secured on £1,000 of East India Company stock. 

The Chestnuts in 2019

The Allens took a very expensive option.  It would have been more usual, as well as considerably cheaper, to extend and improve the existing property, but the evidence points to their deciding on an entirely new house, on the same footprint as, but bigger than, the one lived in by Edmond Clark.  The work seems to have taken nearly four years – a lead water butt  bears the inscription “T C A 1747” – the Allens’ initials and, presumably, the year of completion of their project.   It is not surprising that it took so long to create.  It is well built in the brick and the four-square style fashionable in its day.  And, although poor maintenance and changes of use have destroyed some of the internal fittings, enough remain to show that this was a high-end show house, designed to demonstrate the taste and wealth of its owners.  The “best”, mahogany staircase is as elegant now as it was nearly three centuries ago, and the plasterwork over it is wonderfully intact.  Some of the windows, fireplaces and some exquisite ceilings also survive.  And there are unexpected small treasures such as carved wooden hooks, ironwork in the stable block and, half hidden in the hedge, the original gateposts.  There is a detailed description of the house as it was in 1764 when Catherine Allen, now widowed, agreed to lease the property to Jacob Bosanquet, another East India Merchant.  Evidently Catherine had removed the furniture, probably to the house in Great Ormond Street where she now lived, but left all the fittings, and a great many pictures, for the new leaseholder.The Allens took a very expensive option.  It would have been more usual, as well as considerably cheaper, to extend and improve the existing property, but the evidence points to their deciding on an entirely new house, on the same footprint as, but bigger than, the one lived in by Edmond Clark.  The work seems to have taken nearly four years – a lead water butt  bears the inscription “T C A 1747” – the Allens’ initials and, presumably, the year of completion of their project.   It is not surprising that it took so long to create.  It is well built in the brick and the four-square style fashionable in its day.  And, although poor maintenance and changes of use have destroyed some of the internal fittings, enough remain to show that this was a high-end show house, designed to demonstrate the taste and wealth of its owners.  The “best”, mahogany staircase is as elegant now as it was nearly three centuries ago, and the plasterwork over it is wonderfully intact.  Some of the windows, fireplaces and some exquisite ceilings also survive.  And there are unexpected small treasures such as carved wooden hooks, ironwork in the stable block and, half hidden in the hedge, the original gateposts.  There is a detailed description of the house as it was in 1764 when Catherine Allen, now widowed, agreed to lease the property to Jacob Bosanquet, another East India Merchant.  Evidently Catherine had removed the furniture, probably to the house in Great Ormond Street where she now lived, but left all the fittings, and a great many pictures, for the new leaseholder.   

Detail of plasterwork on the main staircase at the Chestnuts. Photo by author

 This is the house which, battered, extended and in desperate need of care, has survived until today.  It has  many more stories to tell, some documented – some yet to be discovered.

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More tales from Canterbury

We are often told that celebrity is a modern invention that came to birth with the advent of the cinema.  Or, pushing it, that Lord Byron, followed in the streets of London by adoring young women clutching copies of “Childe Harold” was the first example.  The idea that the first celebrities might have been Londoners of far longer ago, and that some of them might have been women themselves, is probably new.

For the past two years I have been spending many of my waking hours in the company of a long- dead playwright.  Aphra Behn’s name is still not as famous as it deserves to be.  She began life as the daughter of a Canterbury barber, started her career as a spy in the early years of the Restoration, became the first woman to earn her living as a writer, created and directed nineteen plays as well as poems, novels and translations, and seems to have known everyone in the London of her day.  She was never rich, but when she died, aged only forty-eight, she was buried in Westminster Abbey.  Aphra Behn wrote for the first generation of actresses, who were as recognisable as she on the streets of a city that was still small enough for its citizens to recognise many of their neighbours by sight. 

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely – it is likely that the management of the Duke’s Theatre commissioned the portrait

Then, as now, London was the place where the ambitious came to seek their fortunes – it was where the jobs were, and where a young population either made it or quietly vanished, either returning to the country or dying heartbreakingly early.  And the young Aphra, born Johnson, was not the only girl to find her way to London from Canterbury.  We don’t know most of their stories.  But at least one other found fame of a kind, although her story ended very differently.

