Archaeology and oral history of Wanstead Flats in WW2

Thursday, 11 September 2014


Our recent features on the Wanstead Flats' Prisoners of War (POW) Camp, and the post war development plans for the Flats provoked a considerable amount of interest (see here and here).

Building on that, and some careful archaeology by the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society and oral history interviews by Eastside Community Heritage (see footnotes for details of both), we've tried to piece together a fuller picture of World War 2, on the Flats.




Outline map of Flats, indicating locations
of features mentioned in this blog. (Note: we now
understand that the gun emplacement - nos 4 and 5
 - were not by roadside, but about 200 meters
in from the road)

The open space of  the Flats provided convenient muster points for troops during the war. One contributor to the oral history project recalled that there was a:
 

Transit army camp (on the Flats, soldiers would) stay there over for a couple of days while they were waiting for transport out of the docks. They would then parade through the High Street, down to the docks, get on boats and then off. It was something you went up to quite often. You hear the band playing in the distance and you ran up to High Street North and there was this long column led by the band, with trucks and marching soldiers and everything

Another remembered that the troops: " threw their money around to kids in the street (as they) went off to fight."

Bernard Ball, who was born in Thorpe Road in 1935, had many memories of Wanstead Flats during WW2. These populate much of  this blog.  Remembering the general situation in the area at the time he recalled:

They had a searchlight in places and ... places for anti-aircraft guns and a barrage balloon. That was also used for training people to do parachute jumps at later times.

Reiterating the muster point, referred to above, he told ECH:
 
Troops that were gonna be used to go over to France for D Day were gonna be encamped on Wanstead Flats. They had built barbed wire right round the Flats, and there was the usual, like, machine gun posts. ..

The following sections refer to specific activities that took place in different places on the Flats during the war and the key to the map indicates their locations

Location 1: Allotments and Prisoners of War Camp

Our recent blog featured the Prisoners of War Camp that was located between Lakehouse and Centre Roads, towards the end of the Second World War. Bernard Ball put a little flesh on the bones of that story, when he spoke of the area's previous war-time function, as allotments for food production. He says:
 
Before they had the Prisoners of War Camps they did allow people to have allotments on parts of Wanstead Flats. I can remember my father had an allotment half-way up Lakehouse Road on the right hand side. Of course, once they took it over for camps they were all gone. (note: we now understand that the allotments continued to be used, after the POW camp was built)
At a later stage that was used as a camp for German prisoners of war and ... one of the things that I do remember is how forgiving the people of the area were, considering that the people in West Ham had been bombed terribly ... they threw over cigarettes and things for the Germans, which is great really that people can be that forgiving
I can remember them putting up patrol towers and that on the corners .. but I can never remember them building any actual structures to keep them in. I can only remember them being in tents.

Dig for victory, put into practice
on the Flats during WW2

Daphne Farrow, another contributor to the ECH project spoke of the POWs:
We would see them . A lot of them were inoffensive ordinary people. I nursed prisoners of war. 'Cause I was a nurse during the war, so I nursed some of the soldiers, our wounded soldiers and I nursed some of the wounded prisoners of war. So, I always found them alright.

Locations 2 and 3: Barrage Balloons

About a hundred meters in from the car park (2) on Centre Road, in the long grass to the left, are four tethers for WW2 barrage balloons (3) (see photo). These were anchor points for the huge sausage-shaped silver fabric airships, each with three fins, one on each side and one below. They were used to try to deter low flying enemy aircraft from getting too close to ground targets in East London, both to stop local bombing and to ensure that the aircraft stayed within the scope and range of radar.


Barrage balloon tethers,
still standing on the Flats


The balloons were hoisted into the air, to a height of about 2,000 feet by cables, from the anchor points shown.  The intention was also to make German planes fly higher, and so become better targets for the anti-aircraft weapons and machine gunners that operated elsewhere on the Flats (see sections 4,5 and 8, below).


