Bonallack's - coach-builders of Forest Gate

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

This site has previously featured manufacturing based in Forest Gate, notably bicycles and the many workshops in the area a hundred years ago. This article features a local company Bonallack’s that made bodies for vehicles, and then later spawned a car dealership surviving till 1990's. There may be a link - see below.

McDonald's now, Bonallack's then

A note on vehicle coach-building

Commercial vehicle building often involves two distinct phases, and often two different companies. A chassis and cab is built by one company say Ford or Volvo.  Then the chassis/cab goes to a bodybuilder to say construct a furniture lorry or tipper truck. 

Historically these bodybuilding companies often grew out of coach-building for horse drawn vehicles (building coaches), and to this day are sometimes referred to as coach builders. So, why should Bonallack's have chosen Forest Gate to establish themselves?

Previous articles on this site - see footnotes for details - have featured a very vibrant cycle-building cottage industry in Forest Gate in the late 1890's. As we have suggested, the "bike craze" may have tapered off around the turn of the century, and there would have been a ready pool of local, Forest Gate, labour capable of providing relevant skills to the still infant industry of commercial vehicle manufacture - in the days before production lines etc.

This article concerns a Forest Gate coach-builder Bonallack and Sons Ltd.

One of their vehicles from just before WW1,
made for a Forest Gate confectioner –
outside Bonallack’s premises in Cable
Street near Aldgate (Museum of London blog)
Bonallack’s is a very old established firm and features in the Victoria County History (VCH) for Essex.

Jacob Bonallack came from Cornwall to London in 1825 to build horse wagons, which became renowned for their quality and were exported all over the world. In 1846 he went into partnership with Joseph Briggs as coach makers and coach and cart wheelwrights, at Hanbury Field, Brick Lane, with a shop in John Street. In the 1850s he was making ‘staves and stays for vans and cart bodies’.

In 1870s he handed over running of the business to his grandsons William, John and Walter styled Bonallack and Sons Ltd., wheelwrights of 149 Cable Street (see here). Their connection to this part of East London appears to stem from them taking over in 1886 Stephen Gowar & Co., coach-builder, The Broadway, Stratford, a firm founded in 1839 (see here).

This is an Edwardian postcard image dating
 from 1900-1905 of the old Stratford Town Hall.
To the right you can clearly see the premises
 of Bonallack’s, Stratford Broadway. In 1905
Bonallack’s building was sold to the council
and used to substantially extend
Stratford fire station. This building survives,
now much modified. (Picture from collection
of postcards owned by Tony Morrison).
The left hand end of the Bonallack building in
2008, then with council offices above. The
appliance bays from the fire station are clearly
visible. It was a fire station 1906-1964. Top left
plaque says West Ham Fire Brigade station.
In 1905 Bonallack & Sons made the transition from horse drawn vehicles and built a factory in Nursery Lane, Forest Gate, to make motor vehicle bodies, and opened showrooms in Romford Road. The factory was transferred to Nevedon, Basildon in 1953, one of the post war new towns, and they were one of the first companies to relocate there (see here). Bonallack's survived until the early '90's as a subsidiary of James Booth Aluminium Ltd (see here).

The Romford Road showroom in Forest Gate survived well into the 1990's as a Leyland motor dealership, an enterprise separate from the commercial bodybuilder, but no doubt founded by another family member. Then that motor firm went bust and the garage was demolished. Forest Gate's McDonald's restaurant was built on the site. Sadly, we have been unable to source a photo of the garage. We would appreciate receiving one, should any reader have access to one.

Advert from around WW1. Note address in 
bottom right hand corner (source: here).
To quote from a piece in Commercial Motor magazine, 18 March 1955, by BG Bonallack, joint Managing Director, Bonallack and Sons Ltd:

As one of the oldest concerns of commercial body-builders still controlled by the founder family, Bonallack and Sons Ltd, find it most pleasant to be able to congratulate the Commercial Motor on having attained its 50th birthday.
To launch such a lusty infant on to the world in 1905 was a brave venture. Private motoring at that time was still largely a hobby of the eccentric rich, and commercial vehicles must have been very rare birds, indeed. When we look at the commanding position occupied by this journal in its own sphere today, it is fitting to pay tribute to the enterprise that started it.
We ourselves at that time were barely looking beyond the horse age. It is almost 50 years ago since the first motor body was built in our shops. One or two foremen - grey-haired men now, but lusty apprentices then - and some of our pensioners remember it. They will tell even today of the new problems that were faced then; and how "Mr Walter" (now our chairman, in his 84th year) spent hours in the shops deciding how every angle of the matter was to be approached.
The ancient trade, as practised by our founder, Jacob Bonallack, Cornishman, four generations ago, was in full flower around the first motor body. The wheelwrights were following their craft, striking double-handed with a full swing of the hammer on the ends of the unrimmed spokes. The blacksmiths were shrinking their white-hot steel tires on the ash of the felloes (see here, for source). 

