Fires and drought on Wanstead Flats - a reflection

Friday, 19 August 2016


This August is a significant anniversary month for Wanstead Flats; the fortieth since drought dried area up, and the tenth since it encountered a major fire.

So, we felt it an appropriate moment to remember, both them and previous fires on the Flats - celebrate would hardly be the word! Peter Williams looks back.

2016 is the fortieth anniversary of the Great Drought in Britain when the country was ravaged by grass and heath land fires for over two months. From 22 June until 26 August -  nine weeks - the weather was consistently dry, sunny and hot. The summer of 1976 marked the culmination of a prolonged drought which had begun in April 1975.

By April 1976 the drought had become extremely serious, not only for the water-supply industry but also for agriculture. The topsoil in East Anglia had turned to dust and was being systematically eroded by stiff easterly winds, and farmers warned of poor yields unless the rains came soon. They didn't.

A Drought Bill was rushed through Parliament, water consumption was restricted as reservoirs and aquifers dried out, the parched countryside turned from green to brown and from brown to white as the last vestiges of moisture disappeared, and there were extensive heath and woodland fires in southern England. Finally a Minister for Drought, Dennis Howell, was appointed to co-ordinate water conservation. Within three days it had started raining!

The centrepiece of the summer, meteorologically speaking, was a truly unprecedented heatwave which lasted from 22 June to 16 July - 25 consecutive days - on each of which the temperature climbed to 27C or more (the 80s F) somewhere of other in the  UK.

Even more remarkable, the temperature reached 32C (the 90s F) on every one of the 15 successive days from 23 June to 7 July, inclusive. (Source Philip Eden website weatheronline.)

2006 was also a drought year in the UK.

9 August 2016 marked the tenth anniversary of the largest fire on Wanstead Flats for many years. It burned several acres of ground and made the news. It was a hot dry summer and the fire started near the north end of Centre Road.

There was a strong north westerly breeze blowing so it spread rapidly to the south east amongst the long grass only stopping when it reached the cut grass of the playing fields. The damage covered an area equivalent to 15-20 football pitches.

Eight fire engines attended and Centre Road was closed for several days whilst they were damping down hot spots which kept flaring up in the hot, dry and windy conditions. The last fire engine left nearly a week later.



In fact, there is a long history of fires on the Flats – the first account is from 1835 of a fire covering 20 acres:


Morning Advertiser - 13 August 1835
There was no organised fire brigade at this time (just tiny wooden parish manual engines) so there was no option but to call out the army’s Royal Engineers from Woolwich Barracks. The sappers dug trenches to contain the fire, not to fight it. Interestingly, to this day the fire brigade in Paris is a regiment of the French army and hence are called Sapeurs (sappers) Pompiers.

Here is a further report on this fire, with the interesting addition of a supposed cause:


https://books.google.co.uk/books/books?id=eeQ_AAAAYAAJ-1858
(The relationship between "gipsy partying" and Wanstead Flats is an interesting one and will be the subject of a future article.)

Fires continued to be a feature in the nineteenth century, often caused by what we now call anti social behaviour:


Cheltenham Chronicle - 13 August 1887


Essex Newsman - 15 September 1906
The pictures below give some impression of 2006. Fire engines were deployed onto the flats.



Large columns of smoke covered Forest Gate east of Centre Road and drifted south over the houses. There was no risk to property however.



A ghostly fire engine on the Flats. You can see how dry this grass was in 2006.



Centre Road was closed for a couple of days as water supply was a problem and the hoselines ran across and down it. This is near the Centre Road car park.



This specialist hoselayer was deployed from as far away as Southgate. Other specialist fire appliances were brought in. Note hoselines down Centre Rd junction of Forest Rd. It was nice to walk down the road with no traffic across the Flats for once.



Looking south towards Capel Point, at the corner of Woodford Rd/Capel Rd, and Canary Wharf in the distance. In total 30 acres was affected. Note how the paths were not burnt as they are gravelly and compacted so the fire tended to jump them. Some wartime features were exposed by the fire.


The same view 13 August 2016. Notice
 how the vegetation on the right (mainly
 broome) has grown so extensively





This image is from Google earth, dated
 September 2006, and clearly shows the fire damage.


The light area in the photo, above, is the Centre Road car park. Top right corner is Aldersbrook Road changing rooms and car park. The pattern of burning is quite clear, with the origin, top left, of burnt area. There was a stong breeze from the north west. Note how the paths remain very clear.

Since the end of cattle grazing on the Flats in 1998, due to the BSE crisis, there has been a significant issue of the spread of such scrub. There have been no major fires in the last few years to limit its spread.

The Corporation of London are planning a programme of scrub reduction in a managed way involving some local voluntary groups including the Wren Conservation and Wildlife Group. Broome is an important home for wildlife especially birds, but there needs to be a balance between open grassland and the more scrubby areas; that balance traditionally would have been maintained by grazing with cattle nibbling out certain plants and encouraging diversity.


Newham council parks police white CCTV
 vehicle on the Flats on 9 August 2006
In 2006 the Newham's parks' police service courted controversy and was later closed down. Maverick officers put blue lights on vehicles when they should not have (as they were not official 999 emergency vehicles), and there were several other scandals associated with them, including using Metropolitan Police paperwork in tackling what was anti social behaviour, not crime, e.g. incorrect disposal of waste by shopkeepers.

They “arrested” some boys on Aldersbrook Road near the Flats even though they were not in Newham at the time but in Redbridge. Indeed the picture above shows them operating on the flats which are in Redbridge where they had no legal authority as they were a Newham council force.

