Underneath the Arches - Sub- trainian Forest Gate!

Tuesday, 26 April 2016




 We have covered the history and route of the Gospel Oak to Barking over-ground rail line(GOBLIN)  through Forest Gate on this site before (here). It was constructed amid much controversy and protest locally, as its construction involved knocking down a number of relatively recently built, and much needed, houses, over 120 years ago.

To minimise the house demolition programme, much of the route was built across a series of viaducts, which resulted in an elevated track, giving it the nickname the 'Chimney Pot Line'. The viaducts, in turn, created over 100 railway arches along the short stretch of the line that passes through Forest Gate, alone.


GOBLIN, or Chimney Pot Line, route
 as it meanders through Forest Gate
These arches have traditionally been either left vacant, offered passageways - as in some of the section on Woodgrange Road - or have been rented out, typically to metal-bashing workshops, car body repair shops or storage depots.

Many are currently boarded up and unoccupied, while others are vacant, having recently been refurbed  and open for leasing at ever-increasing rents.

Gradually, changes in function are beginning to take place, as property prices in the area generally have soared, and the once shunned arches are now offering relatively cheap locations for a number of local enterprising service-sector businesses.

This post offers a quick glance at some of the more interesting ventures that have cropped up in recent years as the GOBLIN meanders through Forest Gate. They are unlikely to be adversely affected as the line shuts down for 8 months major refurbishment later this year.

The map, above, shows the route and the rest of this blog looks at some of the more unusual businesses operating underneath the arches.  We are taking a generous interpretation of Forest Gate's area, and tracing the line from Woodgrange Park station, on Romford Road, through Wanstead Park station till it leaves Cann Hall Road on its journey to Leytonstone High Road.

Hampton to Balmoral Roads Four of the more traditional metal bashing/car repair workshops. Nothing of exceptional interest.

Sebert to Lorne Roads Perhaps the longest-established, non traditional, user dominates this stretch: The Old Slate Yard. It is a florist and what is politely referred to as "architectural reclamation yard" (web)

As their website says: 
The Old Slate Yard is a family run business situated in the heart of Forest Gate London. The Yard started 30 years ago buying and selling reclaimed slates, bricks and tiles etc. Since then it has now expanded greatly and now has a beautiful florist catering for all your floristry needs"


Floristry at the Old Slate Yard
 Much the greater part of the yard is occupied by reclaimed building materials - extremely useful for people trying to get an authentically traditional feel for their Victorian house. This is particularly helpful for those living within conservation areas (like the Woodgrange estate) where materials, such as this firm supplies, are often specified for those seeking planning permission for major works to the houses.


More traditional reclamation
activities at the Old Slate Yard
The firm's website and more recent initiatives within The Old Slate Yard have, however, focused more on the firm's floristry and gift offers. This is probably a generational thing within the family running the Yard. It is to be hoped that the traditional side of the business does not fade away as time moves on.

This section of the arches also houses a fast-food storage depot.

Latimer Road Less interesting: there are three storage arches and three car repair workshops occupying the arches along this stretch.

Cranmer Road Milma Foods (web)is an  Asian food manufacturer,  registered in Manor Park. It occupies three arches along here. It  produces and stores mixes for Dosa/ Wet Idli. According to the company's website it is "The leader" in the production of these mixes in the U.K . and supplies them  to hotels and catering establishments in Britain and elsewhere.


Milma's famous mix
On the opposite side of the road is an ally, hosting 15 units, many recently refurbished by Network Rail, running behind Woodgrange Infants school, to Avenue Road.

While most of these are the traditional car repair workshops, two recently occupied ones catering for the sport/fitness/wellness sector have popped up.

These are MBox  - a boxing and martial arts gym (web). According to its website: 
MBox Forest Gate is a specialised boxing, martial arts and performance training space in the heart of East London's historic boxing scene.


Phoebe Wynne-Jones, of MBox
Founded by Forest Gate local and professional boxing coach, Mickey Cunningham, and nutritionist/trainer Phoebe Wynne-Jones, MBox provides a relaxed positive environment, open to all levels from novice to pro. We focus on health and well-being in conjunction with a sense of community and good vibes.
Mickey Cunningham of MBox
The company offer twenty hours of classes per week.  Fuller details, and prices are available on the website.