Ordnance Survey 1914, showing Nursery Lane,
the first turning on the right, travelling along
Upton Lane from Romford Road. Bonallack's may
well have occupied the long building
behind Sylvan Road.
 The Nursery Lane factory (now lost under the Mother's Pride bread factory) even built an extraordinary fire engine based on a Rolls Royce car, for Borough Green and District Fire Brigade in Kent. This volunteer fire brigade bout a 1921 Silver Ghost from Lord Kelmsley, second hand, for £26 and Walter Bonallack converted it into a fire engine in 1938. Walter lived near Kelmsley.

A Rolls Royce Silver Ghost/Bonallack fire
appliance in the late 1930's (see here)
The famous toy maker, Matchbox (based across the borough boundary, in Hackney) even made a model of the Rolls Royce at 1:48 scale. Here is their version, numbered Y6 in Yesteryears collection:

In fact, it seems Bonallack's built a number of wooden bodies on various car chassis, what were termed shooting breaks - the archetype of the Woody was the Morris 1000 Traveller, with its wooden-framed body.

See this extract from British Woodies: From the 1920's to the 1950's (see here):


A. The author is a local historian, but also has also written extensively about the history of the fire service, including a book on West Ham Fire Brigade which ran the old Stratford fire station featured here. He also bought a second hand car from Bonallack’s in Forest Gate shortly before it went bust. The MG Maestro had serious defects and he went to Newham Trading Standards for redress without success as the company had disappeared by then.

B. References

1. Bonallack & Sons had a repair/body shop in Freshwater Road/Selinas Lane Dagenham, with Bonallack above the door. This would have been in the late '60's/early '70's (see here).

2. The story of the Borough Green Rolls is here
3. They built one modern fire engine, here

4. They also built several outside broadcast units for the BBC at Basildon, here

5. They seem to have built bodies for Riley cars in Forest Gate (here).

6. 1869 company restructure, here

7. Bonallack at Basildon built many ambulances for the British military based on Land Rovers, here

C. Previous hyper-linked articles on cycle workshops:

Forest Gate: hub of Victorian bike manufacturers

Bike building in Forest Gate

Cycling in Victorian Forest Gate
Forest Gate Cycling Club and life on the road at the end of the C19th

NHS at 70 (2) - current state of services in E7

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

In 2016 we published details of GP surgeries in E7, and how they were rated by their patients (see here). The article was based on the information supplied by the NHS's national website: NHS Choices.

This article updates the information and tracks significant developments, and extends its scope, by using the same website to assess the position of local dentists and pharmacies in Forest Gate, today.

E 7 - General Practitioners

There are 14 GP surgeries based in E7 today, as there were at the time of our earlier article (August 2016), although some of their names have been changed - mainly to "depersonalise" them, as the notion of surgeries being known by the name of the principal doctor is gradually eroding, and multi doctor partnerships are becoming the norm.

The list below presents the surgeries in alphabetical order, with former names included in brackets in their titles.

The number of patients registered to E7 GPs shot up by a remarkable 17% between these two snapshot looks at the data - from 77,265 to 90,630. But the number of GPs serving those surgeries rose by an even more impressive 30% - from 48 to 62 over the period.

So, the average number of patients per E7 registered GP has declined from 1 to 1,609 to 1 to 1,462 during that short time.

Within these figures there was a relative increase in the percentage of female GPs working in the surgeries, rising from 37% (18 of the total in 2016) to 42% (rising from 26 to 36 of the total today).

All local surgeries offer an electronic prescription service and on-line appointments.

E7's  GP surgeries have a relatively low approval rating amongst their patents, compared to the national average, according to the figures supplied by NHS Choices, but they are improving.

In 2016, 12 of E7's 14 surgeries had below average figures for patients who would recommend their surgery to others. The only two surgeries who performed within the national average range for recommendations were Claremont Clinic and the Woodgrange Medical Practice - two of the area's larger practices.

The present survey indicates that four more local surgeries have joined them in having patients who would recommend them, within the mid rage of national figures. They are Abiola, Driver and Partners, Krishnamurthy's Practice and Shrewsbury Summit.