An independent solicitor, Amanda Kelly, was commissioned to conduct an investigation into the Newham parks police. As the Waltham Forest Guardian reported it in May 2006:


An investigation has been launched into claims that two boys were unlawfully held and questioned by parks' constables outside the boundaries of Newham.
If true, the incident will do further damage to the reputation of the division, which was condemned as badly trained and poorly run by an independent inquiry last year.
The report by solicitor Amanda Kelly found that the service was riddled by unproven allegations of abuses of power, corruption racism and bullying.
Despite having powers of arrest inside parks, the constabulary have the same authority as members of the public on the streets and are not permitted to patrol outside Newham.
Kwaljit Singh, 17, of Campbell Road, East Ham, told the Guardian that he was attempting to cross Aldersbrook Road in Wanstead when a van carrying up-to six officers blocked his passage.
He admitted that he shouted at the van, which then stopped and reversed. He said he panicked asnd fled, but was pursued by the constables who caught up with him.
He was joined by his friend Sahmi Mohammed, 14, of Whitear Walk, Stratford, and the two were ordered into the back of the van.
According to an official log seen by the Guardian, when constables noticed Sahmi was wearing a tag the police were called and asked if there was any reason why he should be detained.
A police officer refused to give the constables any information and they were forced to release the two.
Kwaljit said: I admit I did shout at the van and panicked a bit, but they were intimidating and calling me names. I knew straight away who they are because they often stop me and my friends, but they did not identify themselves and tell me what my rights were.
The log records the incident as taking place "out of borough" and listed an anti-social behaviour category listed as "shouting/swearing".
A council spokesman said : "We have been made aware of an alleged incident in Aldersbrook Road and are investigating the matter".
See also:  http:/www.blowe.org.uk/2012/08/how-is-this-not-impersonating-police.html

Footnotes

1. Not the 2006 fire but this is Capel Road Forest Gate with the flats in the background.



This Land Rover, above, was a former fire engine appliance served with SFOR, (the United Nations stabilisation force) in the former Yugoslavia.

You can see SFOR label on the rear bumper nearside. It could regularly be seen driving round Forest Gate, where it was photographed in late 2005, still with its crests on the doors. 

It was on civilian registration plates having been re-registered on leaving the defence forces, and blue lights removed. Defence Fire Service stickers were still on the doors though:



In 2015 it was reported on a specialist’s website - It now drives around Wythenshawe in Manchester.  It is more black than red but still looks the same: same back door and still has the fire stickers on the driver and passenger door!


2. Author Peter Williams is both a local historian and a historian of the fire brigade.

Murdergate (2)

Monday, 8 August 2016


This is the second of two posts examining the eighteen murders that have been committed in Forest Gate since 2003. For details of the source of the information, see the footnote to this post. For some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the murders - see the earlier post, here.

10. Igor Vinogradov: Date of murder: 20 Jan 2011, solved (argument between associates)
A Lithuanian squatter who kicked and stamped his housemate to death was jailed for at least 17 years for the murder. Paulius Korsakas, 27, killed 37-year-old Russian Igor Vinogradov, as the victim slept on the floor of a house 112 Capel Road, on 20 January 2011.

Korsakas then attempted to burn his victim's body to destroy the evidence, before texting his girlfriend to admit: 'I broke one guy really badly'. Mr Vinogradov's body was not discovered until 11 days after the killing.


Convicted: Paulius Korsakas
- minimum of 17 years
Korsakas was convicted of murder after a trial at the Old Bailey and on 16 September 2011 was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years before parole.


Witnesses told how Paulius Korsakas, a 27 year-old Lithuanian, attacked Mr Vinogradov in a drunken fury, believing he had been humiliated or slighted during a row.

Detective Sergeant Lesley O'Connell, said: "This was an extremely violent unprovoked attack on a defenceless man who was asleep at the time.

Korsakas was put out by the earlier argument and, fuelled by alcohol and his temper, took his revenge. I am pleased Igor's family have received justice."

11. Champion Ganda: Date of murder:9 May 2013, Old Bailey 6 Jun 2016 (unknown at present)
Champion Ganda, 17, was stabbed to death in Forest Gate on the afternoon of 9 May 2013. The teenager and a 16 year-old friend were found injured in Sandringham Road following a fight at around 2pm.


Victim: Champion Ganda
Champion was pronounced dead at the scene and a postmortem gave the cause of death as multiple stab wounds including a fatal injury to the chest.

The second victim, Shaquille Davis, was taken to hospital for treatment and was discharged two days later.

Two suspects were charged with murder in December 2015: Armani Lynch, 19, of Canterbury Way, Stevenage, and Marvin Simos, 19, of Hanameel Street, Silvertown.

They are due to stand trial at the Old Bailey in November 2016.

12. Sabeen Thandi: Date of murder: 7 July 2013 , solved (domestic)
Mother-of-three Sabeen Thandi, 37, was found unconscious at her home in Disraeli Road, on 7 July 2013. She was discovered under the duvet in the bedroom. Attempts were made to resuscitate her but she was confirmed dead on arrival at hospital. A postmortem gave the cause of death as strangulation.

On 8 July police charged Ms Thandi's husband Mohammed Badiuzzaman, 34, a security guard with murder. He pleaded guilty to murder at the Old Bailey on 6 May 2014. He was jailed for life with a minimum of 17 years before parole.


Victim: Sabeen Thandi
The couple began their relationship in November 2012 and he moved into her property in January 2013. Detectives said he became controlling and possessive, refusing to let her go out on her own or travel to and from her work as a doctor's receptionist. He also forced her to wear a hijab and pressured her into an Islamic marriage in April 2013.