The second is a yoga studio: Space East (web). According to its website:
The aim was simple... An inclusive studio, a welcoming space where everyone, no matter your shape, size, fitness level, age or ability, feels valued, capable and comfortable... however with a certain amount of healthy challenge!! 
Fitness class at Space East
Our aim is to provide an aesthetically pleasing place in which to keep fit and healthy. But most of all a space to enjoy and have fun. Here at 'The Space East' we include everyone, the young, the old, the bendy Wendy's and the not-so-flexible!
 It is a space we have created for you and we would welcome your thoughts. We value any suggestions you may have that would enable us to help you, and the people you love feel included.  
We really hope you enjoy 'The Space' 
Avenue - Chestnut Roads The half a dozen or so units along this stretch are currently out of service and operation and don't look like they will be hosting businesses any time soon.

Wanstead Park station There are nine arches here, running underneath the station platforms and track. There is an interesting selection, including a kitchen warehouse and builder's merchants, an embroidery workshop, a mobility-car sales depot and a unit offering courtesy cars as replacements for those damaged in accidents.


Wanstead Park station in 1967,
before major railway arch development
Recently installed up-lights on Woodgrange Road
 pavement, providing safety and increased
 attraction to the area
.
Bignold Road There are four car repairers/metal bashers along the section.

Strode to Station/Winchelsea Roads (arches 350 - 379) This is the most interesting and diverse sections of sub- trainian Forest Gate. A latter-day, older and less frenetic  Ian Drury may be tempted to pen a ditty entitled "Sex aids, and Folk and Alcohol" to describe it.

Unlike many of the other sections featured in this article, the majority of the units are in a row running parallel to, and having direct access off, a public highway - thus have a much more visible and accessible public presence.

The strip features half a dozen car and motorbike repairers and dealers and a small number of units which are currently to let.  In addition, there is an extensive construction company depot and firm specialising in 'structural architecture': RSJs and the like. There is also an insurance brokers along this stretch.

The more recent, and possible more interesting additions, include:

Sh! This is a  relatively large building and, apart from a sign simply announcing its name, fairly anonymous and incongruous looking. It is, in fact, the mail order headquarters of one of Britain's biggest sex-aid retailers. The company's HQ is located in similarly anonymous premises, just across the road; it once had two retail outlets (now just one) at fairly up-market London addresses.

Contrary to the impression in the company's name, it has much to shout about.

The firm is extremely woman friendly, and indeed some of the floorspace in its retail outlets has been women only access, and other parts are only open to men if accompanied by a woman.


Sh! - but quite a lot to shout about
It's website says:
When Sh! was launched, way back in 1992, we'd no idea would it would be a journey that would alter the face of the British sex industry forever, inspire change and bring respect and focus to female sexuality. We simply wanted a place we felt happy to shop in. From our first trip around Soho sex shops, to being taken to court, discovering Jessica Rabbit, introducing sex toys to the NHS and launching Cafe V .... we have an interesting history.
Strange how our little area of East London: with Sh! and the sex shops empire of West Ham FC owners, has turned out to be the sex-aid hub of the UK.

Hawkes (web) This is an exciting venture that opened last year, whose progress we have noted in passing in our articles on the local food and drink scene (see here, for an example). It is a relatively new ginger beer and cider-making company, brewing on the spot, but specialising in using London grown apples - thus taking sustainability a step further than most.


Hawkes: setting out their stall
The firm, intriguingly, has a "supply and return" offer, whereby local growers who donate apples in the autumn are paid for their troubles with bottles of cider made from previous brewings!

The company also hosts great Cider and Pizza nights at weekends, where freshly, oven cooked pizzas are made, on site, by the great Lupollo pizza firm of Wanstead.

The staff are incredibly friendly and a great time can be had there.  Highly recommended!

Brettells (web) We have covered this company before (here), which has recently returned to its Forest Gate original home, after an extended stay in workshops in Chestnut Road. The firm of wood turners and works has a long tradition, being able to trace its origins to Huguenot settlers and Hackney workshops.

Wanstead Tap (web) After years of selling craft beers on farmers' markets, Tap entrepreneur, Dan Clapton, took a giant leap forward a couple of years ago and opened up "underneath the arches".  As such, it was a risky step, but one which seems to be paying off, with his unique offer.


Tap logo
The Tap is open most afternoons and evenings at weekends. The afternoon offer is mainly as a child-friendly cafe, although the great attraction for many, both then and particularly in the evenings is the extensive range of 80 - 100 craft beers and ciders.