The three best local surgeries for patient recommendations are: Claremont (86.1% and rising), Woodgrange (84.3% and rising) and Abiola (72.4% and rising). The three worst are: Birchdale (44.3% and falling), Upton Lane (37% and falling) and Boleyn (26.5% and falling).

NHS Choices offers a patient-lead "Star rating" for each surgery locally. These ratings are based on a relatively small sample of patients writing in, and do not correlate very well with the recommendations rating - based on much larger samples of patient opinion.

For what it's worth, the top three star ratings of local surgeries are: Claremont, 4.5 (up from 4), Woodgrange, 4 (up from 3) and Shrewsbury Centre, 4 (up from 2).  And the bottom four are: Driver and Partners and Westbury, both 2.5 (both down from 3), Summit, 1.5 (down from 2.5) and Boleyn, 1.5 (static).

Dr Abiola, 121 Woodgrange Road, E7 0EP. Tel: 020 8250 7550

Registered patients: 3,896 (2016: 3,761)
GPs in practice: 2 (1f, 1m) (2016: same)
72.4% of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016: 62.5%, amongst the worst)
3.5 Star rating (2016: 4.5)

Birchdale Road Medical Centre, 2 Birchdale Rd, E7 8AR. Tel: 020 8472 1600

Registered patients: 3,237 (2016: 3,285)
GPs in practice: 2 (1f, 1m) (unchanged)
44.3% of patients would recommend the practice - amongst the worst, nationally. (2016: 56.6% and amongst the worst)
3 Star rating (2016: 2)  

Boleyn Rd Practice, 162 Boleyn Rd, E7 9QJ. Tel: 020 8503 5656

Registered patients: 6,534 (2016: 7,226)
GPs in practice: 2 (2m) (unchanged)
26.5% of patients would recommend the practice - amongst the worst, nationally. (2016: 35%, and amongst the worst)
1.5 Star rating (2016: 1.5)

Boleyn Road Practice - lowest public rating in E7
Claremont Clinic, 459 - 463 Romford Rd, E7 8AB. Tel: 020 8522 0222

Registered patients: 9,800 (2016: 8,719)
GPs in practice: 5 (2f, 3m) (2016: 6 (3f, 3m))
86.1% of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016: 79.4%, mid range)
4.5 Star rating (2016: 4.5)

Claremont Clinic - highest rating by patients
Driver and Partners, Little Lister Health Centre, 121 Woodgrange Rd, E7 0EP. Tel: 020 8250 7510

Registered patients: 6,151 (2016: 6,930)
GPs in practice: 6 (4f, 2m) (2016: 4 (2f, 2m))
69.6% of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016: 66.1%, among the worst)
2.5 Star rating (2016: 3)

Driver and Partners, at the Lord Lister Clinic:
 medium sized practice with mid range satisfaction rating
Krishnamurthy's Practice, East Ham Memorial Hospital, Shrewsbury Road, E7 8QR. Tel: 020 8250 6555

Registered patients: 2,043 (2016: 2,006)
GPs in practice: 2 (2m) (2016: same)
 69.9% of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016: 65.3%, amongst the worst)
3 Star rating (2016: 2)

Dr CM Patel, 2 Jepson Road, E7 8LZ. Tel: 020 8470 6429

Registered patients: 2,163 (2,112)
GPs in practice: 2 (1f, 1m) (2016: same)
60.8 % of patients would recommend the practice - amongst the worst, nationally. (2016: 62.1%, amongst the worst)
3 Star rating (2016: 3.5)

Sangam Surgery (previously Govind Bapna), 511 Katherine Road, E7 8DR. Tel: 0202 8472 7029

Registered patients: 11,161 (2016: 1,084)
GPs in practice: 3 (2f,1m) (2016: 1 (1m))
63.5% of patients would recommend the practice - amongst worst, nationally. (2016: 63.5 % and amongst the worst)
3 Star rating (2016: 2.5)

Shrewsbury Centre (previously Shrewsbury Road Surgery), Shrewsbury Rd, E7 8QP. Tel: 020 8586 5111

Registered patients: 13,682 (2016: 12,848)
GPs in practice: 8 (3f, 5m) (2016: 5 (2f, 3m))
68.9% of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally (2016: 63.4%, amongst the worst)
4 Star rating (2016: 2)

The Summit Practice (previously A Yesufa), East Ham Memorial Building, Shrewsbury Road, E7 8QR. Tel: 020 8552 2299

Registered patients: 2,554 (2016: 2,417)
GPs in practice: 2 (2m), (2016: 1 (1m))
67.3 % of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016: 62.9%, amongst worst)
1.5 Star rating (2016: 2.5)

