A look at Vestry House Museum

Friday, April 27th 2018

Walthamstow on the map
Walthamstow on the map
(Click for Google Map)

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’.

Time Terminus
Time Terminus
Lodewyk Pretor, 1999

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.

From here, we walked to the Vestry House Museum which is in Walthamstow Village. Somehow, I neglected to take a photo of the front of the museum but there is one on the museum’s Web site.

The Parish Chest
The Parish Chest

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.

Vestry House, the hallway and staircase
Vestry House, the hallway and staircase

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.

Mock-up of a police cell
Mock-up of a police cell

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.

Clock by local clockmaker t
Clock by local clockmaker
A. H. Edwards

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.)

The Socialist Ten Commandments
The Socialist Ten Commandments

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.

Recreated 1940s room (part)
Recreated 1940s room (part)

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…

1940s room (part)
1940s room (part)

…is the second part which contains an accidental self-portrait of myself!

Domestic cleaning and laundry equipment
Domestic cleaning and laundry equipment

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.

How to dry the laundry
How to dry the laundry

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.

Rocking horse
Rocking horse

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.

Mid-Victorian lady's dress
Mid-Victorian lady’s dress

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?

Bremer Car 1892
Bremer Car 1892

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 garden
Vestry House garden

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.

The rear of the house
The rear of the house

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.

Penfold Pillar Box
Penfold Pillar Box

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.

Tudor house
Tudor house

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.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Advertisements
Posted in Out and About | Tagged , | 6 Comments

‘Inky’ Stephens’ House

Thursday, April 26thth 2018

Dr. Henry Stephens, inventor of the indelible ‘blue-black writing fluid’, the ink used by generations of businessmen, civil servants, schoolboys and just about everyone else capable of wielding a pen, in 1844 moved his family to Grove House in Ballards Lane, Finchley, where he could use the outbuildings for experimentation and the manufacture of his famous product.

Upon Dr Stephens’ sudden death in 1864, his son, Charles Henry ‘Inky’ Stephens, took over the running of the business, being already conversant with the manufacture and marketing of the ink. In 1874, having married, he bought Avenue House, a Victorian mansion set in extensive grounds. Stephens set about renovating and enlarging the house and having the gardens restyled by the horticulturist and garden designer Robert Marnock. In his will, Stephens bequeathed the house and gardens to ‘the people of Finchley’ and today it is run by a charitable trust. The grounds are open to the public.

'Inky' Stephens' House
‘Inky’ Stephens’ House

We visited Avenue House and gardens under the misapprehension that the house could be visited. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It can be hired as a venue for weddings, conferences, etc. but not visited.

View of the gardens
View of the gardens

We took a stroll in the gardens which are beautifully set out and maintained. Stephens’ generosity has provided Finchley, and indeed the wider public, with a fine park.

Tree sculpture
Tree sculpture

We found this sculpture that seems to have been carved from the remains of a tree. There was no panel giving the name of the sculptor, just a notice that had slid down onto the ground, reading ‘WET PAINT DO NOT TOUCH’.

The Stables
The Stables

As you would expect in such a property, there was a large building that once served as stables. No horses or grooms are to be found within these days, though.

The Cafe
The Cafe

Instead, the stables have been converted into a very pleasant cafe, just the place to rest and take refreshment after exploring the grounds.

A conversation with Spike
A conversation with Spike
John Somerville, 2014

Near the cafe is this artwork by John Somerville, created as a monument to the comedian Spike Milligan who died in 2002. Entitled A conversation with Spike, it takes the form of a bench, one side of which is occupied by an effigy of Spike Milligan and the other is left free so that, if you wish, you may sit beside the comedian and engage him in imaginary conversation. I am uncertain whether this is amusing or somewhat macabre. The figures carved into the bench represent various episodes of Spike’s life and the shows in which he took part. Spike was a resident of Finchley and president of the Finchley Society which commissioned this memorial.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged | Leave a comment

Brompton Cemetery

Tuesday, April 24th 2018

We started with breakfast at the branch of Leon’s on King’s Cross Station. From there we took to the tube and disembarked at Barons Court Station.

Barons Court Station
Barons Court Station

The tube’s official name is the Underground Railway, but much of it in fact lies above ground. This map shows the system’s open-air sections and I think these are far more extensive than many people realize. If you are travelling from west to east along the Piccadilly or District lines, Barons Court is the last station above ground before you plunge into the tunnels of Central London.

Although the District Railway (now called the District Line) had been established in 1874, the area that is now called Barons Court1 was mainly rural and no need was felt for a station. It was not until 1905 that a station was opened here. It was designed by Harry Ford and features, among other delights, terra cotta facings and Art Nouveau lettering. The station is Grade II listed and the Details section of Historic England’s listing text provides a full description.

Brompton Cemetery on the map
Brompton Cemetery on the map
(Click for Bing Map)

From the station we walked to our destination which was Brompton Cemetery, whose location is shown on the above map. Click on it for the corresponding Bing Map.

Brompton Cemetery is one of what are known as London’s Magnificent Seven Cemeteries which were created from 1832 to 1840 because the capital’s local churchyard burial grounds were becoming overcrowded. The seven are:

Kensal Green Cemetery (1832)
West Norwood Cemetery (1836)
Highgate Cemetery (1839)
Abney Park Cemetery (1840)
Nunhead Cemetery (1840)
Brompton Cemetery (1840)
Tower Hamlets Cemetery, 1841

We visited Nunhead Cemetery in April last year (see Nunhead Cemetery)  though at that time I had not realized its importance as a member of this august group of burial grounds.

Though the main function of a burial ground is to dispose of the dead, they serve other purposes as well. Many are now classed as parks and offer oases of greenery and calm amid the bustle and noise of the city. They also provide valuable refuges for wild life.

Below are some of the photos I took during our visit. Explanations and captions seem as I think the views speak for themselves. A number of famous people are buried here but I have not bothered to find them or feature their tombs.

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompron Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompron Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

Crow, Brompton Cemetery

Grey squirrel, Brompton Cemetery

Brompton Cemetery

________

1If you are wondering why Barons Court – unlike, say, King’s Cross – appears without an apostrophe, then you may care to read Earl’s Court Or Earls Court? A London Apostrophe Guide by the Londonist.

Copyright 2018 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

Posted in Out and About | Tagged | 4 Comments