The Tap is making a name for itself with its exciting and eclectic social evenings.  These are a bit sporadic, depending on the availability of guests etc. But, the 70-odd seater venue can often be found hosting book launches, in conjunction with Newham Bookshop and comedy nights, with well-know figures (Alexei Sayle and Bob Mills come to mind).

There are also fascinating "evenings with" interesting people, iconic folk musicians, and managers and support and promotional staff associated with major entertainment stars.


Setting up for another busy
 night at the Wanstead Tap
Open times are erratic. Drinking and entertaining times are good.

Aphrodite's (web) Aphrodite Fingal-Rock Innes (nickname: Dixie, pictured, below) and William Powell launched Aphrodite's in 2015 - a venture which emerged from a shared passion for Middle Eastern food, and a common childhood base in South Wales.

Dixie is a chef and finalist in Channel 4's The Taste. The two owners are innovators and their recently launched, unique Pomegranate Ketchup seems to be proving a big hit.


Dixie - the face of Aphrodite's
The pair operate a street food outlet, from the back of a Citroen van at weekends in Maltby St Market, and during weekday lunchtimes at different City locations.

Maltby St, in Bermondsey is a little jewel: it has developed rapidly over the last couple of years by young food suppliers priced out by the more established Borough St market, near-by, at London Bridge.


Maltby St - haven for those
 priced out of Borough Market
Check Maltby St and Aphrodite's out - you won't be disappointed!

Thorpe to Cann Hall Road This stretch hosts half a dozen metal bashing/car repair shops and a number that are currently vacant, or boarded up. There is also a scaffold company, toy and tool wholesaler and a car wash arch.

In keeping with the recent focus on sports and exercise, there is also a longer-established Karate school (web) It seems to have been running for about four years.

According to its website:
Okinwan Karate School (OKS) is a professionally run, independent family Dojo (ed: room where Karate and other martial arts are performed) at the heart of East London, in Forest Gate. It is fully kitted and offers a variety of classes.
 OKS specialises in teaching Karate to children between 4 and 16 years only, and although adults are not accepted entry level, children who start with OKS can remain with the team into their adult Karate training lives.


Youngsters at Okinwan Karate School
And just next door; another strange unit: Christ Embassy, Forest Gate - a black evangelical church.

Overall
These sub-trainian units, between them, probably employ 300-400 people, and as such, collectively represent the largest number of non-public sector jobs provided in Forest Gate, today.

Some of the unit holders are complaining at the rapidly increasing rents being charged by Network Rail for them - particularly after refurbishment. The rail landowners are obviously waking up to the considerable commercial opportunity their trains rumble over.
  
Anyone interesting in leasing one of the 20 or so vacant units in Forest Gate should contact Network Rail, on 0800-830-840,in the first instant.

Three, not out

Sunday, 17 April 2016


This post marks the third anniversary of the blog, so a retrospective look at the "then" of Forest Gate life in 2013, compared to the "now", seems in order.

But first, what of the posts published to date?  Regular readers will know, we have tried to combine a bit of informed comment on contemporary matters within Forest Gate, with some digging back into the area's rich historic past.

A few numbers, to start with. We have published 135 posts, to date, and the site has experienced almost a quarter of a million views since its beginning. The hit rate is currently running at approximately 250 per day. 

There have been almost 150 comments made to articles, mainly offering further illustration or recollections of the original post. The recent post on Woodgrange Road development has received 25 comments (see below)

There is a supporting Twitter account (@e7_nowandthen) which has over 1,100 followers. Most tweets advertise and support new posts, many simply forward tweets from others relating to Forest Gate.  We are always happy to retweet, whenever appropriate.

We have no FaceBook presence.

So, what has caught the eye of the browsers?


All time top five hits


Not surprisingly, the posts that have been viewed most frequently are all from the first year of publication - they have been on-line for longest, so have the most time in which to be accessed by visitors.

The most viewed post of all was our first -  it's all been downhill since! In descending order of access, the all-time biggest hits have been (hit hyper-linked title to access):

Fire Guts Famous Gym 
This recorded a fire at Wag Bennett's house/gym on Romford Road, the week before we launched. But more importantly, it offered a lavishly illustrated account of the place as a temple dedicated to body building and to the Mr Universe career of Arnie Schwarzenegger, whose early work-out base it was.