Barrage balloons, of kind flown above
Wanstead Flats, to keep enemy aircraft
within sight of radar and of anti aircraft guns


The balloons were often crewed  by members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) during the war, although we do not know whether this was the case, locally. Bernard Ball, recalled them:

They had barrage balloons as a deterrent, not that it was a deterrent .. you knew the German planes would fly into them, but they would also be used for training ... we just assumed they were either pilots or paratroops.
They had a little basket underneath .. they could not take too many people up  ... only two or three.
These balloons survived the war, and were used for parachute training in the years immediately after its conclusion

Locations 4 and 5: Gun crew station, decontamination unit, Anti-Aircraft (Ack-Ack) site

There is a cluster of WW2-related facilities in and around the petrol station and City of London playing fields stores and houses on Aldersbrook Road, facing Herongate Road.


 
Ack-Ack guns, of kind deployed on Wanstead
Flats, as anti-aircraft deployment in WW2


Behind the service station there is a long brick wall, some of which dates back to the 18th century, when it was possibly part of the old Aldersbrook Farm. A short distance away there is a cluster of trees, known as Long Wood, within which can be seen the foundations of some unidentified WW2 buildings.
One contributor to the oral history project recalled that after the war
Everything was cleared away, there are one or two concrete bases where the buildings stood on. The only building I can recall being there was what was used, later on, as changing rooms when they started to develop it into sports pitches.

Through the trees to the right is a white painted wooden hut (see photo).  This was used by gun crews during the war (see below for details) and is now used as a maintenance store by City of London playing fields staff.


Gun crew station, now Playing Fields' staff storage depot


To the front of this shed, behind a metal fence, was a decontamination building (see photo), which was to be used in the event of a German gas attack. Victims were to be stripped, showered and offered new clothing by Red Cross workers.  We have no indication of how frequently this facility was used during the war.


Decontamination unit, now used by City of London staff


Near here, in front of what are now City of London playing fields' staff housing, and opposite Herongate Road, was an anti-aircraft gun station. This was demolished after the war , although it is difficult to make out any features, remains, or outlines of foundations of the old building today, as the photo indicates.

This site was an ideal location for anti-aircraft, or 'Ack-Ack', as the term was transmitted by signallers, and stuck as slang, for the guns. From here enemy aircraft could be seen clearly and shot at, over the Flats. If downed, the planes would not be likely not crash into and destroy houses and kill civilians.

These stations were frequently staffed by women from the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) during World War 2, although we do not know whether this was the case on the Flats.


Location of other WW2 buildings, off Aldersbrook
Road - no traces remain of them


It is interesting to note that by the time the mid 50's street map was published (see below) no trace remained or was indicated of the WW2 structures, although the former Aldersbrook Farm was still marked.


1950's street map, showing location
of prefabs and bandstand, but not
of other WW2 buildings on Aldersbrook
Road (near the marked farm)


Location 6: Prefabs

As we have mentioned in previous blogs, (here), prefabs were erected on the Flats, by  East Ham council, on land facing the Golden Fleece. They were built, often with German prisoner labour, towards the end of the war, to house bombed out East Enders (see photo).  They were mainly removed in 1957.

Their exact location is indicated on the street map extract (above).  Interesting to note that all the prefab streets were called "gardens", testifying to the allure these homes had as residences for people bombed out of more densely and less open space areas in the East End.


Prefabs on Wanstead Flats, built in
1943/44 and demolished 1957


They were very popular with local people, as a number of contributors to the ECH oral history project testified.

One contributor, describing their location, said:
 
Then from the bend in Capel Road up to the pub, the Golden Fleece, was prefabs. And then from Chestnut Avenue and Cranmer Road, up to more or less Lorne Road there was a section of prefabs.  Some were like little palaces, they were absolutely beautiful.  ... They had an indoor toilet and  two bedrooms and a lounge come kitchen.  For some reason I think the first ones were a little bit damp, but then they sort of improved on them, and they were really nice.  They were easy to clean.
 
They were all on the ground floor. They had a garden around them .. they had a side. People could do their washing, hang it o the line. If they had a bike, they could put it round the side. They were better than the slums of the East End.
 
Another contributor said:
Think about it. Each individual family had their own. They didn't need to share an upstairs, downstairs with a Mr Brown, Mr Smith. So, consequently, Mr Jones had his own little Shangri-La. That's the only way you could explain it, and they were very, very popular. Not only that, but here they were getting fresh air.