Mary Moders was a couple of years younger than Aphra Johnson.  She too was part of a modest family – her father was a fiddler, and possibly also a chorister at Canterbury Cathedral.  Mary married young, taking as her husband a shoemaker called Thomas Stedman.  They had two children together – both died as babies.  And after a couple of years, Mary left for Dover, where she married a surgeon called Thomas Day.  Evidently she had not gone far enough, as she was soon recognised and, by some accounts, put on trial for bigamy.  The next we hear of Mary is in Cologne, where she evidently had a short-lived affair with a much older rich man, who wanted to marry her.  But Mary departed for England with the valuable jewellery he had given her as well as several faked letters relating to her imagined inheritance.

Back in London in 1663, Mary took up residence in the Exchange Tavern under the name of Princess van Wolway and claiming to be a German heiress.  She became engaged to a young lawyer, John Carleton, who also claimed to be heir to a fortune – in fact he was the nephew of the landlord of the Exchange.  After the hastily arranged wedding, it became clear that both were liars.  The Carleton parents became involved, and an anonymous letter writer told the story of Mary’s previous marriages – unfortunately for the Carletons they were too mean to pay the fare from Canterbury to London of the only known witness of her previous weddings.  So Mary was acquitted, and remained technically married to John Carleton, but he and his parents kept her jewellery and threw her out.

While in prison awaiting trial, Mary had become famous.   Samuel Pepys, among many others, visited her, and was impressed by her charm and wit.  Pamphlets telling her story sold well, and her admirers were relieved at her acquittal.  But she still had a living to earn.  A play about her life, “A Witty Combat, or the Female Victor” when into rehearsal at the Duke’s Theatre, and Mary accepted an invitation to appear in it as herself.  Pepys recorded having gone to see the show, but was somewhat disappointed.  Clearly Mary’s future was not likely to be on the stage.  What she seems to have done is to have a series of affairs with affluent older men, stealing money and valuables and then quietly vanishing.  Many of the men seem to have kept quiet rather than admitting to having been duped.  At least one, however, did complain, and Mary was accused of stealing several items of silver plate.  This was then a capital offence, and she was condemned to death, with the sentence being commuted to transportation to Jamaica.

The theatre in Dorset Gardens, where Aphra Behn’s plays were staged

In Jamaica, Mary worked as a prostitute for a few months.  But she appears to have persuaded a ship’s captain to take her back to London, where she was able to resume her previous activities, including making at least one more marriage – this time to a rich apothecary in Westminster, whom she soon left.   It was not until 1672 that her luck finally ran out.  She was again accused to stealing silver items and imprisoned awaiting trial in Newgate, where the turnkey recognised her as the German Princess of the previous decade. 

This time there was no escape.  Mary Carleton was condemned to death for returning early from transportation.  She was hanged at Tyburn in January 1673, making the final speech that was expected from those about to die, admitting to having been motivated by vanity, but hoping for God’s forgiveness.  Someone in her life paid for her to have a marked grave at St Michael’s Church, and within weeks an enterprising writer, Francis Kirkham, had cashed in on her death by publishing a pretended autobiography of her:  “The Counterfeit Lady Unveiled”, which, along with assorted pamphlets, sold well.

Mary Carleton, from one of the many pamphlets about her

It seems extremely likely that Aphra Behn and Mary Carleton knew of one another.  Coming from the same city, from similar backgrounds, there are some distorted similarities between the careers of the two women.  Both entered into a London adventure, launching themselves into the ferocious Restoration city that destroyed so many.  Both travelled abroad, both worked in the theatre, both attained a measure of fame.    Easy to imagine Mary Carleton on a Reality TV show in the present day – and tempting to speculate what worlds a twenty-first century Aphra Behn might inhabit.

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Britain’s Moon Mission: a good blacksmith, £400 and a lot of feathers

A treble love story, music, spectacle, music, dance, stage machinery, knockabout comedy and a gullible old pseudo academic with a pretty daughter, a twenty-foot property telescope and a belief not only in the Man in the Moon but a world in the Moon.  A smash hit musical, and so far, so frothy, perhaps, viewed from 2021.  It was the last play Aphra Behn completed and had staged in her lifetime – “The Emperor of the Moon” not only attracted the crowds  in the uncertain days of  1687, but became a staple for the next half century, guaranteed to get bums on seats in atrocious weather or on a Friday 13th.  But there’s more there than froth and spectacle.