Arnie, with Wag Bennett, outside
 the location of the 2013 fire

Upper Cut Part 1 
Billy Walker's Upper Cut on Woodgrange Road only lasted a year (from Christmas 1966 until the following year's festive season). It was one of the most important British music venues in the 'Swinging Sixties'. This post records the first half year of the club's existence - with details of acts appearing, and provides details of the dozen or so other posts on Upper Cut-related items on this website.


Jimi Hendrix - an early performer at the
 Upper Cut, where he penned Purple Haze
Forest Gate Beer Guide 
This speaks for itself. The first of our annual survey of Forest Gate's drinking venues, together with a bit of history of long-gone boozers. It is surprising the differences each year's survey has thrown up.


The Fox and Hounds soldiers on,
 oblivious to the changes!
Rise and Decline of Local Jewish Community 
Forest Gate was home to a  thriving Jewish community from the 1880's until the 1960's. This post tells the fascinating story.


Earlham Grove synagogue - centre
 of Forest Gate's Jewish community life
Christmas Day in the Forest Gate Workhouse 
Forest Gate  was, for much of the latter half of the nineteenth century, home to an Industrial School - effectively one for the children of parents who were workhouse inmates. This is a contemporary account of Christmas Day in the Forest Gate Industrial school in 1896.


'Twas Christmas day in the Workhouse 

Year 2 - April 2014 - April 2015


The top five were:

Fascists in 1930's Forest Gate 
Forest Gate was home to a thriving branch of the British Union of Fascists in the 1930's. This post details the individuals, locations and events involved.


Arthur Beavan -
Forest Gate's 1930's
fascist organiser
Forest Gate Industrial school story 
This article records the history of the site on Forest Lane, from is opening as an Industrial school in the mid nineteenth century, to housing development it is today.


The former Industrial school, in its
 role as a maternity hospital in the 1970's
Forest Gate Gourmet Trail 
Just two years ago, we struggled to find enough interesting places to eat-in, locally, over a 24-hour period. This post records the trail we took.  How things have changed! See below, for details of more recent food developments.


Woodgrange Market - gourmet food comes to town
Tragic End to World War One Romance 
Local resident, Paul Holloway, published an account of the relationship between his maternal grandmother, Forest Gate girl May Larby, and another young local resident, Jack Richardson in the run up to and early years of World War 1, to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war . 

They were two bright, young spirits: their relationship ended with Jack's untimely death in action. The book is based on meticulous research and pieced together surviving correspondence between the two.  This is one of two posts summarising their story.


Jack Richardson
Trebor Story 
Trebor of Katherine Road was one of the few thriving factories in Forest Gate in the 1980's. This post tracks the growth of the company from its origins at the start of the twentieth century until its take-over and closure eight decades later. It was most famous for the Extra Strong Mints it produced and the employment it offered.


Arial view of Katherine Road's Trebor
 factory, in the 1980's, before its
re-development as "loft apartments"

Year 3 top hits - April 2015 - April 2016


In contrast to the historic nature of most of the popular posts from the previous two years, last year's top hits have almost all been on contemporary topics. It is likely that, as time passes on, some of the more historic posts from the year will receive more attention and may well supplant them as most viewed posts of the year.

The top eight posts, in descending order of popularity, have been:

Development proposals for 39a - 49a Woodgrange Road 
One of our most recent, with the largest number of comments received by any. It has been on-line for less than a month, suggesting, perhaps that this web site has a valuable role to play as a local sounding board for local issues - with a guarantee of no censorship of views of respondents. We are open to suggestions.


From Gregg's to Barry's - shops threatened
 by latest development proposals
Two years ago - and counting 
The oldest of last year's posts has proved to have been the second most popular.  It was last year's equivalent of this one, in fact.  Will the present post be as popular?

Forest Gate short-changed 
One of two widely-accessed articles this year pointing to the problems a rotten, no opposition, one-party Labour state causes Newham.  This one focuses on cronyism/buying off of communities, as a totally ineffectual councillor is given a significant salary as "mayoral  adviser" on Forest Gate and does nothing.

The post names and shames. Fortunately, two months after it was published, she was removed from her sinecure.


Newham: the patronage
 council: £6,000 p.a. for
Cllr Rahman for no product
Councillor/Landlord interests in Forest Gate 
Second popular post on problems caused by lack of accountability and transparency in the weak one-party Labour state of Newham. The Labour party has become a "flag of convenience" for those who, anywhere else, would represent the Tories. 