On 14 June 2013 she went to a solicitors' firm in Watford and applied for a non-molestation order against her husband. It was granted three days later at Watford County Court, after she said she feared for the safety of her and her three children.


Convicted: Mohammed Badiuzzaman,
 minimum of 17 years
When police arrived at Sabeen's flat on 7 July, Badiuzzaman answered the door and claimed his partner had not returned from work. Detective Inspector Euan McKeeve said "Mohammed learnt that Sabeen had begun a relationship with someone else and murdered his wife in a fit of rage".

13. Anu Kapoor: Date of murder:4 Aug 2013, solved (domestic)
Mother-of-two Anu Kapoor, 27, was stabbed to death at her home in Shrewsbury Road on 4 August 2013. Police were called to the address by her husband Rojel Haque at around 4.50pm.

Anu, a receptionist for a firm of solicitors, was pronounced dead at the scene.

A postmortem gave the cause of death as a stab wound to the chest. The couple had two young children, a boy aged eight and a girl aged two.

On 7 August detectives charged Rojel Haque, 40, with murder.

Haque told police he returned home to find his wife had been attacked but prosecutors claimed he killed his wife because he believed his wife was having an affair.

He pleaded guilty to murder on the first day of his trial at Blackfriars Crown Court on 27 January 2014. The following day he was jailed for life with a minimum of 16 years before parole.

14. Amina Bibi: Date of murder:13 Sept 2013 , solved (domestic)
Amina Bibi, 43, was found stabbed to death at her flat in George Carver House in Station Road on 13 September 2013. Police and paramedics were called to the at around 8.50am. Amina, who was married with two children, had suffered around 70 knife wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene.


Victim: Amina Bibi
On 17 September 2013 police arrested the victim's husband Mohammad Ali (aka Mahendra Patel), 64 and Frederick Best, 46, of Kebbell Terrace, Claremont Road and both men were charged with murder.

The pair went on trial at Woolwich Crown Court on 22 July 2014. The prosecution claimed that Ali paid Best £1,000 to stab his wife to death after her sons had left for school. The court heard Ali was heavily in debt and was having an affair with his sister-in-law in Pakistan.

He had first met Best while running a shop in Woodgrange Road in Forest Gate in the early 1990s and was aware Best had a drugs habit.


Convicted: husband Mohammed Ali (aka
Mahendra Patel) - minimum of 24 years
When Ali left to do the school run, Best entered the communal doors and use a key to get access to the flat and attack Amina Bibi, stabbing her 70 times.

The crack cocaine addict fled the flat when the eldest son returned minutes later, to pick up school work he had left behind.

Best later told police that he was paid £1,000 to burgle the flat and entered to find Amina Bibi had already been stabbed and was lying on the floor covered in blood. During the trial Ali denied he was having an affair or had paid for his wife to be killed.


Convicted: Frederick Best
 - minimum of 30 years
On 20 August 2014 the jury convicted both Best and Ali of murder. Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment. Best was given a minimum term of 30 years before parole and Ali was given a minimum term of 24 years before parole.

15. Milena Yulianova: Date of murder:28 Jan 2014, solved (domestic)
Milena Yulianova, 27, was stabbed to death by her husband at their Nigel Road home, on 28 January 2014. Milena, a Bulgarian national, was taken to hospital but died at 8.22 pm. She had been stabbed 13 times including a fatal injury to heart.

The next day her husband Jamshaid Khan, 28, was charged with murder. Khan went on trial at the Old Bailey on 23 June 2015. The prosecution claimed that he murdered his wife during a row after she refused to help him stay in the country.


Victim: Milena Yulianova
Khan arrived in the UK in April 2011 on a study visa and married Milena in December 2012. He was granted leave to stay until February 2013, but his appeals for indefinite leave were repeatedly refused and he was told to provide further documentation.

"He needed her help, he needed her co-operation and when ultimately she did not give it she had to pay the price with her life," said prosecutor Lisa Wilding QC.

He denied murder on the grounds of self-defence, telling the court his wife must have been injured during the struggle for the knife.

On 13 July 2015 the jury convicted Khan of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 20 years before parole, on 17 July 2015.


Convicted: Jamshaid Khan
 - minimum of 20 years
Judge Stephen Kramer QC said: "You killed Milena in anger because she wouldn't help and support you in that application."

Investigating officer Detective Inspector Andrew Kelly, of the Homicide and Major Crime Command, said: "The jury were satisfied Khan deliberately stabbed Milena in the midst of their altercation and I am pleased with today's verdict."

16. Edgaras Kondrotas: Date of murder: 12 Jan 2015, solved (drunken rage)
This murder is very similar, in a number of ways, to that of Igor Vinogradov, see case 10, above. Edgaras Kondrotas, 28, was found dead at a house in Sebert Road on 12 January 2015.

Mr Kondrotas, a Lithuanian national from Goodmayes, was pronounced dead at the scene at 3.38 pm. A postmortem gave the cause of death as blunt force trauma to the abdomen.


Victim: Edgaras Kondrotas
Detectives believe he was assaulted by up to six men in Leyton High Road at around 11.30 pm the on 11 January 2015, after a night's drinking.

On 21 January Irvingas Makasejevas, 39, of Sebert Road was charged with his murder.


Convicted: Irvingas Makasejavas
 life sentence - 26 years minimum
He was convicted of the murder, described in court as involving "extreme brutality". He was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years, on 17 July 2016.

17. Phyllis Hayes: Date of murder:11 Jun 2015, solved (domestic)
Phyllis Hayes, 65, was found stabbed to death at her home in Idmiston Road on 11 June 2015.