Theatre interior of 1672

This was a world where scholars were discussing the possibility that there was indeed a world in the Moon.  The Royal Society had been founded a generation before by a group including what are now famous names including Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke, with Prince Rupert of the Rhine presiding.  But one of their number, eminent in his day, was one Reverend John Wilkins, who had studied both theology and natural philosophy, and who was to end his career as a Bishop.

Wilkins, born almost certainly at Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire, was the son of Walter Wilkins, a prosperous goldsmith, and Jane Dod, of a local gentry family.  Walter died when his son was a small boy, and Jane remarried a Francis Pope, going on to have more children, including another Walter, who was also to become a scientist.  John Wilkins was educated at Oxford, where he gained an MA. It was while there that he was able to view the Moon through one of the first telescopes to be set up in this country – the cutting edge technology of its day.

The now visible face of the Moon was a revelation – many serious astronomers  believed that they could see not only mountains and seas but cities.  There were suggestions that there was a whole civilisation there, waiting to be discovered, and traded with, by the citizens of Earth.  In 1620 Ben Jonson staged a Court Masque about the topic.  The fact that this was the talking point of its time is demonstrated by a first scene in which a printer, chronicler, factor (marketer) and two heralds agree that this is the latest news.  Jonson takes the view that the inhabitants of the Moon are Volatees, or birdmen.  The final section of the entertainment, led by the Prince of Wales, is largely given over to flattering King James – always the first concern of any sensible courtier.

In the following years interest in astronomy was intense.  There was as yet no formal grouping for this area of study, but not only at Oxford and Cambridge, but  in rectories up and down the land there was much thought and observation given to the Moon and the workings of the heavens.  Near Preston, the Rev’d Jeremiah Horrocks observed the transit of Venus from his garden.  And in his palace north of Cardiff, Francis Godwin, Bishop of Llandaff wrote the first work of science fiction in English, “The Man in the Moon” – a glorious fantasy featuring an adventurer flown to the Moon by wild swans.  The book appears to have been a bestseller, and was probably known to Aphra Behn.

The twenty-four-year-old John Wilkins was writing his own Moon book, “The Discovery of a New World in the Moon” at much the same time.  This was, however, a very different work.  Wilkins divided his ideas into thirteen serious propositions, about the Moon itself, its nature and the nature of space.  One of them being the ringing “That a Plurality of Worlds Does Not Contradict any Principle of Reason or Faith”.   He and Robert Hooke tried to build a spaceship in the garden of Wadham College, Oxford – they reckoned they needed a skilled blacksmith and £400 for the project, along with a supply of feathers to cover the clockwork wings.   It is not known at what point they accepted that their creation was destined never to leave the ground – or what finally happened to it.

The planned space craft

Wilkins was to update his book several times in the next thirty years;  he had a successful academic and church career, holding appointments at both Oxford and Cambridge.  He married Oliver Cromwell’s sister, and so lost his Cambridge position on the Restoration, but quickly regained the lost ground – John Aubrey thought he was “no great read man, but one of much deep thinking and of a working head”.  Wilkins advocated a universal language and was one of those who, in those pre Newton days, believed that gravity was a form of magnetism.  He was a founder member of the Royal Society, and spent much of his time in London, notwithstanding his appointment as Bishop of Chester.  This was a small circle, and it is likely that he, too, was known to Aphra Behn.  Like so many others of his time Wilkins appears to have been killed by the medical treatment he was undergoing; he died in 1671, aged 58, and is buried in St Lawrence Jewry.

John Wilkins painted in c1670, possibly by Mary Beale

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Watercress sandwiches aren’t really a thing now.  Gone the way of cucumber with the crusts cut off, and unlikely to be included in the riverside picnic of any modern day Ratty along with the cold meats and French rolls.  No watercress for sale in the market either;  just bags in supermarket salad aisles alongside the more favoured rocket.