They position themselves to ensure they are aware of developments affecting their significant rental property interests in the borough (and Forest Gate, in particular), on the Council. This post names and shames.


Ahmed Noor - disgraced,
former - now suspended -

 "Labour" councillor/landlord
A Wander Down Woodgrange Road in 1900 
One of only two true "history" piece among the most viewed of this year's crop.  It is the first of a two-parter, using trade directories, contemporary photographs and adverts to paint a picture of how Forest Gate's main thoroughfare looked at the end of the Victorian era.


Spurgeon's - Gent's outfitters
 on Woodgrange Road, 1900
Famine to Feast 
A recent look at the rapid increase in good eateries to have opened up in Forest Gate over the last six months alone.  It includes reviews - overwhelmingly positive - of the new eating out experience in the area.


Corner Kitchen - delightful addition
 to local eating out options
Forest Gate during the Blitz 
This is one of two posts offering the most comprehensive published account of the impact of bombs (the blitz and Doodlebugs) on Forest Gate during WW2, with dates, locations and details of deaths/injuries/damage inflicted.


Upton Lane school, devastated by a Doodlebug
Very Poor Food Hygiene Practice in Forest Gate 
Although there has been an explosion of good places to eat in the area over the last year (see above), the overall standard of hygiene in many local food outlets, as measured by the Food Standards Agency, is woeful.  This posts names and shames.


Introduction to Forest Gate - immediately
 opposite train station - Eat More - zero
 stars for food hygiene. Dreadful.

The changes


Forest Gate is going through a period of rapid change, and its root cause is probably the same that sparked off its last period of major transformation - significant railway development.

As we have posted on a number of occasions, Forest Gate's late nineteenth century growth can largely be accounted for by the coming of the railways and the provision of relatively cheap transport into the City. For a post on the development of the railways in Forest Gate, see here.

The area became an early and true suburb as people moved from more inner London areas in search of relatively cheap property and open spaces at that time.

150 years later, history is repeating itself, in a refined way. Not new railways, but the prospect of Crossrail and a serious upgrading of the GOBLIN line, by 2019, have once again made Forest Gate a v. des. res. 

This time, it is not so much for those fleeing Whitechapel and surrounds, but more those flat owner/dwellers from Stoke Newington/Dalston/Hackney who have made a financial killing over the last few years and now wish to establish roots in a house, and possibly begin reproducing in Forest Gate.

Housing

So, house prices, particularly in the increasingly fashionable "Forest Gate Village" have doubled in the years since we began publishing, with one Sebert Road property recently being put on the market for £640,000 - 90% more than its asking price (admittedly before refurbishment) just 15 months previously.

You just have to wander in to the Forest Gate Tavern or Corner Kitchen to see plenty of evidence of the phenomena.

Food and drink

As we have pointed out, above (here) there has been a huge improvement in the eating out offer locally, over the last three years, and the rate of progress is accelerating, as witnessed by the last six months. Choice in eating out in Forest Gate, has become a reality for many local people - newcomers and older established residents, for the first time.


Ghost Chilli - understated but excellent
 new "Indian" addition to the Woodgrange
 Road eating out options
Entertainment

Part of the package demanded by the incomers is better entertainment. This site has always - in  the Events column (right) - tried to list local gigs etc. To be frank, we have usually relied on gigs in Leytonstone to keep the column on the road. But, over the last three years, the Wanstead Tap and Forest Tavern have popped up and together with other E7 venues provide almost daily entertainment options. 

It's a small - but illustrative -point, for the first time, this site will now only feature exclusively Forest Gate events - and it's a lively, varied, local selection on offer.


Forest Tavern, as much a place of entertainment
 and eating as a pub - great addition
 to the local social scene
Arts

Pop-up art exhibitions have begun to appear in places such as The Gate and Compotes cafe. Last year saw Forest Gate's first Arts Trail, with more than a dozen venues exhibiting a range of locally produced art. This year's, the second, is now in preparation and promises to be a bigger and better one. Graffiti on shop shutters used to be as good as it got on the contemporary "arts" front, locally.

Education

A generation ago white middle class families were happy for their children to spend their primary school years in Forest Gate, with a sprinkling of more than decent schools available. White flight, however, kicked in, with a pretty poor secondary school offer. And off many of the families tootled, in pursuit of "a better education" for their post-primary kids.


