Friday, April 27th 2018
The map above shows the location of Walthamstow relative to Central London (click for the corresponding Google Map). Walthamstow is part of the London Borough of Waltham Forest and within it lies Walthamstow Village which was our destination today.
There are two main theories about the derivation of the name Walthamstow. According to the first, the name is composed of three Anglo-Saxon words, weald (‘forest’), ham (‘farm’ or ‘homestead’ or even ‘manor’) and stow (‘holy place’, ‘place of assembly’ or just ‘place’). This is plausible as the area was indeed forested in ancient times. The second theory starts from the Domesday Book of 1086 wherein the place is cited as Wilcumestow. This indicates that the name is formed from stow (already explained) and either wilcuma (‘welcome’) or Wilcume (a person’s name). In this case, we might translate the name either as ‘the welcome place’ (or ‘place of welcome’) or as ‘Wilcume’s Place’.
We arrived by bus at Leytonstone bus and tube station. Right in the middle of the yard where the buses come and go is this unusual sculpture. It is built of brick and incorporates a seat in case you become tired of standing while waiting for your bus. It is by Lodewyk Pretor and was completed in 1999.
Before 1900 when the new Metropolitan boroughs were created, local government was divided into parishes, each in the care of a committees known as the vestry. This was because until 1894, when ecclesiastical and secular government were devolved to separate bodies, the parish committee often met in the parish church, in the room called the vestry.
The parish chest, like the one shown above, would have been an essential piece of vestry equipment as it was used to store documents, church plate and perhaps cash. The one above has a lock in the lid (the keyhole in the front is a dummy) and several other locks that would have been secured with padlocks. The key to each lock was given to a different member of the vestry committee, meaning that all had to be present when the chest was opened.
One of the duties of the vestry committee was collecting taxes and distributing relief in cash or kind to the poor. Central to this poor relief system was the workhouse and what is today the Vestry House Museum was built as a workhouse, a purpose that it served from 1730 to 1841. During that time, too, the vestry committee met in a room here.
The Vestry House workhouse closed in 1841, its functions having been taken over by the newly built West Ham Union Workhouse in Leyton. For a while it housed the local police station, as this mock-up of a police cell of circa 1861 reminds us. Thereafter it became a private house until 1931 when it was opened as the Vestry House Museum.
As I am rather fond of clocks, I spotted this one in the hallway. It’s not working, unfortunately, and I don’t know whether this is because they have forgotten to wind it or whether it has broken down. It is signed by A.H. Edwards of Walthamstow. Edwards kept a shop at number 6 St James Street, Walthamstow in the late 19th century to early 20th century and must have made this clock sometime during that period. Curiously, though he was originally listed as a watchmaker, he later appears as a jeweller and in the the latter part of his tenure of the premises, as an optician. He is listed as a clockmaker in the UK & Irish Clock and Watch Makers (c1600-c1940) and is recorded as submitting a tender to the Council for the production of school medals in 1904. (His bid was unsuccessful.) A number of similar clocks bearing his name are known. See, for example, here. (That site suggests that Edwards was the retailer rather than the maker of clocks sold under his name. I think the listing shown previously disproves this.)
When I first saw this panel I gave it only a quick glance, assuming that it was the usual Old Testament Ten Commandments taken from a demolished or decommissioned church. I was wrong and it is more interesting than that. The board in fact displays the Ten Socialist Commandments and comes from the William Morris Hall opened in Walthamstow in 1909 by artist and socialist writer Walter Crane as a centre for socialists and trades union citizens of Walthamstow. A Socialist Sunday School for children was started and the Ten Socialist Commandments would no doubt have been at the heart of its teaching. Unfortunately, the happy world pictured in the Declaration is no nearer fulfilment now than it was when its description was first penned.
The above 1940s room couldn’t be photographed in its entirety because it was behind two windows. Above is the view through one of them and below…
…is the second part which contains an accidental self-portrait of myself!
In an age when we have electrical appliances for every conceivable task in the home, it is perhaps good to be reminded of a time when such things did not exist and the work had to be done with what we would now consider primitive tools and lots of energy! It’s no wonder, then, that even fairly modest households would employ one or more servants to save the householders from the backbreaking work.
When we go to the launderette to do our laundry, we put the wet items in a tumble dryer and feed in pound coins until it is dry. We can sit and chat or read while this is in progress. In past times, you would have had to pass your wet laundry through the mangle to squeeze out the water by mechanical pressure. This was hard work and you risked crushing the buttons on garments. Even after mangling, the items would not be entirely dry and would need to be hung out on a clothes line to air-dry. Note also the carpet beater hanging on the wall on the right of the picture.
Toys were a lot simpler too. Can you imagine your kids being satisfied with a rocking horse? In fact, when some young person today says that someone ‘has the brains of a rocking horse’, I wonder whether the speaker even knows what a rocking is. Or maybe they looked it up on Google.
I often wonder what our Victorian great-grandparents would think if, through a magical telescope, they could see the women’s fashions of today. Some would faint in horror, I am quite sure. Here is a personal anecdote. In the early decades of the 20th century, my mother left home to train to be a nurse. One sunny day she returned to visit her aunt with whom she had lived much of her life. Can you guess what her aunt’s first words were? They were to call my mother a hussy because she was wearing an insufficient number of petticoats and the sun, shining through her ankle-length skirt, dimly showed the outline of her legs! What would her aunt think of girls today whose skirts barely cover their buttocks?
The Bremer was the first British-built petrol-driven car. It was built in 1892 by Frederick William Bremer of Walthamstow in his garden shed. He continued to improve it over the following years and it was eventually registered under the new Motor Car Act of 1903. The photo is an awkward one because the car was surrounded on all sides by a transparent but reflective fence and the only way to photograph it was from above, giving s bird’s-eye view.
Vestry House has a large and pleasant garden. In the days of the workhouse, this would have been used for growing vegetables and perhaps other useful plants such as those producing dyes.
Workhouse inmates were worked hard and would not have had time to rest and take their ease here. Today, though, it is a peaceful place in which to stroll and admire the greenery.
On leaving Vestry House, we came upon this fine old Penfold pillar (posting) box embossed with the royal cypher of Queen Victoria. It is no longer in use and is presumably kept for its historical interest. Though already present in other countries, posting boxes did not grace the streets in the British Isles until 1852 when the first ones were installed in St Hellier on the island of Jersey.
John Wornham Penfold was an architect and surveyor and was commissioned to design a new pillar box, the first of which appeared in 1866. They are immediately recognizable from their hexagonal shape and the acanthus bud on the top. Posting boxes became red from 1874 onwards but Penfold boxes would originally have been painted in the then official colour of green.
This is the house that you can see behind the pillar box in the previous photo. ‘Tudor’ is an enduringly popular style for houses and other buildings in Britain. Most ‘Tudor’ buildings are not Tudor at all but imitations, some quite poorly done. This house is a genuine Tudor structure, I am happy to say. It is also known as the Ancient House from the wording used in the plaque on the side. By 1934, it seems, the building had fallen into a parlous state and had to be renovated. The brick wall that you can see on the right-hand side was built then. it is said that the bricklayer deliberately simulated ‘deformed Tudor brickwork’ though how successful this was, I leave to experts to determine.