Summit: Star rating down,
but recommendation rate up
Dr Swedan and Partner, Little Lister Health Centre, 121 Woodgrange Rd, E7 0EP. Tel: 020 8250 7530

Registered patients: 2,983 (2016: 3,121)
GPs in practice: 4 (2f, 2m) (2016: 3 (2f, 1m))
51.5 % of patients would recommend the practice - amongst the worst, nationally. (2016: 64.6%, amongst the worst)
3 Star rating (2016: 3.5)

Upton Lane Medical Centre (previously PD Shanker and Partners), 75 - 77 Upton Lane, E7 9PB. Tel: 020 8471 6912

Registered patients: 7,848 (2016: 7,240)
GPs in practice: 6 (3f, 3m) (2016: 4 (1f, 3m))
37 % of patients would recommend the practice - among the worst, nationally. (2016: 44.7%, amongst the worst)
3.5 Star rating (2016: 3)

New medical centre in Upton Lane,
 with poor recommendation rating
Westbury Road Medical Practice (previously Dr DK Mahmud and Dr SW Rahman), 45, Westbury Rd, E7 8BU. Tel: 020 8472 4128

Registered patients: 4,172 (2016: 4,199)
GPs in practice: 4 (2f, 2m) (2016: 3 (1f, 2m))
66% of patients would recommend the practice - among the worst, nationally. (2016: 53.5%, amongst the worst)
2.5 Star rating (2016: 3)

Woodgrange Medical Practice, 40 Woodgrange Road, E7 0QH. Tel: 020 8221 3100/3128
Registered patients: 14,406 (2016: 12,317)
GPs in practice: 14 (5f, 9m) (2016: 11 (4f, 7m))
84.3 % of patients would recommend the practice - mid range, nationally. (2016 - 70.0%, mid range)
4 Star rating (2016: 3)

Woodgrange Medical Practice - large and popular

E7 Dentists

NHS Choices supplies details of local NHS dentists, but the information is less helpful than that supplied about General Practitioners. For example, there appears to be no requirement for dentist listed to indicate where or not they take new NHS patients - a rather serious flaw from an NHS site.

Below are details of the four E7 dentists appearing on the site (in alphabetical order), and the scant, relevant information provided about them. Only two (Forest and Woodgrange) indicate that they are currently accepting both adult and child new NHS patients.

Forest Dental Practice, 0208 552 1010, 76 Upton Lane.
This surgery has four dental practitioners and has a star rating of 4 (out of 5), based on 12 patient reviews.

Green Street Surgery, 0208 472 0504, 244 Green Street.
This surgery has four dental practitioners and has a star rating of 3, based on 2 patient reviews.

Katherine Road Dental Practice, 0208 470 2043, 394 Katherine Road.
 This surgery has three dental practitioners and has a star rating of 4, based on 12 patient reviews.

Woodgrange Dental Practice, 0208 555 3336, 80 Woodgrange Road.
This surgery has four dental practitioners and has a star rating of 2.5, based on 7 patient reviews.

Woodgrange Dental Practice
E7 Pharmacies

There are nine E7 pharmacies recorded on the NHS Choices site, which provides useful live information on up-to-date opening hours and details of out-of hours services, for emergencies.

Beyond that, the site is pretty useless. No details are provided of qualified pharamcists at each surgery.  A totally pointless customer star ratings system operates.  The majority of the E7 units have not received a single rating, suggesting that even the chemists and their families do not take it seriously!

Pharmacies are required by the Department of Heath to conduct an annual patient/client survey and publish the results on the NHS Choices website.  However, no guidance is given as to how they should be reported.  Each pharmacy chooses its own method, usually highlighting aspects of the survey where they appear in the best light, or to simply publish the whole report, unsummarised.

The result is that no meaningful comparisons can be made, and as a communication to the public exercise, the unprescribed requirement is almost worthless.

Mansons, 0208 534 3212, 15 Woodgrange Road.

Mansons on Woodgrange Road
Mayors, 0208 472 9746, 45 Upton Lane.

Malchem, 0208 519 4126, 63 Woodgrange Road.

Malchem on Woodgrange Road

Shan, 0208 534 1775, 453, Romford Road.

Woodgrange Pharmacy, 0206 555 5660, 116-120 Woodgrange Road.
Sherman's 0208 534 2394, 100-102 Woodgrange Road.

Crailmay Pharmacy, 0208 472 2370, 70 Green Street.

Day Lewis, 0208 552 2603, 79 Upton Lane.

Akro Pharmacy, 0208 472 0461, 404 Katherine Road.