Bernard Ball described their popularity:
I know people were very upset about them demolishing the prefabs, because people actually liked them a lot. In fact, when they re-housed people from the prefabs into what shall we say proper housing, other people squatted in them almost straight away and it took them ages to get rid of the pre-fabs, because people wouldn't move out of 'em.
Location 7: Allotments

'Dig for Victory' became a rallying cry for self-sufficiency during the Second World War, and the government encouraged the development of allotments on 'unused' ground, wherever possible, to compensate for lost food imports.

Wanstead Flats became an ideal location. As mentioned above, some of the area that was later to be developed into the POW camp on the Lakeside Road area was, early in the war, allocated to allotments.

So, too, was much of the area on the Capel Road side of the Flats.  As one contributor to the Eastside project recalled:
The allotments started roughly at Lorne Road to Tilney Road (on the Flats) and round on the bend in Capel Road before you came to the pre-fabs. There were four sections of allotments ... for people to grow their own food on.


Location 8: Pillbox site ?

Look closely at the bridle path, facing Latimer Road, about 10 metres in from Capel Road. Here there is a semi circle of brick and stone slabs (see photo).


Traces of possible Pill Box foundations on the Flats

There is real controversy as to what these may be.
 
It is possible that this was the site of a pill box, as it would have provided machine gunners a good vantage point for firing at enemy aircraft as they flew ahead. As with the Ack-Ack location, further north, this site would have given gunners a good view of approaching aircraft, safe in the knowledge that any planes hit would have been unlikely to have inflicted much civilian damage or death and injury.



Pill Box of kind likely to have been located on the Flats

28,000 pillboxes were constructed in WW2, nationwide, and the photo below is of a typical one, whose contour shape is similar to that of the brick and stone remnants at this point on the Flats.

However, a probably more realistic, if less dramatic, explanation is that the bricks were not the base of a pill box, but possibly something to do with some of the prefabs, which also stretched down to this end of the Flats.  They could even have been the remnants of an old garden wall. There is no trace of a Pill Box on the 1944 airphoto of the Flats, so it is extremely unlikely that there could have been one here, at all.

Location 9: Bandstand wood storage point

Towards the Centre Road end of Capel Road, there is a circle of trees which marks the site of the old bandstand, built in the late 19th century (see photo, and street map extract for location). This was a popular venue for open air concerts, pre-war. The enthusiasm did not survive the war, consequently the bandstand was demolished in 1957, at the same time as the prefabs (see above).
 


In the distance, the bandstand - demolished
in 1957, used in WW2 as wood storage point

During the war, however, the bandstand itself, was used as a collection and storage point for wood salvaged from bombed out houses.  It was used by local people as firewood, to help repair or rebuild houses and by children to make rafts, for sailing on the nearby Jubilee pond.

Daphne Farrow, reminiscing to the ECH project spoke of the bandstand:
There was a big railing, with a gate around it. .. During the war they piled it with all the wood that they took from the houses that got blown down.

And so concludes a rather rapid look at WW2 on Wanstead Flats, as seen through the eyes of witnesses and archaeologists.  We'd be delighted to hear any other, similar, or related accounts, for the Forest Gate area, in general.

Footnote 1. We are very much indebted to Eastside Community Heritage
(details here) for permission to use extracts of some of the interviews they undertook for the Wanstead Flats project in 2008, and to Leyton and Leytonstone Historical society (details here)for some of the pioneering work on the archaeology of Wanstead Flats.

Footnote 2. We are very much indebted to a vigilant member of the Leyton and Leytonstone History Society, Wanstead Flats sub group for contacting us as soon as the original blog was posted, with some corrections and updates.  We are happy to have incorporated these into the posting, above - as our hope is to be as comprehensive and accurate as possible. These principally concern the Pill Box controversy (location 8), and a more accurate photo of an Ack-Ack gun of the kind deployed on the Flats.


Golden Boy, Billy Walker's, Forest Gate memories

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

 E7-NowAndThen recently caught up with ex-British  heavyweight boxer, Billy Walker, and chatted to him about his Upper Cut club, and other memories of Forest Gate.


Those were the days - Billy with
some old club memorabilia


He was born in Stepney in 1939 and was evacuated to Bedfordshire during the war.  The family moved to Ilford, on their return to London in 1946.  Billy remembers the house as being haunted - not surprising, perhaps, as it was where Percy Thomson, who was murdered by his wife and her lover in 1922 had lived (see here for the story).


