Saturday, February 21st 2015
For today’s expedition, we caught the hopper bus 394 that runs from the Angel via a seemingly erratic route to Homerton. This map will give you some idea of its wiggliness:
The little bus (which, unlike most London buses, has only a single entrance/exit door) serves localities where other buses fear to tread. It was therefore noticeable that many passengers on boarding the bus greeted the driver as though he were an old friend.
The bus “terminates” (according to the official terminology) at Homerton Hospital. Opposite the bus stop is the sad sight of a dead pub. It was built at the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and was known for at least part of its life as the Welsh Harp. Giving it the more more prosaic name of the Hospital Tavern has not saved it. The doleful looking structure is to be swept away and replaced by flats.
The hospital named on the bus’s destination board is this one, Homerton University Hospital, which opened its doors in 1986. As I have never visited it, much less sampled its services, I can say no more about it.
At one end of the hospital site stands this impressive though redundant wall which must have belonged to whatever establishment occupied the site previously, left perhaps for picturesque reasons.
Homerton once had a very stately public library with a columned entrance. Built in 1912-3, it was the gift of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The beautiful and noble façade is of stone but behind it the rest of the building is brick. We will not criticize it for that, however, and the library has justifiably received a Grade II listing. Its original purpose is now performed by a new modern library (which we did not visit) but the old library lives on as the Chads Palace Arts Centre.
We walked down Chatsworth Rioad, a main artery running through Homerton, and on the left, in Glenarm Road, spotted a colourful panel on the side of a house. It turned out to be composed of handmade tiles, mostly individual designs, some with the makers’ names on them. Possibly these were made by school pupils though I didn’t see a school nearby.
At 76 Chatsworth Road we found A.E. Barrow’s Victorian newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop, now apparently abandoned though the remnant of a large Wills’ tobacco advertising display in a side window hints back to a time when the shop was open and working. I understand that an art exhibition has been held here and that inside are remainders of furniture and stock from the days when the shop was still alive, though we were not able to see this for ourselves. The shop has not been listed, presumably because it is in such a bad state, and it seems likely that its fate is eventually to be ripped apart and rebuilt. I would be interested to know its history and how it came to be left derelict.
We looked around for somewhere where we could have lunch but nothing appealed so we caught a bus and…
…travelled east to Forest Gate. The name derives from a gate that was once in place across the road to prevent cattle from straying from the forest. The forest in question was Epping Forest that once extended to here but of which only in patches remain in this area. The gate was removed in 1883 but by then the name had stuck.
Here we had lunch in a small bakery cum cafe restaurant called Compôtes before continuing our explorations.
Almost next door to Compôtes is the Woodgrange Pharmacy. It takes its name from the district which is itself named after the Manor of Woodgrange to which the land once belonged. I haven’t been able to find out the history of the building but suspect it was once a pub or some such establishment because of the set of wood carvings across the front. Of the five, three have to do with drinking and making merry and two represent august-looking figures. Might this suggest that the putative pub was called the King & Queen?
The wood carvings don’t look very ancient to me but they have been kept in good order and have been nicely painted.
Near the station stands a now disused drinking fountain and cattle trough surmounted by a clock, dating from the 1890s. Although a drinking fountain and a cattle trough go together like a horse and carriage, these two were donated by different people. The trough was provided by the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association (still in existence but now renamed The Drinking Fountain Association) and the drinking fountain by A.C. Corbett.
Archibald Cameron Corbett was the son of Thomas Corbett who, with his sons, developed Forest Gate by building 1,116 houses. The work was completed in 1892 by A.C. Corbett who gave the fountain, presumably as a memorial to himself.
More interesting (to me, at least) is the fact that the clock was made by A.H. Rowley Parkes & Co of Clerkenwell (just down the road from us), once an important area in jewellery manufacture and the making of clocks and watches. The firm made clocks by hand at its premises in Britton Street but those workshops have all been swept away by new development.
In front of Forest Gate Station is this curious kiosk, today being used as a coffee stall. Was it always intended as a retail unit or did it originally have some other purpose? I have been unable to find out.
The local parish church is Emmanuel Church, a Grade II listed building designed in Gothic style by Sir George Gilbert Scott and completed in 1852.
Forest Gate also has a Methodist Church which, like all Methodist Churches presents a welcoming face to all comers. However, it does suffer from one grave disadvantage:
I think that if ever I contemplated joining a church (which God forbid) I would be seriously put off entering this one by this strange sculpture apparently fulminating at us from the façade. It is a concrete sculpture called The Preacher (but also known as The Evangelist). It is by Peter Lazlo Peri and was unveiled in 1961. I cannot decide whether the sculptor was playing a joke on the church or was trying to convey some message about religion. Unfortunately, we cannot ask him as he died in 1967. The figure is, to my eyes, the perfect representation of the manic, Bible-thumping, Hell-fire preacher who gives such a bad name to religion. Maybe the church doesn’t like it either because I hear they planned to sell it but had to keep it. The reason, apparently, is that the weight of the sculpture outside the church counterbalances that of the organ inside the church: remove the sculpture and the organ falls down. Peri, it seems, had the last laugh.
My last photo also shows a religious building. This one doesn’t display any cartoons though, for all I know, it might have shown animated ones in its previous existence.
This building opened in 1937 as the Odeon Forest Gate, though its design is dissimilar to the typical style of Odeon theatres and one stream of thought suggests that Odeon took it over from another firm. It was closed as a result of bomb damage in April 1941 but opened again four months later. Between 1975 and 1994, it hosted a snooker hall but then became what it is today, the Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque and Adara Minhaj-Ul-Quran Muslim Cultural Centre, losing some of its façade decorations in the process. Curiously, the lettering across the front still recalls its old occupation as a cinema: half-close your eyes and you could almost imagine you were looking at the titles of the currently showing film. It stands as a good example of how times change and how buildings acquire new purposes in consequence.