E7 Opticians

The NHS Choices website also covers local opticians, but other than providing details of phone numbers and opening times the site is useless. It has scarcely been updated since 2010 and there is only one review of services between the four local opticians featured.

Clearly, surveying the opticians has been abandoned.  Some might argue that this is a short-sighted policy. Boom, boom!

Forest Gate Eye Clinic, 020 8181 9171, 47 Woodford Road.

Forest Gate Opticians, 0208 534 5170, 94 Woodgrange Road.

Pradip Patel, 020 8555 8834, 34 Woodgrange Road.

Pradip Patel's Optician on Woodgrange Road
Super Optical, 020 8472 0949, 5 St Stephen's Parade, Green Street. (the one with the rating!)

NHS at 70 (1): History of the Forest Gate Maternity Hospital

Sunday, 1 July 2018

This is the first of two articles celebrating the 70th birthday of the NHS, 5 July 2018 - recording the history of its largest local presence. The second article - to follow - will examine the state of NHS services in Forest Gate, today.

We have written before about the building on Forest Lane, which is now Gladys Dimson House, principally in its role as a Workhouse school (see here, here and here). 

Originally an Industrial School, later a hospital
and now a housing block - Gladys Dimson
House - on Forest Lane.
This post celebrates its time as a hospital, and a key part of the NHS estate from its inception in 1948 until its closure as the Newham Maternity hospital, in 1985.

The building was constructed on land owned by Samuel Gurney (see here) in 1854 as a public institution.  To mark the centenary of its establishment, as an Industrial school, the 1954 occupants, Forest Gate hospital, published a commemorative brochure and history. 

In passing, the authors noted that during that century the building had had one major change of use, at least four titles and controlled by six public bodies. Sixty-four years later a further change of use and title and at least three more public bodies could be added to the list.

Our most recent article on the building (here) described how progressive Poor Law Guardians closed the school as a workhouse/industrial school in 1906, because of its unsuitability and moved the, by now named Poplar Training school, to Hutton, in Essex.

The Illustrated London News shows
the effects of the 1890 new year's
day fire on the Industrial school
The Forest Gate building was closed for two years, when its then owners, the Poplar Board of Guardians opened it as an annexe to their Workhouse, in 1908.  They built additional accommodation there, for "sick paupers", at a cost of £8,000, and gradually the site took on its hospital role. They soon looked to close it down, and after some further alterations to the structure, sold the building to the West Ham Board of Guardians in 1911, for £41,000.

The West Ham Guardians decided the institution should be used for housing semi-sick and bed-ridden occupants of their other premises. It was designed to accommodate 600 occupants.

According to documents using language that would be totally unacceptable today, these consisted of:

Imbeciles: men, 62, women, 36. Epileptics (sane): men, 34, women, 36. Chronic bedridden: men, 75, women, 243. Sick: men, 50, women, 50. Maternity: women, 50.

It was re-opened in 1913 as the Forest Gate Sick Home. The official history notes that "the Great War and the "20's" saw little event of note under the new administration". Local folk lore has it that the institution was used as an isolation unit during the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1919, which killed more people than WW1 combatants. We have been unable to find any surviving records that confirm this.

School children, however, used the swimming baths at the site, which was attached to the laundry building, during WW1. These baths were subsequently filled in and the space was later used to house firstly a women's patients' handicraft centre and later an ante and post-natal clinic.

The swimming baths on the site, used
by local children during WW!, later built
over to become an ante and post natal clinic
Under the 1929 Local Government Act, which replaced Boards of Guardians with Public Assistance Committees, the sick home was transferred to West Ham Council and renamed the Forest Gate Hospital.

At the time of the transfer there were 500 beds for maternity, mental health and chronic sick cases. In 1931, as a temporary measure, an additional 200 beds were provided, to meet rising demand, at a cost of £17,000.

These additional beds were given to general use, but 75 of them were allocated to, what as  recently as 1956, the authors of the history describe as "mental defectives coming under municipal care."

Hospital staff photo, 1936
Public institutions in the 1940's rapidly tried to disassociate themselves from the baggage and terminology of the old Poor Law/Workhouse traditions. In 1942, therefore, responsibility for the hospital was moved from the Public Assistance committee of the council to the Social Services committee, and two years later to the West Ham Public Health committee.

During WW2, most of the non-maternity patients were evacuated to South Ockenden, in Essex. And just as well. Much of the accommodation they had previously occupied was destroyed by bombing.

On 23 September 1940 a high explosive bomb fell just outside the north-east boundary wall, causing damage to the roof and windows of M block.