Police were alerted at around midday after a gas engineer gained access to the property to investigate the source of a suspected gas leak. The engineer noticed all four gas knobs on the kitchen cooker had been turned on and discovered Mrs Hayes lying dead in her bedroom.


Victim: Phyllis Hayes
Mrs Hayes had suffered more than 50 stab wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene at 12.21pm. Detectives launched a murder investigation and appealed to trace her son Mark Hayes, 36, a part-time street cleaner. He had lived with his mother, but had not been seen for several days.

Hayes was arrested at 5.20am on 12 May 2015, after two officers from the Port of Tilbury Police found him hiding in a toilet block. He was charged with murder on 14 May and went on trial at Chelmsford Crown Court on 8 December 2015.

On 21 December he was convicted of murder and the following day was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 21 years, before parole. 

It is believed that after murdering his mother, Mark Hayes tried to cause an explosion in the flat by turning on the gas and putting a cigarette lighter in the microwave.

That afternoon detectives received information that Hayes had boarded a train to London at 14.06, only to get off at Wickford Station.

In the early hours of 12 June he entered a cabin in the grounds of a pub in Tilbury and attacked a man sleeping inside. Hayes battered the victim, Alan Pryer, with a trophy and stabbed him in the torso and leg but Mr Pryer managed to escape.


Convicted: Mark Hayes - 21 years for
 murder of his mother, eight and a
 half years for attempted murder of Alan
Pryer and five and a half years for arson
Following his trial, Hayes was also sentenced to eight-and-a-half years for the attempted murder of Mr Pryer and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of five-and-a-half years for the arson with intent to endanger life at his home in Idmiston Road.

18. Harbhajan Singh Rooprai: Date of murder: 25 Dec 2015 , solved (bungled dispute attack, where the murdered man was an "innocent victim")
Harbhajan Singh Rooprai, 60, was found dead after a house fire in Field Road, on Christmas Day 2015. The body of Mr Rooprai was found inside the house. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Victim: Harbhajan Singh Rooprai
Detectives said they believed fire was started deliberately and launched a murder investigation the following day.

On 30 December Tyrone Jacobs, 27 of Ramsay Road, Forest Gate, was charged with murder. The Old Bailey jury heard that Jacobs had fallen out with one of the other tenants of Rooprai's multi-occupancy house and set fire to the property on 25 December.

The would-be victim escaped, but Rooprai was unable to escape the house once the fire took hold.


The Field Road blaze, and
 scene of Harhajan Rooprai's murder
Tyrone Jacobs was found guilty of arson with intent to murder and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years at the Old Bailey in June 2016.


Convicted: Tyrone Jacobs
 - minimum of 30 years
This concludes two rather depressing posts on recent murders in Forest Gate.

The posts record the killings on 18 people for overwhelmingly trivial matters, with major incarceration consequences for the perpetrators. 

It is not the role of this blog to veer into matters of criminal justice policy, but the stories portrayed over these posts throw up fundamental concerns over the inadequacies of Britain's criminal justice system.

The threat of lengthy prison sentences clearly provided no deterrent for the murderers convicted of the crimes, induced by by relatively minor causes.

Other than social retribution by incarceration - at considerable public cost - it is difficult to see what benefits lengthy prison sentences will serve. It is equally unclear how those convicted will have their future re-introduction to society and rehabilitation aided by being banged up for long periods with others, from whom they will presumably learn other "tricks of the trade".


Footnote:


The Murder map website (here) is run by volunteers and receives no official funding. They would be grateful for any donations, to keep their project active. Details can be found on the site.  We express our thanks to them for their meticulous work, which has enabled this post to be written.

The street where you live (6): Capel Road

Sunday, 31 July 2016


This is the sixth in an occasional series of articles by Forest Gate resident, Peter Williams, who specialises in Newham housing, maps and local history. In each he looks, in detail, at the history of particular streets in Forest Gate.

Peter has complemented his own knowledge by accessing the increasingly digitised national newspapers' collection - which can be found here- and has added extracts from this that refer specifically to Capel Road. As the footnote makes clear, he is also very grateful for the co-operation of some of the residents of Capel Road in preparing this piece - most notably, fellow local historian, Mark Gorman.

Capel Road is not the original name of this street. It was originally known as Duncans Road, after a local businessman, based a little to the north. He was a stonemason, and occupied a building now under the Alexandra Lake. Here is a reference to the road from 1869:


Chelmsford Chronicle - 1 January 1869
In the 1870s it was renamed Capel Road - Capel being a name strongly associated with Norfolk, the original home of several prominent Forest Gate Quaker families, notably the Gurneys, who owned the land to the south of the newly named road (see various previous posts for details - by using the search engine - of the Gurney influence on Forest Gate). 

It is very likely at his time that Capel Road had the characteristics of a very rural track on the edge of the Epping Forest land, with a few houses. In 1878 an Act of Parliament was passed preserving the Forest from development.

The extract below, from the mid 1890's, reports an East Ham Council meeting about the adoption of Capel Road by the council. Until then its maintenance was the responsibility of the householders, emphasising the country feel of the area till the turn of the century.


Chelmsford Chronicle - 8 May 1896
At this period a simple numbering system for the houses being newly built probably did not exist, and buildings often has names not numbers. Examples in the records are:

Forest Terrace/The Ferns/Lothian Villas/Proctor Villas/Elm Cottage/The Limes – this last is shown:


Chelmsford Chronicle - 14 Jul 1893

The surviving plaque on The Limes,
 105 Capel Road. It is quite a small
 property to require a domestic servant

The development of the modern road

Capel Road stretches from Woodford Road in the west all the way to Forest Drive, 1.5kms to the east. It forms the most northerly road in what is now the borough of Newham. Until 1965 the western end up to Ridley Road junction was in West Ham Borough, and the rest in East Ham.