Forest Gate Community school
 - recently assessed as "Outstanding"
What a change! Now, with the recent "Outstanding" judgement that Forest Gate Community school received from Ofsted, the area has one of the best concentrations of good schools in the country, see here. Three of the areas's secondary schools are now labelled "Outstanding" and the fourth, Stratford Academy, "Good".

Community Life

Civic Society - or "The Big Society" (remember that one, Dave?) as the Tories tried to rebrand it - has developed apace over the last three years. So, from nowhere, we now have a  thriving (almost farmers') market, each week. The Women's Institute and The Community Garden and regular Wanstead Flats' litter-picks have joined them as local not-for-profit regulars boosting local community spirit.


Civic society in action - community
 mural surrounding community garden
Other, commercial initiatives, such as Swing Patrol, Dig-a- Little, yoga, boxing and martial arts classes have all popped up and added to an increasingly rich local social mix and community offer.

Where we started

This site, and indeed this post, started off with the fire at Wag Bennett's old house and gym on Romford Road. It has since been boarded up, squatted and set alight - all the while an eyesore.

Well, in keeping with the onwards and upwards nature of Forest Gate in general, the house has now been refurbed and looks as if it will soon be on the market and inhabited. Spiraling house prices have made a restoration commercially sensible. A decade ago, the place would have been demolished and an eyesore block of flats built to replace it.

So, gentrification can have some beneficial impacts on preserving interesting buildings,local history and heritage, even if some older shops - on Woodgrange Road, for example - become victims.

The street where you live (4) - Dames Road

Friday, 8 April 2016


Local Wanstead Flats' historians Mark Gorman and Peter Williams, continue our occasional series, The Street Where You Live with a glance at Dames Road, running from the junction of Woodgrange/Woodford Roads to the Leytonstone borders, along the edge of Wanstead Flats. See the footnote for details of earlier articles in this series and other work on local history by Mark and Peter.

The area between Maryland Point and Forest Gate was largely under-developed agricultural land, until the 1860's, after which it was slowly transformed into market gardens and gradually housing, as transport and population growth moved eastwards, with the rapid expansion of London.


Extract from 1863 OS map - showing area very open, with farmland and some substantial villa-type homes (Forest House, Sydney cottage -see  photo below for an example, today). Wanstead Flats
 is in the top right hand corner. The line of the future Barking Oak
railway is marked in red.
The "market gardens" in and around what we now know as Dames Road were developed as leisure and commercial pursuits by people from the more traditional east-end, such as Whitechapel, and cabinet makers of Curtain Road in Hackney. The gardens provided recreational and trading activities for some adventurous people, many, perhaps, missing their own rural roots in earlier days, in Essex and Suffolk.

The "gardens grounds" offered weekend time away from inner city congestion, as five and a half day working became more common and the railway network reached out into areas such as Forest Gate. Many of those renting the land for the gardens would put up huts - for weekend stays - which soon developed into housing in the area.

The western part of Forest Gate, between Woodford Road and Tower Hamlets Road, belonged to the Dames family for much of the first half of the nineteenth century.  Charles Richard Dames was a sugar refiner, probably born in the parish of St Mary, Whitechapel in 1793.

Like many city merchants, Dames bought property on the fringes of London, and became a substantial member of the local community.  He was elected a churchwarden, for example, in 1855. By the time of his death, in 1862, he held land and had homes in both Whitechapel and Forest Gate.

He died at Forest House (see 1863 map, above), which was located approximately where Anna Neagle Close is, today - probably in a house similar to the one pictured below. He may have commuted from this rural home to the city in the years running up to his death.
89 Dames Road, today - now split into flats,
 but one of the villa type houses that populated
 parts of Dames Road at the end of the 19th century
From 1855, Dames began to sell off some of the land between Woodford and Tower Hamlets Roads , in small plots. About 1866 - after his death - the Conservative Land Society bought a large area, leading to more rapid development there. It, and the United Land Company, which also bought plots locally at this time, cut them up into smaller plots and sold them to local developers and would-be owner-builder-occupiers.


The sale of Forest House by the Dames
 family to the Conservative Land Society
 - Essex Standard, 4 April 1866

Another contemporary land sale for
 development, in the district
 - Chelmsford Chronicle April 1886
The object of the Conservative Land Company was to create Conservative-voting constituencies in localities where they bought land. At a time when the voting franchise still depended on property ownership, particularly outside the cities, the sale of building plots was seen as creating an independent, reliable Tory electorate (echoes of Lady Porter in 1980's Westminster - except she used tax-payers' money, to do it!).