On the same day an anti-aircraft shell fell and exploded on the temporary kitchen, causing severe damage. This necessitated the evacuation of a further 25 patients.

Evidence of 1940 bomb damage
On the night of 2 October a further hit caused considerable damage to the boiler house - resulting in additional patient evacuations.

On 9 October, yet another high explosive bomb caused a large crater near the maternity block. The roadway was entirely demolished and the external wall of the children's ward badly damaged. More patients had to be moved out.

Two further bombs hit the hospital on 15/16 October, causing serious damage to the kitchen block. Until repairs could be conducted, the hospital was without heating or lighting. Further temporary transfers, away from the hospital were required.

Having overcome this serious three-week spate of bombings, the hospital escaped the rest of WW2 unscathed.

And so, to the establishment of the National Health Service on 5 July 1948.
In the year immediately prior to its foundation, the hospital, which was by now almost exclusively a maternity facility, witnessed the birth of 1,261 babies (including six sets of twins and one of triplets). And. astonishing as it is to us today, when many mothers are in and out of hospital within 24 hours, the average number of days "confinement" was 11.7 days for the mothers.

On the "appointed day" for transfer of responsibility of the hospital from West Ham council to the NHS, in 1948, it was moved under the wing of the "West Ham Group (no 9) Hospital Management Committee of the North-East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Management Board."

The building in a state of disrepair - between
its closure as a maternity hospital and its
opening as residential apartments
The NHS continued to develop the facility as a specialist maternity hospital. New wards were opened by 1950.

In the early 50's there were 102 designated maternity and 5 gynaecological beds at Forest Gate Maternity Hospital - making it the largest unit of its kind within its hospital group. The hospital became an approved centre for the training of midwives.

It was still not, however, exclusively a maternity hospital. By the mid 1950's the regional hospital board was still seeking alternative accommodation for what the centenary brochure charmingly described as the remaining "mental and mentally defective patients", as soon as suitable accommodation could be found.

Change is never far from occurring within the NHS, and the Forest Lane hospital was no exception. In 1974, the hospital, which by now had 116 beds and was called the Newham Maternity Hospital, became part of the Newham Health District, under the City and East London Area Health Authority (Teaching).

With the construction of Newham General Hospital, and maternity beds and a Special Baby Care unit within it, in 1985, the Forest Lane hospital - which by then was down to 106 beds - was deemed surplus to requirements, and was closed by the Newham Health Authority.

An oak sculpture of a nurse
in the grounds of Forest Lane
park recalls the history of
the building as a hospital
After closure, the back of the original Victorian main building was demolished and houses built on the site. In 1993 the rest of the building was demolished, apart from the front facade.

The Lodge survives as well as the facade of the original building, which is now an apartment complex. It is used for education and other community activities. Gladys Dimson House is one of the original maternity buildings, and has been converted into residential accommodation. By popular demand, most of the site was developed as Forest Lane Park, between 1991 and 1994.


1. Few of the archives of the hospital survive, and many of those which do are closed, under the 100 year rule. Those which have survived and are accessible are to be found at the Royal London Hospital Archives, in Whitechapel.

2. Gladys Dimson was a Labour politician, and housing expert on the former Greater London Council. She died in 1999 and had no known connection with Newham or the buildings named after her.

Archibald Cameron Corbett - the man and his houses -synopsis of film

Thursday, 21 June 2018

We have written extensively before about Forest Gate's Woodgrange estate and the builder behind it, Archibald Cameron Corbett (see here, here and here). Corbett was one of the most prolific house builders in late Victorian/Edwardian Britain and the Woodgrange estate was simply the first of seven large estates he was responsible for.

The young Corbett
Residents in one of his other estates, in Catford, last year secured Heritage Lottery funding to make an hour long documentary about the man and his houses - and fascinating it is, too.  An early screening recently took place at the Gate library. An audience of around 80 enjoyed the viewing, which was rounded off with a Q&A with filmmaker, Ben Honeybone.

The film is now available for viewing on You Tube, and a link to it can be found in the footnotes, below. This article is a synopsis of it and is illustrated by screen grabs from it. The film was well researched and made by Ben, a professional BBC film producer, with Lucy Mangan, a Guardian journalist, as its narrator.

At the end of the 19th century, Corbett was the biggest house builder in suburban London and he made a fortune from his ground-breaking, healthy estates he developed.  Born in Scotland, he was, in turn, a property developer, MP and philanthropist, who finally bought large tracts of Scottish land and handed them over for public use and pleasure, long before the days of the National Trust, national parks and other such bodies.

