Saturday, February 18th 2017
On the map above, the symbol shows where we started our walk. If you expand the map, the name of the area eventually appears. That name, Leyton, is derived from the fact that the original settlement, tun in Anglo-Saxon, was founded beside the River Lea which rises in the Chiltern Hills and empties into the Thames as Bow Creek at Poplar. The derivation of its name in uncertain. Tracing its various spellings back through history suggest that it may come from an ancient word meaning ‘bright’ or that it may instead refer to the British Celtic god Lugus. The Bright River or the River of Lugus, take your pick.
Saturday is a day for markets and the stalls were out in Lea Bridge Road. The shops were taking advantage of this to display their wares outside. My eye was attracted to the colourful wares of this domestic and hardware shop.
Opposite I spied this fine old shop front. It belongs to M. Winger Ltd, jewellers. Though you cannot see it in the photo, in front of the entrance there is a floor mosaic with the shop’s name, testifying to the establishment’s venerable age. I would guess it dates from the early 20th century.
The discount store Poundland now inhabits a building that, judging by its design, must once have been purpose built by a department store or something similar, perhaps in the 1930s. It was previously occupied by Peacock’s clothing store but I doubt whether they built it, though I could, of course, be wrong.
Also in Hoe Street is this imposing façade which, although now labelled ‘Kingsway International Christian Centre’, was obviously originally something else. The styling suggests a small theatre or a cinema. The latter guess is the correct one. It was built in 1913 as the Empress Cinema by Messrs Good Brothers who also created three other cinemas in the area. The Empress ran until 1963 before suffering that common fate of superannuated cinemas: becoming a bingo hall. More recently it has suffered that other modern disease of old cinemas: being repurposed as a church. It was accorded Grade II listed status in its cinema days, largely on account of the interior decor. Unfortunately, it was badly damaged by fire but careful restoration allowed it to cling on to the listing. More details of its history will be found here.
When I took a photo of this old pub, I didn’t know that it was going to provide me with a mystery, one that I have not yet entirely solved. It stands at a crossroads on the corner of Hoe Street and Lea Bridge Road. Built in the 19th century, it must have been an important pub in its day because it has given its name to the neighbourhood as a whole. It eventually fell a victim to the decline in the pub market and reopened in February 2010 as the home of bookmakers Paddy Power. So, where’s the mystery?
If you look at the photo, the building clearly comprises three storeys. The windows on the second and third storeys are in exactly the same style and the building is topped off with traditional ‘pineapple’ decorations. It was obviously built as we see it today… or was it? When I looked at old photos of the pub, including the one that accompanied the newspaper report about it opening as a bookmakers, they all showed a two-story building! See for yourself here and here.
All these photos (and others I have seen) are undoubtedly of the same building so it seems that at some point since 2010, an extra floor has been added and that the architects have faithfully copied the original style – something quite unusual in this age of appallingly ugly architecture. I am guessing that the first and second floors are residential and that the owners added a floor to increase their earning power but I do not know anything for certain.
On the corner opposite the pub my eye was caught by this parade of shops, decorated in what I call ‘ice cream colours’. They give the area a colourful, almost seaside atmosphere.
I was intrigued by this pointed tower or spire on a building housing retail units, though possibly residential accommodation as well. There doesn’t seem to be any purpose for it. The corner premises now houses the local branch of the Prestige Barbers chain though in the past it would have been emblazoned with the words ‘COPELAND’S STORE’. I do not know what was sold there or whether this store had any relation to Copelands Stores still extant in other towns. More importantly, though, I do not know why there is a pointy tower and would like to find out.
We now moved up the road to Walthamstow. Leyton and Walthamstow are districts within the London Borough of Waltham Forest. The name reminds us that this was indeed once a forested area, part of the system to which Epping Forest to the north also belonged. The existence of an ancient forest is taken as one of the possible derivations of the name of Walthamstow. According to this, the name comes from the Anglo-Saxon words weald (‘forest’), ham (‘village’) and stowe (‘place’ or ‘meeting place’).
In opposition to this apparently reasonable etymology, some cite the fact that in the Domesday Book, the settlement is referred to as Wilcumestou, which might be translated as ‘the welcome place’. Supporters of this derivation think that this term became mangled into the present name of Walthamstow.
Looking for refreshments, we progressed to the local shopping centre. It is very large and, externally, of very peculiar appearance, as though the architects were trying to implement several styles at once and never quite managed to apply any of them. It rejoices in the extraordinarily unimaginative name of ‘The Mall’. How much did they pay someone to come up with that, I wonder.
We went to the High Street where we found the market in full swing. Not the oldest market in the country (it dates from 1885), it boasts being the longest street market in Europe. It takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays and seems very popular and busy.
We, though, were drawn as to a magnet to the Central Library. A clue to its history is provided by the bust between the main windows on the first floor. It is unaccompanied by a name but is clearly a portrait of Andrew Carnegie who generously funded, partially or in their entirety, many of our public libraries.
Walthamstow’s first public library opened here, in a house called Rosebank, in 1894. That other famous benefactor, John Passmore Edwards, funded an extension for it. Rosebank was demolished and replaced by a new library on the same site, funded by Carnegie and opened in 1909.
We had a look round the library and particularly admired this beautiful staircase. The library is Grade II listed.
The block with the imposing clock tower was built in the 1960s as council offices but has now been repurposed under the name of Central Parade. To quote Meanwhile Space who apparently now run it, it is ‘a mixed use creative hub, including a variety of retail, co-working, studio and exhibition space and a bakery-cafe where events and workshops take place.’ (I imagine that events and workshops don’t actually take place in the bakery-cafe and that this is simply infelicitous phrasing.) See more details here.
This Victorian pub is also a theatre and venue for entertainments of various kinds. Unlike the poor old Bakers Arms, it has survived economic storms and seems secure for the foreseeable future. It is called Ye Olde Rose & Crown but, as it is so popular, we can perhaps (almost) forgive the cod olde Englisshe in the name.
On our way to our next destination, we passed the Sri Karpaga Vinayagar Temple with its effigy of Ganesh over the door. I have already photographed this building and mentioned the elephant-headed god, one of the most popular, not only in Hinduism but in some other faiths as well. (See Cornish Fishermen and the William Morris Gallery.) I notice that the name of the temple’s presiding deity is written indifferently as Sri Karpaga or Sri Katpaga and this leads to another interesting question. Should the elephant-headed god be called Ganesh or Ganesha?
It seems that there are roughly three common answers to this question: 1. Ganesh is correct, 2. Ganesha is correct and 3. either is correct. To have an idea of the sort of arguments this question raises, take a look here.
Overlooking a car park near our destination, we found this large-scale portrait of William Morris. Right at the top, one can read the signature of street artist Atma. Mysteriously, just below the signature, appear the Roman numerals XXVII (27).
And so to our final destination, The Water House, built in 1762 and now Grade II* listed. This fine detached house was the childhood home of William Morris and is today a museum in his honour, the William Morris Gallery. We had a look at the current exhibitions but did not visit the rest of the house this time. You can see a few photos of it in my post Cornish Fishermen and the William Morris Gallery.