Haunted house - 41 Kensington Gardens, Ilford

On leaving school, he had a number of jobs, including as a fish porter at Billingsgate market and a part-time role as a bouncer at the old Ilford Palais, within walking distance from his home.  Here he worked with DJ Jimmy Savile ("I don't remember any of that dodgy stuff from him, then"). He also met Kenny Johnson, who went on to run the Lotus Club, on Woodgrange Road (watch out for a future blog for the story of Kenny and that club), at the Palais.

By the mid 1950's Billy's brother, George was a professional boxer, and was pushing a reluctant Billy to join him in the fight game.


Black Lion pub, Plaistow - home of West Ham Boxing
Club, at the rear, a favoured training venue for Billy


Ten of Billy's 39 amateur bouts took place at what was West Ham Baths, later known as the recently demolished Atherton Suite in Romford Road. He kept fit in an early Wag Bennett gym, in East Ham, and fought with the West Ham boxing club, based at the Black Lion pub, in Plaistow, and in what was then the White Lion pub (now the Mango Indian restaurant) in Green Street.

Recently demolished Atherton Suite,
formerly West Ham baths, location of
a third of Billy amateur bouts


With these local connections, it was hardly surprising that Billy found his way to the Lotus Ballroom in the late 50s and early 60's, to "jive and pick up the birds".

He also worked for a while as a security guard at a garage his brother George had, in New Barn Lane, Plaistow, and was a regular in the Army and Navy pub next door (where the older regulars still remember him and his German shepherd dogs fondly). The petrol station is now a scrap yard (see photo).


Former Punch Petrol station, New Barn Lane, close to
the Black Lion, where Billy worked as a security guard
for his brother George's garage - now a scrap yard.


Billy tuned professional, as a boxer in 1962 and soon became a national sporting icon, as the 'blond bomber'.  In his six years as a professional, he challenged for both the British and Commonwealth (against Henry Cooper) and European titles (both of which he lost), recording 21 wins, 8 losses and two draws.

His brother George had had his scrapes with the law (including a short spell in Wormwood Scrubs for theft) and mixed with some of East London's shadier characters of the time, but had a shrewd eye for money making opportunities.
 
As Billy's manager, he "took care of the business", and set up a number of profitable ventures, including a property empire and a fast food chain (Billy's Baked Potato).  The Upper Cut club, on Woodgrange Road was part of that business portfolio (for twelve months, from December 1966).


Billy in the centre of this grainy photo,
where Stratford Express covered the opening
party of the Upper Cut., December 1966


There was already a pop culture/"youth scene" in the area, thanks to Kenny Johnson's Lotus Club, across the road.  When the old Forest Gate skating rink became available, Kenny looked to acquire it and move the Lotus Club there.  But the Walker brothers stepped in and took the lease, for their own club.


Billy with the opening week's gig list


Billy says that he left George, and others, to take care of the Upper Cut (and his money), but went along, occasionally, for profile raising purposes and photo opportunities.  He was certainly  too preoccupied to attend the club's biggest night, when the Stax tour, starring Otis Redding appeared there on 18 March 1967 ( see here, for details), as it was just three nights before his biggest fight, against Karl Mildenberger, for the European championship, at Wembley (which he lost).


Billy, remembering the famous Jimi gig


Billy has clear recollections of two of the bands and gigs at the club.  The venue was opened on 21 December 1966 by The Who (see here for details). He is still in touch with Roger Daltry of the band, who continues to remind him of how mean the club were, when it came to rewarding those who played there, describing Billy as being "a tight bastard" for only paying The Who £20 for the opening night gig!
Forner White Lion on Katherine Road, once a well
known local gym where Billy worked out, as
did former Olympic boxing champion, Terry Spinks


The Animals were due to play the club the following week, but there was a hitch with the arrangements. Billy recalls that he had recently been at a party and had met a girl, who he'd taken home, for the night.  A couple of days before the Animals gig, Billy got a phone call from his brother, George, demanding that he rang the band's lead singer, Eric Burdon, and apologise to him.  "Why?", asked Billy, "Because the girl was Burdon's, and he wants an apology, or the group won't turn up and play" Billy duly made the call, the gig took place, but Billy and Eric have not exchanged Christmas cards, since.