He remains an elusive figure, however. Almost the only contemporary direct reference to him in, or near, any of the seven estates he built, is the water trough at the foot of Forest Gate's iconic clock (see below). He did not seek public recognition, or fame, and it is doubtful whether 1% of the estimated 40,000 residents currently living in his houses today will have heard of him.
His elusiveness just adds to the fascination.

The "empty" Forest Gate,
before Corbett started building
... and the drinking fountain and trough he
left Forest Gate - almost the only feature
with his name on it by any of his seven estates.
He was born in Glasgow on 23 May 1856 to the son of a prosperous trader, Thomas Corbett, and very strict Presbyterian mother, who had no time for frivolity and modern pleasures. He was named after his maternal grandfather, and was christened Archibald Cameron Corbett.

Corbett, getting older ...
He was largely educated at home. In the late 1860's the family moved from Glasgow to Clapham, in London. Aged 14, he went on a European tour that took in Rome and he was much affected by the classical architecture and sculptures that he saw. Some aspects of the Woodgrange estate may well have been influenced by this (see a future post on the estate's design).

In the late 1870's Thomas - Archibald's father - bought 110 acres of market garden in Forest Gate from the Gurney estate (see here), and began constructing a housing development named after the principal house on the land - Woodgrange.

Thomas died three years after the building started and Archibald and his older brother, Tom, took over the mantle.  Tom soon lost interest and sold his share to Archibald.

By 1884 sales on the 700+ house Woodgrange estate were going so well, that Archie bought land further to the east, for another development. The following year became an MP for a constituency in his native Glasgow. He remained in the House of Commons for the next six elections and 25 years, until he was ennobled. Although he switched parties, he pursued the same interests throughout his membership of Parliament.

A cartoon of Corbett campaigning for Parliament -
he was doing a Scottish dance and splashing
out cash to those in attendance - in the days
when political bribery was taken
less seriously than today
He was firmly opposed to Irish Home Rule, probably influenced by his mother's Presbyterianism, which would also have accounted for his championing on Temperance. (the houses on the Woodgrange estate, like most of his others, had restrictive covenants on them prohibiting the sale of alcohol).

Corbett participating in a
Temperance meeting in Forest
Gate, as he was building
the Woodgrange estate
In other respects, however, he could considered to be very socially progressive.  Against his own economic interests, he urged heavier taxation on property developers - for the sake of social equity; he was a fierce supporter of women's suffrage , when it was a minority pursuit, and a champion of shorter working hours for shop workers, proposing stiff regulation to enforce them.

Soon after entering Parliament he met, and later married, Alice Polson, daughter of the wealthy parents behind the famous Brown and Polson cornflower. The couple lived in Knightsbridge, close to Harrods, and had nine servants to look after them and their three subsequent children.

John and Alice Polson, Corbett's in-laws ...
... and the cornflour for which they were famous
and their daughter, Alice -
 the later Mrs Corbett
The Woodgrange estate was completed in 1892 and he switched his attentions to developing the farm and estates he had purchased in Ilford - which at the time was a small county town.

First, in 1893, came the St Clements estate, just south of Ilford railway station and a year later construction began on the Grange estate, just north of the station. In 1897 work commenced on the Downshall estate - a little to the east, and finally to the Mayfield estate - next to Downshall, in 1899.

Ilford's Grange estate, today
These latter two estates were a couple of miles from the nearest railway station.  So, Corbett - applying his formula of a successful estate: cheap land, good houses, appeal to aspiring middle class -  set about ensuring the last bit of his jigsaw puzzle: securing  handy overland trains station to the City.

This mix worked in Forest Gate: the Forest Gate station was his initial bait.  By the time the Woodgrange estate had been completed, the old Little Ilford and Manor Park station had been enlarged, and renamed Manor Park (see here), complete with cheap "workmen's" fares to London, and Woodgrange Park and Wanstead Park stations had been opened on another line (see here), all convenient for the Woodgrange.

... and older ...
He now incentivised the Great Eastern Railway company to open two more stations east of Ilford - Seven Kings and Goodmayes - to accommodate his new estates. The maps below show the locations of the Corbett estates in the Ilford area before and after railway extensions.
The original Ilford station, that was
part of the local appeal for Corbett

The spread of Corbett's Ilford estates,
 in relation to the sole local railway
station, when he started construction
... and Seven King's and Goodmayes
 stations, whose construction he sponsored
Seven King's station ...
Goodmayes Farm, on which
the Mayfield estate was built ...