 Walthamstow was once famous for its watercress.  And looking at the 1822 Coe map of the area, it is easy to see why – the minutely recorded expanses of meadow are criss crossed with ponds, streams and blue shading and drawn in tufts of grass for the more notably damp meadows.  Some of the many local market gardeners had a watercress bed or two, and gathered and sold the cresses commercially.  And before the days of compulsory education, children would buy or gather watercress to sell at street corners.  The original map is in Vestry House Museum, and there is more information about the map on

Section of the Coe Map, courtesy of Vestry House Museum

In Henry Mayhew’s 1851 “London Labour and the London Poor”, an eight-year old interviewee was earning her own living by arriving at Farringdon Market at four in the morning, buying a supply of cress which she then tied into bunches and sold to office workers, earning a few pence profit a day.  This child had a home and family, but was dressed in a thin cotton dress and shawl in the depth of winter and subsisting on a cup of tea and two slices of bread and butter, twice a day, with a hot meal once a week.  Mayhew’s campaigning work, and in particular this child  and her poverty, became famous.  Her down to earth character and practicality come over strongly – a contrast to images such as the painting of a watercress girl by Johann Zoffany, in which the girl and her vulnerability are touching, not disturbing – poverty with a pearly complexion and in a clean dress.

We do not know anything more of Mayhew’s interviewee.  But there were many small girls with lives not unlike hers.  In Walthamstow around that time, Emily Clark and her grandmother were living in Markhouse Lane.  The grandmother was officially a pauper; by this date the elderly were often permitted to come and go from the workhouse depending on the time of year.  The two of them appear to have kept going by selling ginger beer and watercress, probably from a barrow, possibly to the commuters coming and going from Lea Bridge Station, still the only railway in the area.

Before the days of trains, many street sellers would walk from Walthamstow and Leyton to London’s more lucrative streets along the Black Path –    this was a route used by drovers on their way to the London markets with everything from cows to geese.  And even after the trains came, the path was still much used by the many who could not afford the fare.  This was long before the days of cheap workmen’s tickets, and rail travel was only for the moderately prosperous.  And this was still a generation before education for all children became compulsory, even in theory.  And in Walthamstow, when the newly created school board counted how many children needed school places, there was a shortfall of at least 1,000.  They did their best, but even once there was a school place available, many children, especially girls, were kept at home.  Some were doing the washing, some looking after younger siblings – some out selling flowers or watercress.  

Much later, after the Boer War, one young widow, a Mrs Dyson, left with small children, fought to keep her family out of the workhouse.  She went out cleaning steps, taking the baby with her.  She also gathered and sold watercress, standing on the side of the road offering bunches to passers-by, sometimes with her skirt soaked to the knees as she had come directly from gathering cress.  In the evenings she was doing piece-work for a local factory, and sewing.  They got by – she too lived mostly on tea and bread, in this generation with margarine. 

But the days of the watercress beds were numbered.  Along with the railways came exponential growth.  Between the 1860s and 1911, the population of Walthamstow doubled every ten years.  The damp meadows were built on – when young Arthur Spencer and his family moved to Longfellow Road, his first memory of their newly built house was the men coming to fill in the watercress beds.  The ponds were covered over, and the streams culverted.  In the early 1900s most people used their gardens to grow flowers or vegetables – the neglected ones reverted to the damp meadow they had always been.  But in wet weather, the water that had once ended up in streams and ponds now ran down roads and into houses – the infrastructure could not cope, several decades before the fashion for decking and astroturf arrived.

The culverted streams are still there – near the site of Arthur Spencer’s old home you can hear the running water, especially after heavy rain.  But such watercress as is sold locally is bought in from elsewhere.

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The Plague Pit: myth, memory or tall tale?

Plenty of  stories out there to choose from, of course – from the Romans leaving the country in two straight, orderly lines in 410, to the dream of crime and conflict free unity in the Blitz.  And a rich selection of people glossed over with layers of storytelling, from the Princes in the Tower to Jack the Ripper.     The same turns out to go for local history.  Some themes are everywhere:  underground tunnels.  Lost Roman villas.   Visiting monarchs, Elizabeth I or Charles II for preference.  And plague pits. 