OS map 1895 shows the area largely developed,
 though the area south of Sydney Road
 (named after the cottage formerly there), is
 still not built on.There were still some market
 gardens and allotments there until World War 1
(The Land Company was reasonably successful in their aims locally, as Conservative MPs held the  constituency containing Forest Gate for about half of the years between the time when it had its own MP- 1885 - and the First World War - see here, for details.)

It is likely that the Birkbeck Building Society, the Birkbeck Bank and Birkbeck Freehold Land Society were also active in and around the Dames Road area at this time.  They were offering plots of land for 5/- (25p) per month "either for building or gardening purposes". Some of these may have been west of Dames Road. where there were garden plots owned by east Londoners who came out to them at the weekend.

These Birkbeck organisations were all vehicles for making loans to aspirational members of the working class who wanted to build their own homes, or at least acquire a plot of land in the suburbs, springing up on the fringes of London.

As Conservative Land Company chairman concluded in 1866; "The working man doesn't like being patronised. They don't like going into model lodging-houses, and prefer buying land and building their own homes."

He described the Conservative Land Company's acquisition of the Dames Road area site, in 1866, in glowing terms, as "one of the most valuable building properties ever acquired by the society in the suburban districts."

The site, he said, was adaptable both for villas (usually high quality, detached houses) and houses of "a superior class", but also for working class dwellings. It fronted the road leading to Wanstead Flats and Forest Gate station, offering a frequent service to London, at cheap fares.

Charles left £90,000 (almost £10m today, using the Bank of England inflation calculator) in property and cash to his three sons and his daughter, on his death. His son, George, died soon afterwards in 1878.  He too was a sugar refiner and substantial property owner - some in the Forest Gate area - much, presumably, inherited from his father. He did, however, live in Stoke Newington,  where three servants catered for his needs.


Post Card showing Dames Road c 1906, featuring
 the Forest Glen on the left.
The Dames Road plots were built upon predominantly in the years prior to 1878, becoming the homes of clerks and small businessmen in the City. Rents ranged from 8s 6d a week to £40 a year. In other parts of Dames Road, 4-roomed and 6-roomed houses fetched between 9s and 11s a week, and were occupied by two families, according to early twentieth century social researchers Howarth and Wilson.

The tenants were builders, stonemasons and other artisans, and a few clerks. These properties were said to be much in demand in the early years of the twentieth century. Building in Dames Road ceased about 1880. Meanwhile, Field Road and Odessa Road (built in the 1850s) to the west of Dames Road were home to less well-to-do artisans, carmen (drivers of horse-drawn goods wagons) and labourers.

Fast forward to the post World War 11 period, and the re-development of the lower part of Dames Road. The photo below shows it under redevelopment early 1980s. This was in preparation for rebuilding for "slum clearance".  This site  was one of the last council housing developments carried out by Newham  directly without the involvement of a housing association.


Foot of Dames Road, c 1984, at time of
 "slum clearance", making way for one of
Newham Council's last housing developments
Indeed, it was built by the council’s own directly employed labour force (DLO). Such council building died out in Newham by 1985 as the Thatcher government did not want local authorities to build council homes. Housing associations took over that role.

The last council development in Newham was Howards Rd E13 (done jointly with an association) until the direct development of council rented homes started again on a very small scale about 5 years ago. There have been a few small rented developments since.


Other Dames Road snippets


This site has referred to Dames Road, in passing, in previous posts, some of which readers may be interested in revisiting.

Cycling The foot of Dames Road, at the turn of the twentieth century, was at the centre (or should we say hub?!) of a significant local small-workshop cycle industry, hosting at least half a dozen, manufactories - see here. A detailed account of life and work in one of them - Clark's - from 1897, appears here.


One of the turn of the century cycle
 manufacturers at the foot of Dames Road
Boot making Last year, we traced the story of Dames Road boot maker, TR Page, from a postcard sent showing the exterior of his shop, through much of the twentieth century (see here).


Page, the boot makers, 1915
Doodlebug Dames Road was the site of one of Forest Gate's worst bombing sites in World War 2, when a Doodlebug destroyed much of the land and houses near the Holly Tree public house - see here for details.


Junction of Dames and Pevensey
 Roads, site of 1943 Doodlebug hit
Listed building - Our recent article on Forest Gate's English Heritage-listed buildings featured 89 Dames Road - photograph above.  Unfortunately, little is known of the history of this once splendid villa (now flats), but, see here, for details.