Floor layouts of houses
on the Mayfield estate

... and an advert for houses built
on the farm - the Mayfield estate

Details of the easy instalments
payments Corbett pioneered
The four Ilford estates were slightly different in character: Clementswood, mostly 3-bed houses, Grange, more double and triple fronted, Downshall , hundreds with two storey bay windows and Venetian blinds (see photos, below) and Mayfield.

Looking at the housing developments in Ilford at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries - and with the Corbett estates marked in red in the map, below - Corbett could, were he not so modest, have a good claim to be the founding father of modern suburban Ilford.

Indeed, the vice-chair of Ilford Town council, in 1902 said: "The impetus to Ilford was given by Mr Corbett". Despite this, there is barely the trace of his name or influence displayed anywhere in the town.

Ilford in 1900, with the Corbett estates
highlighted in red. Clear to see why Corbett
could be considered the father of modern Ilford
Corbett switched his estate building attention south of the river in 1896 and bought the St German's agricultural estate and began constructing the largest of his seven developments - the St German's estate, with 3,200 houses, in the Catford/Hither Green area.

He built solid middle class houses and sold them, leasehold, at cost price, on 99 year leases.  The profit for Corbett in the deal was the 5% leasehold payment he got each year from them.  At a time when 90% of British families lived in rented accommodation, Corbett played a key role in laying the foundations for what was later to become known as a "property owning democracy". He had a strong faith in the power of owner-occupation in establishing healthy communities.

Corbett's legacy was substantial. His houses were well built, to high specifications - the fact that only bomb damage has destroyed any of the 9,000 that he built, over a century later - is testimony to this.

... and older ...
The houses on all his estates were spacious, in low density developments, usually with parklands incorporated into, or nearby, them.

The Catford estate took longer to build than the others - but the same formula was at work - including the construction of improvements to local railway stations - to make the developments more attractive to that newly born breed,  "commuters" - city workers who wanted to live in the leafier, healthier suburbs and travel to work.

Corbett's last great development began at the end of the 19th century. In 1899 he bought 330 acres of farmland in Eltham - quite near his Catford development - for £50,000 and began construction of the Eltham Park development, applying the same formula.  So, the construction of Shooters Hill and Eltham Park railway station followed soon after - in 1908.

Shooters Hill and Eltham Park railway
station, built at Corbett's behest

This estate is more Edwardian-looking in style, hardly surprising since it was built almost totally during the reign of Edward V11.

Promotional brochure, marketing
both the Ilford Mayfield estate
and the Eltham Park one
In his personal life, Corbett bought a 6,500 acre estate, Rowallan, in Scotland for his family in 1901, but his wife died soon after, aged only 34. Archibald Cameron Corbett began to withdraw a little from housing construction, but as is often the case, put some of his time and much of his money into philanthropic endeavours.

Rowallan - the Ayrshire estate that
Corbett bought for the family

So, he bought 143 acres of land in Glasgow and turned it into Rouken Glen Park - which survives and in 2016 was awarded the accolade of "The UK's best Park". He later bought 15,000 acres of the Scottish highlands, Lochgoilhead,  and endowed it as a "gift to the nation", before such gestures were common.

It is now called Ardgoil and has been incorporated into the Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park.

Glaswegians enjoying Corbett's "gift"
to the nation, which was, naturally, alcohol-free

Film narrator, Lucy Mangan, commenting
from Ardgoil - Corbett's legacy to
the Scottish people

Corbett was awarded a peerage in 1911, as part of George V's coronation celebration, and became Lord Rowallan of Rowallan. He began to withdraw even more from public life.  In 1915 he gave up his London mansion, to be a hostel for Belgian refugee families and retired to a Brown's hotel, in Mayfair - where he was to spend the remainder of his life.

... and old

He died on 19 March 1933.

The Corbett memorial, built
on his family estate in Scotland

Corbett's housing legacy was not as a pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap house builder.  He saw good housing as a keystone to a better society. Although less dramatic, his estates are as socially innovative within the housing movement as the rather better promoted  "model villages" of entrepreneurs, such as Lever , Cadbury and Titus Salt, and the grander garden suburbs such as Hampstead - on that they were build with the residents in mind, and not just the bank balance.

And the Woodgrange estate - the only one with Conservation Area status - proved to be the foundation of his impressive building legacy.


 1: Archibald Cameron Corbett, the Man and his houses can be viewed, free of charge on You Tube, here: The film lasts one hour.

2. We will follow this article with three others on the Woodgrange estate.  The first will look at some of the important external architectural features in this conservation area. The second will examine some of the interior features that remain in some of the high spec buildings that survive on the estate.  The third will look at the Woodgrange through the medium of two rare collections of mainly Edwardian postcards of the area. Watch this space!