Just to the north was Wanstead and Woodford Urban District council (UDC, now Redbridge LBC). The current borough boundary between Newham and Redbridge coincides with the northern curb line of the road. This changed in the 1990's when the Boundary Commission rationalised the historic boundary.

A small area of Wanstead flats west of Ridley Road used to be in West Ham and then Newham. Hence Angell or Bandstand Pond at the corner of Woodford Road was in West Ham historically; the boundary line cutting Centre Road just north of 113 Woodford Rd. 

Indeed, both the bandstand and the pond were constructed by West Ham council in 1897-1898. This is shown clearly on the 1898 OS map below (see “Co and Parly Boro Bdy”). Since 1965 Waltham Forest has been the local authority west of Centre Road and north of Sidney Road.

To this day there are boundary disputes between the various authorities, for example, on who should clear up fly-tips on the edge of the Flats. Newham is responsible up to the curb line in Capel Road; Redbridge for what is on the grass but by convention Newham does pick up fly-tips which are not in Newham. 

The Corporation of London (CoL) is the landowner, not the local authority with the cleansing duty under the Environmental Protection Act, but the CoL can, and does, prosecute people for flytipping on its land. Newham has no legal authority north of the curb line.

Capel Road is a boundary in a number of senses, as it more or less marks the boundary between the forest land (Epping or Lower Forest) and the cultivated land to the south. This is shown in the old maps where you can see areas of cultivation to the south and the “waste” as it was known to the north. The forest land, though notably, not covered in trees (it never, knowingly, was):


Ordnance Survey OS Map 1863

This maps needs careful interpretation as the sloping line across it does not exactly coincide with the modern line of Capel Road. The modern road lies slightly to the south and this is most clearly shown if you follow Chestnut Avenue north (the road with a slight dog-leg over the left).

What is now wide Chestnut Avenue, on the modern map hits Capel Road by the Chestnut children’s nursery. On this 1863 map it does not; there are fields there. (See here, for Peter's article on this history of Chestnut Avenue).


Map from atlas published by Geo. Philip
 - dated probably just before 1880
This map was recently for sale on Ebay (June 2016) and is a fascinating addition to our knowledge. There are several things to note here. The most obvious one is that Capel Road is in two distinct halves, with the cemetery appearing to reach all the way up to the Flats. 

The role of the Cemetery Company in the development of the area is discussed below. After this map was drawn they must have decided to release land along their northern boundary for development, no doubt very profitably.

The other key finding is the presence of fields to the north of Capel Road at the top of Chestnut Avenue. These fields have great historical significance because it is here in the early 1870's that the battle to save Epping Forest and in particular Wanstead Flats, was fought out.

The high point of the campaign was the summer of 1871, when Lord Cowley (who had inherited the Wanstead House estate from his cousin, the notorious William Wellesley-Pole) enclosed land on Wanstead Flats -the current Aldersbrook estate, then part of the Flats.

A public meeting was called, to which thousands of east Londoners responded - some estimated the crowd at 30,000. Despite calls for a peaceful demonstration, late in the evening, some of the crowd broke fences – not Cowley’s, but those surrounding the fields near Chestnut Avenue.

The police -who had left the Flats earlier, thinking the demonstration was over - found only a pile of matchwood, which some in the crowd suggested they might like to guard. Just one arrest was made, but the owner of the fences, a local businessman called John Gladding, was reluctant to prosecute and asked for the lightest possible sentence. 

Since his son was a prominent member of the anti-enclosure campaign in east London, he may have felt somewhat embarrassed. 


These fields were eventually
 returned to Epping Forest, and
 form part of the Flats, today
Modern Capel Road is also characterised by its varying width, from very wide at the western end to much narrower as you move east. This was governed by the rather fluid boundary in the Victorian period between forest land and cultivated land. Lorne Road had commercial greenhouses well into the 1890's (these are marked in the map, below), after the construction of the first short terraces; and Ridley Road was associated with watercress beds.


OS map, 1895. This section highlights the junction
 of Capel Road with Lorne Road and Tylney Roads
The striking thing is the presence of commercial greenhouses. These are in Lorne Rd and between Tylney and Ridley Roads. Development of the terraces is also incomplete, despite this map being drawn some 10-15 years after the first houses were built in the area.


OS map, 1898. Note: on this map, the terraces to
 the north  of Manor Park Cemetery are still not
 complete. There are gaps of some of these
 were only filled in the very late 19th century,
 or even early 20th century


East London Observer - 20 April 1878
The Manor Park Cemetery Co. bought up most of the former agricultural land between Manor Park station and Forest Gate station in c.1870 from the British Land Co. who in turn has bought it from Samuel Gurney the Quaker, formerly known as the Hamfrith estate (see here, for details). They used about half for their cemetery and the rest they sold off, or leased in small plots, to speculative builders.

Builders often built just half a dozen houses, not whole roads, which is why many terraces have breaks in them. Terraced houses are in slightly differing styles; some are in fact semi detached or detached and this wide variety of styles can be seen in Capel Road. Reading the surviving date plaques on houses can be an interesting study.

See here for more on the process of development of housing in this area. Land was progressively sold off in plots by the Manor Park Cemetery Co. (who had been refused permission for a cemetery covering the whole area between Forest Gate and Manor Park).