"Baby let me take you home",
performed by Billy Walker and not
Eric Burdon, far left, of the Animals


The club lasted only twelve months, as attendances dropped, acts upped their charges, and neighbours and police complained about local disturbances. Almost a year to the day after the opening, the almost inevitable happened - the music venue became a bingo club.


Billy recalling the Stax gig, when he
was training for his European title fight.


Billy retired from boxing a couple of years later, but soon fell out with George.  Billy wanted a quiet life, so he moved to Jersey (where he has lived most of the time, since) and George wished to pursue an aggressive business career and use Billy as his front man/PR opportunity.


Roger Daltry of the Who says those fists of Billy's
were tight, when it came to paying

 
George went on to create the huge Brent Walker property/entertainment conglomerate, until its spectacular fall, into bankruptcy, in 1990.  The two brothers made up, a little before George's death in 2011.

Billy got his quiet life, although had misfortune with his first two marriages before marrying a local Forest Gate woman, Pat Furuborg, as his third wife.  The couple lived off Romford Road for a couple of years in the late 1990s, until moving to the Essex coast, until Pat's death, of cancer in 2003.
 
Billy now lives, in happy retirement with the delightful Susan Stevens, his fourth wife, in Jersey.  The couple also have a pleasant riverside flat in Battersea, which they visit occasionally. They wish all their friends and former acquaintances in Forest Gate well.

Upper Cut today: but 'No Regrets'
from latter day Walker Brothers


Further details of Billy's career and life can be found in his autobiography (ghosted by Robin McGibbon) When the gloves came off, published by Robson Books in 2007.
 

Back catalogue


This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously.  The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.

When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014

Forest Gate - Pathe News clips

Monday, 25 August 2014


Pathe News was THE film newsreel medium in the days before the widespread television ownership in Britain.  Filmgoers would usually get 8 - 10 minutes of news clips, as part of the bill on most cinema programmes, each week, until the 1960s.

Fortunately, much of the back catalogue survives and is available to view (or purchase) via the internet.

Seven clips, focussing on Forest Gate, or locality-related incidents, remain and viewing them today can be a real eye-opener for a modern audience.

Below, we consider each of the clips and provide hyperlinks to provide easy viewing


Godwin school (1969)


By Pathe News standards, this is lengthy (14 minutes and 34 seconds), but it provides a fascinating picture of the school and our locality, just 45 years ago. It is grim viewing, but a reminder of how far we have progressed in educational provison over the last half century.

The film shows squalor and over-crowding in the school (which housed both Godwin primary and Woodgrange infants at the time). Both heads talk about the difficulties the overcrowding presents.  There are many shots of youngsters  (most of whom will be in their mid 50s now), at study, in assemblies and the canteen, and at play.


Godwin school, 1969- eye opener, today

 
The multi-racial nature of the school population is obvious, and commented upon by the narrator.  Interestingly, the predominant non-white grouping would appear to be Afro-Caribbean; the film being shot before the mass expulsion of people of Asian heritage from East Africa in the early 1970s.
 
View here

Soccer on skates (1934)


This was shot at the old skating rink on Woodgrange Road, on the site of what was the Public Hall and cinemas, later became the Upper Cut club, and is now a railway ventilation shaft.

The film shows various clips of two teams of girls playing football on skates, a "craze that was about to sweep the nation", apparently! The commentator displays the jaunty and sexist tone of many newsreels of the day. 

Although the film is relatively short (1 minute 47 seconds), it shows some action from a women's football on skates match, watched by a lively crowd.


Soccer on skates: "craze, sweeping the nation"


The Forest Gate skating rink was a prominent one in the UK from the 1930s until the 1950s and we hope to feature it more prominently in a future blog on this site.


 View here

Train crash at Forest Gate (1953)

There were minor casualties in a train crash in Forest Gate in 1953, and this short (1 minute 43 seconds ) clip shows the rescue effort, with various shots of the wrecked train (with a Gidea Park destination notice at the front) and goods wagons involved in the smash.  An interesting view for railway and E7 enthusiasts, alike!


Forest Gate train crash, 1953


View here

Jean Deforges gets married (1954)


Jean was a local games mistress and international athlete who married Ron Pickering (later to be TV athletics commentator) at Emmanuel church in 1954.