Anti- German riots We have not covered this before, but  couple of postcards have recently appeared for sale on eBay, featuring a German baker on Dames Road, whose property looks as if it was targeted for anti-German riots during World War 1.  See the photos of Gobel, the baker's, located at 74 Dames Road (site of a car workshop, today) and note from the second photo what appears to be riot damage suffered by it.


Gobel's bakers, 74 Dames Road, in peaceful times

The same shop at time of anti-German
 riots, c 1915 - see window damage
... and today
We covered anti-German riots in Forest Gate in May 1915, following the sinking of the Lusitania, a year ago (see here). The looting/rioting of the Gobel's shop , however, did not feature.  The 1906 post card, above, suggests that Gobel did not move into the shop on Dames Road until after that time, although a 1912 trade directory lists an Ambrose Gobel as being a baker at that address, then.

Idris Elba's Dames Road connection Hollywood superstar actor, Idris Elba can claim a significant Dames Road influence on his life(see here). He worked at Uncle Tom's garage (see above for photo) as a youngster, having spent most of his youth growing up in Canning Town. He revisited the garage in November 2013, on a trip back to his roots.

It was doubtless this Dames Road experience that enabled him to play a strong role in the great American TV series The Wire and the Mandela movie, for which he was nominated for an Oscar! 

We acknowledge the Newham Recorder's copyright of the photo, below, capturing the moment.  Their report of the occasion can be found here.

Idris Elba-revisiting Uncle
 Tom's Garage, on Dames
 Road, where he worked
  as a youngster - in
 November 2013.
Copyright Newham Recorder
Fairs Dames Road, of course leads in to Wanstead Flats, a pleasure ground for many years.  Below is an extract from an 1898 newspaper describing a scene at a Bank holiday fair on the Flats that year, focusing on the important role of the Holly Tree on Dames Road.  The extract may be indistinct, so we have transcribed a relevant section of it, below.

Chelmsford Chronicle - 15 April 1898



Partial transcript:


Bank Holiday on Wanstead Flats
by a Perambulating Pressman


Wanstead Flats have long been a favourite resort for the East London Bank Holiday crowd, and this Easter my curiosity led me to Wanstead to see how their amusement is catered for. ...
 The streets were thronged with people and all were enjoying themselves with that absolute abandon which is so characteristic of the Easter holiday maker. ...
The young ladies ... sang with a gusto which only high spirits could produce, but "Marry the girl you fancy" was the popular refrain.
 There are several railway stations "quite adjacent" to the Flats, and a good service of buses is capable of rapidly transporting visitors to the gay scene, but for the holiday traffic special brakes were put on the route from Stratford, and at: "Tuppence all the way", these command full complements of passengers. ...
The centre of the fun, I found, was on Dames Road, had by the Holly Tree Tavern. Here was a gigantic country fair, or rather twenty country fairs rolled into one, constituting a scene of startling splendour, which is difficult easily to describe. A gorgeous merry-go-round occupied a central position, rivalling in its gold and brilliant colours, its mirrors and dazzling lights, scenes depicted in the Arabian Nights.
 ... This elaborate piece of mechanism must have cost a small fortune, but it was providing a gold mine to its proprietors.
 ... A "wild Indian chief" emerged into the open, brandishing a sword and uttering horrible gutteral sounds. He was silenced in summary fashion by the proprietor, who gave graphic accounts of the sights to be seen inside. Meanwhile the "Indian Chief" had disappeared into the wigwam and I followed bent on investigations.

Answering a common-place remark, the wild warrior lapsed into unmistakable Cockneyese, and openly admitted he was a fraud. ...
This extract came from Peter's posting on Woodford Road.  There are other items in that post which relate to Dames Road - see below for link to it. 



Footnote: Peter William's other local postings on The Street Where You live can be found by clicking on the relevant street: Woodford Road, Ebor Cottages and Chestnut Avenue.

Peter and Mark have written a number of booklets on Wanstead Flats: on Prisoner of War Camps during WW2, Post War struggles to prevent development and, most recently games and sports on the Flats at the end of the 19th century.  

These can be bought, very reasonably priced, from Newham Bookshop, or from the Leyton and Leytonstone Local History Society, who published them, here. 

Mark and Peter can regularly be found giving talks on their publications, which are totally absorbing and come very highly recommended.