Development was patchy, probably because the developers tended to be local residents, who would buy one or several plots, then amass enough capital to build, and because the cemetery company required houses to be worth no less than £300 - a substantial sum for Forest Gate houses at that time.

Many resorted to loans from one of several building societies operating locally. For example, the plots for nos. 151 and 152 Capel Road were bought in 1880, but building only commenced in 1886. The developer was a retired sailmaker living at Clifton Villas, Capel Road. A Bristolian, he named the houses Bristol and Bath Villas.


The dated plaque on 152 Capel Road - 1887
Postcard images below  from the early 20th century show the extreme western end of Capel Road and the pond next to what was the bandstand designed by Lewis Angell, borough engineer the West Ham. 

The pond was made in c 1897 to collect surface water from the Flats during storms, to prevent flooding in cellars of the Broadway (ie Woodford Rd/Woodgrange Rd) and when rains ceased water would drain away through a sluice conducted for that purpose.

To quote from a letter to a newspaper dated 24 September 1897 regarding Angell Pond:
Considerable annoyance is caused by the bodies of dogs and cats which end their existence here, or else are thrown in after they are dead, and are then allowed to decompose and become a most disgusting nuisance.
Tradesmen and others drove their horses and carts in and cleaned up – “the putrid materials...are worse than sewage”. The correspondent suggested turning the lake into a model yacht pond, of interest to Forest Gate residents, “some of whom possess some exceptionally fine model yachts”.

And on 4 March 1898 W.F. Street of 44 Capel Road wrote to ask if the articles regarding Capel Road are because the writer “ has any feeling against the residents of this road?” Not only Capel Road residents, but those of other roads had complained about Angell Pond.

Angell Pond, early 20th century.
Barwick Road is in the background.
 Note litter on edge of the pond
- so, clearly not just a modern problem
On the corner of Barwick Road and Capel Road, in the photo above, there is a shop premises visible that has now been converted to flats – see photo, immediately below.






This is the view looking east from Woodford Road
 along Capel Road over Angell Pond in the early
 1900s. Note the rowing or pedalo boats for hire
 and the West Ham bandstand. You can see that this
 is like a mini resort for Sunday afternoon leisure.
This area was known as Monkey Parade at this time.
There are planted avenues of plane trees shown in the photo which survive to this day. See the Chestnut Avenue article, referred to above, for details. To quote from a 1911 West Ham council report proposing "repairs round Angell Pond, and construction of a pathway between Woodford Road and Sidney Road to be carried out by unemployed men."


OS map, 1914
It is clear from this map, that by the outbreak of the First World War Capel Road is more or less complete in the form we know it now. There were Zeppelin attacks immediately to the north and west, but little or no damage was done to Capel Rd, itself.

The Second World War brought much greater changes. The photo below was taken by the RAF on 7 August 1944. Angell Pond is in the top left hand corner; the Golden Fleece bottom right hand. Capel Road angles diagonally across the image, with the Alexandra or Sandhills pond on the right hand edge (Sandhills was dug in Edwardian times as a job creation scheme by East Ham council). Manor Park cemetery is visible at the bottom. The tiny squares that cover Wanstead Flats along Capel Road are allotments. There were several hundred on the flats by 1944, in various clusters.



After this picture was taken prefabs were built. Below is a 1950's street directory to the eastern end near the Golden Fleece. You can see very clearly the large East Ham Council prefabs estate that was build on the flats in late 1944 and early 1945. They were built partly by Italian prisoners of War, who were camped on the Flats. The roads were named after the heads of the RAF, army and navy at the time.

For more on the prefabs see here





Below is a photo of Cunningham Gardens, Capel Rd in the 1950's. These prefabs were only demolished in the early 1960's, when the current sports pitches were laid out. There was fencing along the eastern end of Capel Road round the prefab estate which some current residents remember.


Cunningham Gardens,
Capel Road, 1950's
Prefabs survived elsewhere in Newham, right up to the late 1980's; the last being in Miers Close, East Ham. Though originally designated as temporary housing for bombed out families, intended to last a few years, they were immensely popular, as they were of such a high standard compared with where people came from, often shared houses with no bathroom and outside toilet.

The East Ham prefabs were especially good quality with gardens - some cherry trees on Capel Road survive from those gardens – outside 90-100, for example. The prefabs had modern appliances in the kitchen and a full bathroom with plumbed in hot water, previously unheard of luxuries for many
of their tenants.

Newham Housing department had some difficulty demolishing some of them in the 1980s because of their popularity - a bungalow with a garden was hard to match for the rehousing officers.

West Ham Council also had prefabs on Capel Road, but they were of a different design and of lower quality. They were located at the end of Latimer and Cranmer Roads and were demolished prior to 1960.


A history of some of the houses on the road


Many houses in Capel Road have been, not surprisingly, occupied by professional people as this sample shows:  - number of house, name of occupant, profession and year of occupancy.


42 - Robert McNeil - accountant - 1920

59 - HH Robins - chemist - 1897

79 - AW Mera - entomologist - 1903

95 - Harold H Leadbetter - chemist - 1903

105 - JL Francis - chemist - 1931

109 - W Tomlinson - building contractor - 1904

109 - ???? - dentist - 1945

112 - was a B&B - 1931

123 - George Price Trasler - chemist - 1916

134 - Ernest F Ferry - architect - 1912

139 - Miss MF Shillingforth - historian - 1921

141 - Edward Walter - chemist - 1920

142 - ??? - organ teacher - 1907
143 - John Morgan - publisher - 1927
162 - PH Clements - shipbuilder - 1919
196 - R Fanshaw - antiquarian book dealer

This list may confuse "chemist" in the sense of pharmacist and people who work in chemical engineering. The preponderance of chemical engineers may indicate the importance of that industry around Stratford at that period – indeed it was known as “stinky Stratford”, because there were so many chemical and similar factories.

