Forest Gate's transformation, from a predominantly rural settlement to a London suburb, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was driven by the accommodation needs of the rapidly expanding metropolis' population, and the coming of the railways, which offered ease of access to workplaces for the new aspiring middle class residents.
|Forest Gate station (c 1890) - engine |
for economic growth then and now
These economic drivers have been responded to socially and commercially; and it is perhaps no co-incidence that the hub of this renaissance lies within the market place area facing the railway station.
So, a bit of not-for-profit enterprise by a small number of local women three or four years ago founded a local branch of the Women's Institute, which in turn kick-started the weekly Woodgrange Market.
|Weekly Woodgrange market - one of the |
early shoots of recent Forest Gate growth
This has become the centre of local community activity, and within a short time, CoffeE7 and the Emporium - a pot pouri of crafts, and vintage goods - popped up, to re-enforce the initiative. Artistic, music and food tasting events have followed, in due course, at frequent intervals on the site.
By co-incidence, Forest Gate's best - by a long way - estate agent just so happened to be located in a nearby shop. Wilkinson Estates is local, supportive of community initiatives and has a feel for the area. Unsurprisingly then, they top local sales figures and get very good customer feedback. They add to the mutual re-enforcement of the market place as the engine of social development within Forest Gate.
The Forest Gate Tavern and other local eateries, featured below, add to this customised appeal for local people, and are clustered around the same dynamic social hub. All of which will benefit further, and dramatically when Crossrail visits the train station.
Many Forest Gate dwellers have traditionally hit hand-wringing angst as their children approach secondary school age. A rapid departure from the district, in search of better schools, has traditionally been a route chosen by many families.
Quite how well founded the reasoning behind this flight was in the past is difficult to know, but Ofsted now, does provide some guidance to how good local schools are, today. Every family will make their own choices and have their own criteria, of course, but the local educational "offer", does seem to have improved considerably, over the last 30 or so years.
This site offered a run-down of the Ofsted and other inspection ratings for all local schools last year (primary schools here, secondary schools here).
A quick, up-to-date, summary of the position, with regard to Forest Gate local authority schools, according to their latest Ofsted rating (here, for full details) is:
|Elmhurst Primary - |
outstanding local school
Godwin Junior: Good
Odessa: Requires improvement
St Antony's: Good
St James: Good
Shaftesbury: Requires improvement
William Davies: Good
Woodgrange Infants: Good
Forest Gate: Requires improvement
St Angela's: Outstanding
St Bonaventures: Outstanding
|St Bon's - one of Forest Gate's two |
"Outstanding" Catholic secondary schools
West Ham FC currently sits just outside Forest Gate, to the south, and next year will be moving just to the west of it, as the club relocates to the Olympic stadium - thanks, in part, to a generous hand-out from we local taxpayers, via Newham Council.
But Forest Gate is, itself , home to a fine, energetic, football heritage - in both the north and south of the district.
Wanstead Flats plays host to many football teams each weekend (many of whom could improve their contribution to the local environment/ecology - see next E, by taking their rubbish and water bottles away with them at the end of their matches).
Football has been popular on the Flats for at least a century, and many dozens of teams have taken advantage of this fine open space. But none has been quite as significant as Senrab, a club whose various teams use the space as their home ground. As we pointed out, last August, that team has been the nursery for at least 18 future international footballers, including 10 with almost 450 English caps between them (see here for details).
|John Terry, former player and |
financial benefactor of Senrab FC
It has seen some large crowds and famous victories, over the years and for a while was the home club of Walter Tull - the first Afro-Caribbean player to play in English football's top division, and the first person of that heritage to receive a commission in the British infantry - during World War 1 (see here, for details).
The club has spent many years in football's doldrums, but has undergone a remarkable upsurge in energy and activity over the last two or three.
Performances and results have improved on the pitch and attendances are up - thanks largely to the emergence of the club's Ultra's. This is football fanaticism rarely seen in the lower leagues.