This very short clip (49 seconds) shows the couple emerging from the church to an adoring crowd of well-wishers.


Emmanuel church wedding

 View here

Busy Bobby (1968)


This would have constituted one of Pathe News' quirky, human interest items.  It is the only one in this article shot in colour, and is about the Pathe's standard length (1 minute 57 seconds).


Forest Gate and quirky, 1968


Various scenes show Forest Gate Police Constable Bert Slight on his police moped, going about his work as an accident inquiry officer; he asks an old lady some questions on her doorstep. We then see several shots of Bert at his multifarious hobbies.  A pleasant, light hearted look at some of the district.
 
View here

John Cornwell


There are two silent films about this local VC hero, buried in Manor Park cemetery, to whom we have referred on a number of previous blogs.  The first concerns his funeral, in 1916 and the second the unveiling of his memorial in Manor Park cemetery in 1920.


Honour the brave (1916)


This shows the navy funeral procession for John Travers Cornwall, VC on 29 July 1916. It is silent and 1minute 23 seconds in length.

It features pallbearers carrying his coffin draped with Union Jack; there are wreaths on the top. They set it on a 3-wheeled wagon.  The procession proceeds  down a street lined with large crowds,  led by a naval officer and two men in civilian dress and family. There is a navy band, which many more mourners follow.
View here

Dr MacNamara unveils memorial cross to Jack Cornwell, V.C. (1920)(n.b. typo on screen)


Unveling of Cornwell memorial, 1920

The film is of Dr. MacNamara (local MP) standing next to the memorial draped in a Union Jack flag. A crowd of people in mourning dress listens as he addresses them, including a woman holding a baby. The flag is removed, revealing the memorial to John Travers Cornwell, the men in the crowd remove their hats.  The film is silent and lasts 1minute 38 seconds.
 
View here

These films, individually and collectively, feature precious clips of local social history.  We would be delighted to hear from anyone appearing in any of them, and would love to highlight any similar films that may be in existence.

Forest Gate pub guide: 2014

Monday, 18 August 2014


A year ago we published one of our most read, and certainly commented upon, blogs, on Forest Gate pubs - past and present (see here). Well, a year is a long time in supping, and much beer has flown  since then, so it's time for an update on where things stand. And the news isn't, overwhelmingly great.

Below: we record a  success,  welcome an addition, rectify an omission, regret some closures, update some wobblers, report some progress and dig up some history.


The success


The undoubted pub success of the last year has been the opening of the Forest Tavern, on the site of the old down-at-heel Railway Tavern.  Bought by the London chain of gastro-pub, shabby chic specialists, Antic, eighteen months ago, the pub opened last September, to much local acclaim, and affirmations that gentrification was finally arriving in Forest Gate.

It's a pub and chain that listens to its customers. So, bit by bit has added a restaurant, an interesting range of bar snacks, entertainment nights (Forest Gap, comedy and quiz nights), a monthly record fair, a good, tasty range of real ales, ciders etc. and most recently a (rather uninspiring) back garden. There's no piped music or intrusive TV, so lots of animated chat and conviviality, from an overwhelmingly white, middle class clientele.


Great success: Forest Tavern


The food menu hasn't perhaps lived up to its early promise, and those concerned with the pub's management (and profit and loss accounts) must be a little disappointed at the apparent lack of take-off of the restaurant.

But, the venue has certainly become a favoured meeting place, and big hit with so many who have been frustrated at Forest Gate's lack of a decent pub, over the years.


The addition


The bravest initiative over the last year, however, has undoubtedly been the roar-away success of the Wanstead Tap. Stuck out of the way (352 Winchelsea Road - round the corner from the Holly Tree - see below), in a railway arch (surrounded by car repairers), with trains rumbling overhead, and no beer on tap. Madness; a guaranteed failure by someone who didn't have a clue; a certain money loser, failure, bankruptcy inducer and early closure.

How wrong! A real welcome awaits from a delightful mine host and friends and relatives; coffee shop and toy and game-packed environment for those with toddler care in afternoons and a huge and absolutely delightful range of bottled beers and ciders in the evenings for drinkers.  Here's a beer seller, who loves his job and is ever on the look-out for new stock to add to his already very impressive range.