By the mid 1960's Newham was building a number of tower blocks, heavily subsidised by central government. One of these is Capel Point at the western end of the road. The block is now part of a Private Finance Initiative contract (the notorious PFIs) - where Newham let a 25 year contract in 2009 to Swan Housing Association and a construction partner, Higgins. 

The tenants remain as council tenants, but all services are provided by Swan. The block was refurbished a couple of years ago with money levered in via the private sector and government credits, for what was called the Decent Homes programme.


Capel Point, part of the one thousand
 homes Forest Gate PFI contract

The same view, 1907 - the building that was on
 the Capel Point site at that time looks like quite
 a grand house. On the right - on Woodford Road

 - is an awning of a shop, now occupied by 
Concept Brickwork, the white building above.
Next to Capel Point there was a small petrol station until about 10 years ago run by the Kuwait or Q8 Oil Company. It was demolished and private houses built on the site.


New houses on the site of the petrol station
 - note the small green posts in the pavement
 that survive from the garage.

The same corner in 1911 - the sign reads
 Banes, Manor Farm Dairy. Forest Side is right


It would have been around this point that Capel Road hosted some of its more unsavoury events.  It became an outdoor meeting point for the British Union of Fascists, during the 1930's, and occasionally provided a ranting spot for BUF leader Oswald Mosley (see here for details).

In September 1937, 20 residents of Capel Road organised a petition to prohibit the BUF's regular Sunday meetings on the Flats, "as they were a nuisance and caused annoyance to householders living within hearing distance" from 8pm - 10pm, having reserved their speaking pitch on the corner of the Flats at 4pm or 5pm in the afternoon. The residents were unhappy that the police seemed to turn a blind eye to the nuisance caused by the open air meetings.

Local boy, actor and film producer, Bryan Forbes (see here), who was born in Cranmer Road, recalls one of Mosley's visits to the area in his youth, in his autobiography:
Mosley came to Wanstead Flats some Sunday evenings.  He came in a sealed truck with a wire cage let into the roof. Surrounded by a black garland of close-cropped, scrubbed and wax-like bodyguards. He stood within the cage and screeched his British upper class impression of Streicher to an audience that mostly consisted of children, derelicts and the police.
25 Capel Road was many years ago used by the Cuban ambassador as a residence and later became the home of Mark Stephens CBE, the celebrity lawyer, until he moved to Wanstead. He famously displayed a piece of modern art in the first floor window, an upside down life-size naked figure. Mark was chair of Governors at University of East London. It was said the house had an orchard out the back.


25 Capel Road, a tall one-off house, with
 a high parapet and an interesting history


It is clear from this 1906 postcard that 25 Capel
 Rd once stood as the centre piece to an imposing
 terrace, with the whole wing on the left now gone,
 presumably as a result of bombing in the Second World
 War. On the extreme right of this picture is the angled
 roof of what was an off licence that closed in
 1990s in Barwick Rd
The modern houses next to 25 were built by Newham Council in the 1980's on a vacant plot caused by that bomb damage, to a design by one of the council’s own architects Dave Dennis. They were among the last council houses built directly by Newham Council under something called the “small sites programme”.


This fine detached former doctor’s house
 occupies the corner of Latimer Road
 and Capel Road. There was a side annex
 that formed the consulting room.

The house below used to be occupied by professional dog walkers. It achieved notoriety in 2006 when Maggie May, the dog belonging to the singer/celebrity Lily Allen, was opportunistically kidnapped (dognapped?) from outside. The owner of the business had the dog in his van, right outside, but it was stolen and £5,000 ransom paid by the singer shortly afterwards.



8 August 2015 - a Banksy-style street art
 of a fly-tipped mattress, between Lorne
 and Latimer Roads
The block of flats on the corner of Lorne Road and Capel Road are also on a bomb site but this time the construction was by a housing association, Circle 33, now called Circle Anglia.


The newer block is flats, the older block
 - to the left - was originally a mother
 and baby home, but is now flats
A number of the houses along Capel Road have been used for social housing projects, both low support, and designated higher need residential care homes. The property next to the Golden Fleece was at one time a shop (Capel Road’s only other shop?) and for a while, allegedly a brothel. About 15 years it ago was converted to a care home for people with learning disabilities called The Chase.

88 Capel Road was once a supported housing scheme, in association with Newham MIND, for people with mental health support needs. It became ordinary housing again in 2010.

95 Capel Road: here two boys got the birch for stealing pigeons from the house in 1896, see extract below:


Chelmsford Chronicle - 1 May 1896
Another notable property was 110 Capel Road, the home (palace?) of the Bishop of Barking. In the 1990's it was occupied by Bishop Roger Sainsbury, but then sold by the diocese in the 2000's on his retirement. 

The fine detached former "Bishop's Palace"
Bishop Roger had wanted the bishop to live in Newham, not Barking, as it had a far larger population. He was long associated with the borough, especially the Mayflower Centre in Canning Town, where he worked with former English test cricket captain, Revd David Shepherd. The property was briefly known as Barking Lodge.

111 Capel Road is the most modern house in the road. It was architect-designed about 15 years ago on the site of an older house which was demolished, and arrived in modules on the back of a lorry. A crane was needed and the road was closed for a few days. 