Specifically, at this precise moment, a plague pit claimed to be in Walthamstow.  On the face of it, nothing too unlikely about that.  St Mary’s, Walthamstow has been a parish church for nearly a thousand years, although little remains of the building that was created in the time of Ralph de Toni, standard bearer of William the Conqueror, in around 1108.  In the centuries since, the church has been added to, upgraded, knocked about in wars, locked up, opened up and repeatedly reimagined – it emerged from the Second World War shorn of most of its south aisle.  However, it is surrounded by what is now sometimes referred  to as “the church campus” – a graveyard as old as the parish, with a former school building dating from 1828, the site of the original vicarage, many times rebuilt, and the almshouses first endowed by Sir George Monoux, the Tudor merchant and Lord Mayor of London who settled locally and who also founded a school and funded extensive rebuilding of the church where his memorial still survives.

St Mary’s Churchyard, image courtesy of Vestry House Museum

The street layout around St Mary’s remains, give or take a few recent incursions by the local authority, much as it has been for several centuries, although many of the names have changed.  Orford Road, for example, has skirted what used to be the common land for at least four hundred years, but only acquired its present name in the eighteenth century.  And the iconic Ancient House, star of so many photographs and watercolours, itself fifteenth century and the site of an earlier manor house, passed several centuries covered in utilitarian weatherboarding and serving as several shops and a café.   The romantic name started to be used after the building was saved from collapse and restored by a local builder. 

Another name, less romantic, has a story attached:  Vinegar Alley runs along the periphery of the churchyard.  Over recent years several claims have appeared on websites that this is because the lane runs alongside a burial site associated with the Great Plague.  Some of the sites go on to describe dead bodies being brought in carts from London to Walthamstow in 1665, and the name Vinegar Abbey deriving from attempts to disinfect the area with vinegar.  A graphic and memorable story.    

The 1665 plague killed at least 68,000 Londoners, a figure that may well be an underestimate.  Serious attempts were made to contain the infection, with houses being placed in quarantine if one inhabitant become ill.  The dead were collected at night;  bodies were loaded onto carts and, as the epidemic continued, buried with little ceremony in pits on the outskirts of the city.  Multiple burials have been located, and sometimes excavated, at Aldgate, Houndsditch and Bishopsgate, among many others.  Attempts were evidently made to bury the dead in, or close to, consecrated ground, although this became difficult as the outbreak spread.   Daniel Defoe was five years old at the time of the Great Plague.  His “Journal of the Plague Year” is a work of imagination, yet he was a Londoner with relatives who survived the epidemic.  Some of the records were destroyed in the Great Fire of the following year, but the burial grounds were there for all to see, including the Great Pit described in the book as being located at the edge of the graveyard of St Botolph without Aldgate.   When Aldgate Station was created in the 1870s, human remains were discovered, although it remains unclear whether the bones were those of Plague victims.   All the evidence, however, is that London plague victims were buried as close as possible to where they died.

Woodcut from a 1665 newsletter

In 1665, as in other plague years – about one summer in ten claimed a significant number of victims – towns outside London did their best to avoid infection.  However little was known of the exact way the disease was carried, no one was in doubt that it was dangerous to come into contact with a sufferer or their possessions.  Elizabeth I had taken refuge from the plague at Windsor one hot summer, and decrees forbade anyone travelling from London to Windsor;  transgressors were hanged without trial.   And, famously, at Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665, the community agreed to isolate themselves to protect others once the infection arrived in their midst in a parcel of patterns sent from London. 

Between those extremes, people did their best.  Walthamstow was a small place, a series of hamlets connected by lanes.  In the Tudor period only around 100 people lived there;  most worked on the land – there were rich meadows, hop fields and at least one mill.  By 1679, a few years after the plague, there were 189 buildings, so it is realistic to imagine a population of perhaps 500.  We do not know with certainty whether the plague reached there in 1665 – there is a story that local people stood guard at the ferry so as to deny entry to London refugees, but there would of course have been nothing to stop the determined and the desperate from making their way across the marshes.  It is true that vinegar was used for disinfecting purposes at this time, and the claim is that quantities of it were used to ward off infection from the corpses thrown into a nearby mass burial site.  Sadly for that theory, the name Vinegar Alley appears to date only from the late eighteenth century.  At that time Beulah Road and the surrounding area were home to the main industrial and commercial premises for Walthamstow, and these included a leatherworker whose trade would certainly have included the use of much vinegar. 