The fans, complete with banners and pyros (flares etc), provide a fanatical support for the club, commented, enviously upon, by other non-league clubs, in their own division - and further afield. You can follow some of them on Twitter via @ClaptonUltras, @LewListz and @andylangais53, @Real_Clapton
The Ultras support goers beyond the terraces, however.
There are some strong social messages coming from these supporters. They are avowedly anti-racist - which is shown at its strongest - and appreciated most - when playing against local teams with players of Romanian and Bengali heritage.
|Walter Tull, former Clapton FC |
player, and notable Black Briton
Despite this energy, and improved results and performances on the pitch, Clapton FC has a sorrier tale to tell. There is a breakdown of communications between many of those closest to the football at the club and those who control the ground - the two sides eye each other with suspicion and distrust.
This tension, compounded by tight financial times for both Clapton FC and Senrab highlight one of the great longer term shames of British football - the almost complete disregard of football at its grass roots, by national authorities who are awash with untold billions in TV revenues and plutocrats' investments.
Energy at grass roots - cynical disregard at the top.
Newham Council's financial support of the Premier league team and apparent neglect of the minnows, unfortunately, does nothing to address this imbalance.
Another south/north issue.
To the south of Forest Gate sits West Ham Park: 77 delightful acres of open space, managed by the City of London since 1874. It had previously been owned by the Gurney family and prior to that John Fothergill, about both of whom, much more in future blogs.
The park features a botanical garden and an array of sporting pitches. It is also home to one of the largest horticultural nurseries in the UK, producing over 200,000 spring and summer bedding plants each year, for the parks, gardens and churchyards managed by the City Corporation. Plants from the nursery are also used to grace state occasions and large events hosted by the City government.
The City Corporation is building on the work of John Fothergill (1712 - 1780), who developed an extensive botanical garden there - where he grew rare plants obtained from various parts of the world - at the end of the eighteenth century.
One of Fothergill's protégé's, John Lettsom, was so impressed with the glasshouses and botanical collection gathered at the site, that he said "the sphere seemed transposed, as the Arctic Circle joined with the equator." Lettsom published a catalogue of the plants of Fothergill's garden "Hortus Uptonensis, or a catalogue of the plants of Dr Fothergill's garden at Upton, at the time of his decease anno 1780".
|West Ham Park - a botanical delight |
for almost two and a half centuries
To the north of Forest Gate, of course, sits Wanstead Flats. Like it's southern ecological haven, West Ham Park, it is also managed by the Corporation of London. We've dealt on this site before with a little of the history of the Flats (see here for a general history and here for details of life on the Flats during World War 11).
Wanstead Flats is a real lung for north-east London and host to a wide array of birdlife. We hope to cover this in a latter post, but in the meantime there are some very good local twitching tweeters, often with accompanying websites who are well worth a follow. Among them are: @WansteadBirder (www.WansteadBirder.com), @TheCowboyBirder (www.TheCowboyBirder.com), @WFNaturePost and @JubileePond.
|Wanstead Flats - a lung for |
a congested East London
www.newhamwoodcraft.org.uk) are active in Flats' conservation and in running regular clean ups, in collaboration with the City of London - often disposing of mess left behind by some of the football teams playing there (see above).
A little to the south of the Flats, almost at the corner of Woodgrange Road and Earlham Grove, is the site of what, hopefully, will become a community garden.
A local support group has worked with the council and is about to get a medium term lease for the site. The group has an impressive website: www.forestgate-community-garden.org.uk and a Twitter feed: @FGCommGarden.
So, follow their progress - and watch that space!
Forest Gate has hosted a range of very special entertainment offers in its century and a half of existence, as this site has dwelled upon, on a number of occasions.
At the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries the district was home to six cinemas, for a history of them, and their eventual fates, as locations, see here.
One of those cinema buildings had a host of functions and different names, over its years of existence: as a public hall, night club and roller rink, in addition to its flicks-house existence.
We will return to its role as a premier roller rink in a future blog, but the building is perhaps most famously known - and celebrated - for hosting Billy Walker's Upper Cut Club (see here). Just opposite the building was the far longer established and thriving Lotus club, run by Forest Gate impresario, Kenny Johnson (see here, for details).
|Public hall, cinema, roller rink, night club, |
and so much more - before becoming a
railway ventilation shaft!