The new house has a wonderful garden,
 which is occasionally open to the public,
 as part of the National Garden Scheme
112 Capel Road became notorious a few years ago, as the scene of a murder. The house, which is privately owned, had been empty for some years and occupied by squatters. There was a fight amongst the homeless men living there on 20 January 2011, when Paulius Korsakas, 27, murdered 37-year-old Russian Igor Vinogradov as the victim slept on the floor.

Newham Council subsequently issued compulsory purchase order (CPO) proceedings as the house had remained empty for so long. At one time the council had the largest CPO programme in the country, against empty private sector properties, funded by the GLA. 

There were well over 100 CPOs in the borough but the programme ended when the money ran out and priorities changed. 112 Capel is one of the last two CPOs. 12 Ridley Road, another long term private empty house, was also CPO’d in the mid 2000's.

145 Capel Road and its neighbours display some lovely detailing – such as the barley sugar-twist iron supports to the front bay; and the dog tooth timber detail over the sash windows. They also have interesting door canopies. There is a large variety of these aspects on the road, and many of the features were mass produced for Victorian terraced housing, and builders bought them from catalogues.



151 – 152 Capel Road were built in 1887 by the Bristolian sailmaker (see above) as a semi detached pair. To the right is another semi detached pair and this photo shows the varying building styles that add such charm to Capel Road.



One of the anomalies of this part of Capel Road is that some but not all of the houses have deeds that show that the land ownership extends to the hedge line on the opposite side of the road, up to where the ditch now is. This makes these house owners responsible for the state of the hedge line on the north side of Capel Road.

This clearly shown in the deeds for 156 Capel Road and its neighbours:


This early legal document from the
 mid 1880's marks the house plot in
 red and you can see the detached tiny
 piece of land on the other side of
 the road. The exact reason
 for this is not quite clear.
These house deeds show something else interesting:


The original plot numbers and house names
 are shown, the strip on the other side of the road
 and the PH, the public house:'The Golden Fleece'.

153 Capel Road was the base of the Taurus Co. just before the First World War:

Sussex Agricultural Express 11 July 1913
154 Windsor Villa plot 719 – see photo below
155 Osborne Villa plot 720 – see photo below
156 Inverness Villa plot 721 – the house name was destroyed in modernisation in 1980s
157 Balmoral Villa plot 722 – name survives over the front door. 



There was a tragedy at Windsor Villa not long after it was built.


Essex Newsman 13 February 1892
161 Capel Road:

Essex Newsman 14 July 1917

The Golden Fleece


The earliest traceable reference to the Fleece, as it is known, appears to be about 1871, accoprding to pub history websites.

There is nothing new in complaining about funerals near the pub – here is a letter from “Capel Road” on 3 September 1897 ..... a resident – complains of potential funerals along “what has hitherto been a quiet thoroughfare ...Wanstead Flats being the people’s property, the people have a right to have a voice in the matter”.

For details of the Fleece and all properties to the north east of it, ob Capel Road, see the articles on this website on the history of Manor Park: here and here.

Originally there was no road from Capel Road direct to the entrance to the City of London cemetery. An article appeared on 19 November 1897 “Road over Flats not wanted”. ...A petition by Capel Road residents to the Epping Forest Committee against the road from Druitt’s Corner. 

It would turn Capel Road into a “black coach road” and destroy its privacy, depreciate property values and destroy “the rural aspect of the locality".  See also:


Morning Post 20 October 1897
Druitt was another firm of local stonemasons attracted by the many cemeteries nearby.

Addendum

In 2008 Thames Water dug a major pipeline across Wanstead Flats, just north of Capel Road, to connect the new desalination plant at Beckton with the Waterworks roundabout on the A406 Woodford.



Work lasted for many months and caused considerable disruption. However it also allowed some investigation of what lay under the flats. On the site of the East Ham prefabs author Peter Williams found this piece of corrugated iron which no doubt came from one of the roofs of the prefabs. If you look carefully in the long grass just to the east of the Fleece you can still see other bits of debris representing demolition rubble for the 1960's.


Corrugated iron from the roof of an East Ham
 prefab, found during pipeline works, 2008
Lemonade bottles and other domestic debris were also found during the pipeline excavations. There was a duty archaeologist on the site keeping a watching brief but nothing ancient was found as this was not an area of historic settlement but Forest waste and pasture land.

These large concrete blocks dug by the Thames
 Water contractors may have been part of the anti
 glider defences we know were installed on Wanstead
 Flats in WW2. There was a great fear of invasion by
 airborne German troops and gliders (as later the allies
 did at Arnhem) so anti glider ditches were dug
 across the Flats, and obstacles put in place.

Miscellaneous press cuttings of interest

London Evening Standard 23 April 1878
Sadly it has not been possible to identify the property below but it must have been substantial:


Chelmsford Chronicle 25 June 1886
The next one does not sound like very gentlemanly behaviour: 


Essex Newsman 13 February 1892

Dundee Evening Telegraph 8 August 1947
Chelmsford Chronicle 3 April 1925


Chelmsford Chronicle 17 August 1906

A story about the very unlucky Mrs Cribbett of Capel Road:


Essex Newsman 26 August 1939


Daily Express 8 December 1893

Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper 8 December 1889

Chelmsford Chronicle 14 January 1887

Chelmsford Chronicle 16 April 1897
Acknowledgements: Peter is very grateful to Tony Morrison of Capel Rd for supplying pictures from his fine collection of old postcards of the area. And to the owner of 156 for allowing him to copy her deeds.

Footnote: If you live on Capel Road and know interesting details about your house's history - we'd be delighted to hear from you, so we can add it to this very detailed piece of work.