There is also a claim that errant plague pit was actually some distance away, and was disturbed at the time of the creation of the Chingford Line in 1870.  The land to make the line was part of the Berryfields, some of which was inclosed and sold to the railway company by the Vestry (the predecessor to the Council).  It was indeed common at this time for work on the new railway lines to unearth burials;  the remains were routinely reinterred.  There does not, however, appear to be any evidence for this.  There is a blue plaque on the former Sorting Office recording that the playground opposite was once part of the Berryfields.  But nothing about bones. 

It is of course impossible to be sure.  Some myths and legends have their roots in historical fact.  Only a couple of years ago archaeologists uncovered the remains of a Roman settlement only metres from St Mary’s church: no one appears to have known.  And sometimes the unfeasibly unlikely happens:  Richard III’s remains being dug up intact in a Leicester carpark would be unbelievable if it had not happened.  Far less likely than a plague pit in an old churchyard.   

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Desperation or Liberty? Life in Lea Bridge Gardens

It vanished piecemeal nearly a hundred years ago.  The “dwellings” were considered a health hazard by the 1930s.   But before the days of building controls, a haphazard development of up to a hundred homes had grown up – Lea Bridge Gardens.  Or the Bungalow Town.   These were the unofficial homes of the poor.

And because it was all very unofficial there are few surviving records of who came here first, probably not long after Lea Bridge Station opened in 1840, bringing with it some of the earliest housing for commuters in the area.  It also brought a direct route from the terminus at the new Shoreditch – later renamed Bishopsgate – Station. For many years this had been an area where newly arrived Londoners settled, often moving on either when they became prosperous or when their attempt at a new life failed.  In the 1850s and 60s the silk industry in the area, and many of its workers, often immigrants, moved away to seek new employment.  One suggestion is that some of them became the first residents of Lea Bridge Gardens, some of them finding work in the textile, and in particular fabric and yarn dyeing, trade in the area. 

Lea Bridge Gardens in 1893

Whatever made the new residents choose that particular spot, the first houses were of the most basic variety.  The Rev’d Morgan Gilbert, then a young curate from Leyton became a regular visitor in the 1880s, and remembered dwellings built round living trees, incorporating the roots and branches as storage for possessions, roofs made of whatever came to hand and trodden earth floors. Morgan certainly believed that the first residents were Spitalfields weavers who “had been  driven out of their East End refuges”.  Fresh water was available from wells, but the only sanitation was earth closets.  There was no heating and none of the dwellings had a proper kitchen. In later years a custom built wooden mission church and school room were set up.  But the road was still a dirt one, reached by going under an archway which, for many years, was the only shelter of an elderly hawker and his donkey.

One of the cottages – and its outside earth closet – in c1910

Each dwelling was built of a plot big enough to provide a long garden, and some of the residents made a living by raising vegetables and flowers;  some also kept hens and sold surplus eggs.  On summer Sundays the children took baskets of flowers up to the Lea Bridge Road and sold them to day trippers on their way to Epping Forest.   Morgan remembered children “holding out small bunches and buttonholes, running along by the carts and vehicles of any description, begging for pence in return for a lovely bunch of sweet scented buttonholes or sprays for the ladies”.  He remembered, too, that the parish rented one of the cottages as a mission room in those early years, and that they paid for teacher and for books so that the children had at least a basic education.

By the end of the nineteenth century Lea Bridge Gardens was an established community;  a photograph shows neat-looking bungalows and well tended gardens.  The residents seem to have been a mixed group, still including market gardeners, but also people of a variety of occupations, including a musician, a printer or two and, for a few years, a retired ivory carver from Houndsditch, Richard Kingsman, who had fallen on hard times and had to move in with his son, came into a legacy and so was able to buy a bungalow and, in his eighties, live independently for his last few years.   Another suggestion about those years is that tradesmen from Hoxton bought up some of the plots to provide a summer weekend retreat for their families.  At least some of the residents were there because that was where they wanted to be and that was how they wanted to live.

One of the cottages, its gardens and its residents looking well settled in c1910

But times changed, and brought with them building controls, medical officer of health reports highlighting the rates of infectious diseases and higher standards of sanitation.  In the years after the First World War and, after it, the horrors of Spanish Flu, the authorities began to take an interest in Lea Bridge Gardens.  Rather than any draconian attempt at mass eviction, as each bungalow became vacant it was closed down and demolished.  By the early 1930s all had vanished, and today no visible trace remains. 

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