More recent Hollywood hits have come from Chiwetel Ejiofor (Twelve Years a Slave) and Idris Elba (Mandela, and The Wire), both of whom have firm Forest Gate roots.
Hampton Road Boy, Ben Drew, aka Plan B, has also had considerable cinematic success with Ill Manors (set in Forest Gate), to accompany his music success, with the top selling Defamation of Strickland Banks album and its hit single Stay Too Long (see here for details of Forest Gate as the new Hollywood for details).
|Ben Drew, aka Plan B, part of the modern|
entertainment output of Forest Gate
his time locally, working out in Forest Gate.
The fine tradition of top class, innovative entertainment continues today, in the shape of Swing Patrol, mentioned in last week's blog. Since that recent posting, we learn that they have added to their achievements, with Scottie Cupit becoming a dancing coach to Judy Murray, for the current Strictly Come Dancing TV series.
Recent postings on this site (here and here) suggest that Forest Gate hosts some pretty grim food shops and restaurants.
One advantage of the food shops, locally, however, is that given the incredible cosmopolitan nature of the local community, it is possible to buy food from almost every culinary tradition in those shops, and so be able to experiment with delightful and tasty menus at home.
By a quirk of the way in which food hygiene assessors work, they have omitted - for the time being at least - some of the more recent and interesting eateries in the Forest Gate area.
|An early addition to the emerging Cafe culture|
Although it doesn't attract the attention of near-neighbour CoffeE7, its coffee and cakes, in particular, are a delight.
Coffee7 is a popular, vegetarian cafe, specialising in very good breakfasts and cakes. It also hosts a range of social events (games nights, book readings) and proving to be a real community hub and meeting point for locals. You can catch up with them, on-line here (www.coffee7.co.uk, @CoffeeFG).
The Artemis coffee stall, in the rotunda outside the railway station, is the third recently opened coffee retailer in the area. A fresh £1.70 coffee on your way into the station is good value. The stall doesn't have the same social media presence of its bigger rival, but provides a very good service to thirsty commuters.
|Forest Tavern, good food and drink under|
one roof; pretty much a first in the area!
Next door is the recently opened Aromas Tandoori, North Indian Restaurant (@aromasfoods and www.aromasrestaurant.co.uk). A fine local Indian sit-in and takeaway restaurant that has certainly added significantly to the local eat out choice.
The area's most unlikely food delight, however, is found under a railway arch, at 352 Winchelsea Road: TheWansteadTap (www.thewansteadtap.com, @TheWansteadtap). Although specialising in a wide range of craft beers and ciders, it offers a regular supper club, when local Masterchef semi-finalist Michael Saunders @invitetosupper (www.invitetosupper.com) serves up a delightful menu for about 30 diners, for the bargain price of £30.
Michael also supplies some delightful sounding pies for a Friday pm feast at the Tap, offers to cook for your dinner guests in your own home and hints that he will soon be offering his own restaurant, soon.
The Tap, itself, also hosts a range of other social activities - book launches, poetry readings, jazz evenings and film shows, to name but a few.
At the very time Forest Gate was developing into a built-up area in the mid nineteenth century, public health legislation demanded the construction of burial grounds, away from crowded London city areas. This, plus the abundant availability of cheap land in this area, meant that Forest Gate had it all as a location for cemetery development!
|West Ham Jewish cemetery - now closed, |
but reminiscent of an era when Forest Gate
hosted a large Jewish population
In addition to the small graveyard plots around churches, such as Emmanuel's on Romford Road, Forest Gate hosts a local authority cemetery: West Ham, a Jewish cemetery; the once thriving, but now rather down-at-heel Woodgrange Park cemetery - now, overwhelmingly Moslem; and a smart private cemetery: Manor Park Cemetery. Adjacent to the district is the City of London Cemetery, - London's second largest.
|City of London cemetery, last resting |
place for many a famous East Ender
So, once again Forest Gate offers plenty of choice - for your final resting place!