Unlikely success: Wanstead tap


And at night, a fascinating range of wide-ranging activities to entertain the patrons.  Great supper nights, once a fortnight, with food supplied by Forest Gate's gourmet chef, Michael Sanders, timely film showings (Mrs Doubtfire the night after Robin Williams' death), fascinating talks by authors and music makers with local connections, or stories to relay.

If you haven't been - don't delay. But not because the much predicted closure beckons!


The omission


Lots of flack for a key omission from last year's listing - the Holly Tree on Dames Road. Although (like the Wanstead Tap, above) not in Newham, it is in Forest Gate, and there has been a pub on the site since at least 1870 - so mea culpa.  Here's a quick addition to last year's listings.


Last year's omission: The Holly Tree, Dames Road


It's a popular pub, offering simple hot food (with a 4 star food safety certificate)and a range of entertainments, including sports on TV, Karaoke on Fridays (from a small raised stage area), a pool table and some gaming machines.

There's an outside garden, which overlooks Wanstead Flats and hosts popular barbeques in the summer. It even has some simple children's play equipment.  One of the best features of the pub is the large conservatory extension, offering pleasant, airy views of the Flats.


The closures


It was almost inevitable that there would be losers and closures over the year, following the national trend. And so it has been. Within four months of last year's article, the Live and Let Live (or "The Live", as it was generally known) died and is currently boarded up (see photo), with no sign of a new licensee, or even new use, in sight. A real shame, not only to see a pub with history go, but one in what is rapidly becoming the scruffiest, most unwelcoming parts of Forest Gate.


Dying on its feet: The Live and Let Live


Last year, we reported on the (then) recent closure of Temptations, which had operated as a nightclub on the site of the old Wagon and Horses on Romford Road.  It was closed, following complaints of rowdiness from neighbours.  There was always a possibility that it could have re-opened as a pub.

But no - it has followed the trend running in former pubs such as the Princess Alice - a little further down the road - and become and Asian restaurant.  It looks smart (as the photo shows) and has only recently opened, so it's very much, watch this space to see how it prospers.  But, one more local pub closure confirmed.




From Wagon and Horses to Temptaions,
now just the Family Grill, Romford Road



The wobblers


As predicted last year, the most likely victim of the Forest Tavern's success was the Fox and Hounds, almost next door, on Forest Lane. And so it has proved to be. Enterprise (a company that leases pubs to landlords/tenants) has recently posted details on its website of the availability of the pub, as a new business challenge for somebody.

Their website puts its best spin on what's on offer "This is a real 'heart of the community' traditional 1930's public house, with an original U-shape central bar, tons of original features, fireplaces, warmth and charm. It also benefits from a rear paved ('secret') garden, and well maintained three bed private accommodation."


Up for grabs, with £1,000 a week running costs


The annual rent is £35k, with additional estimated costs of £16k p.a. It must be a big ask to clear £1,000 per week "profit" from the pub, before making a wage!

Watch this space, for a forthcoming closure or very serious competition for the Forest Tavern.

The old Freemason's Arms (called Simpsons from the 1980's until around 2000), 324 Romford Road was boarded up at the time of last year's pub round up.  It still is, albeit with a scaffold-supported roof cover now.  It is not clear what will happen to this building, but a re-emergence as a pub seems highly unlikely.


Simpsons, further down the road of dereliction


The standing and operating


In summary then, Forest Gate now supports only 6 pubs:  Forest Gate Hotel (Sebert Road) , Forest Tavern (Forest Lane), Fox and Hounds (Forest Lane), Golden Fleece (Capel Road),  Holly Tree (Dames Road) and Hudson Bay (Upton Lane) , and one pub-like establishment (Wanstead Tap, Winchelsea Road).


Progress report: Old Spotted Dog, Upton Lane


The Grade 11 listed former pub continues to be boarded up, and remains in the hands of a liquidator, who having held it for about seven years, is trying to dispose of the site. There have been some pre-planning application enquiries about using the car park area for residential accommodation, but these have not progressed. The liquidators have been helpful to the local campaign to save/reopen the pub, who report that, despite its outward appearance, it seems fairly watertight inside and not too structurally damaged.



 
Fighting for survival and refurbing: The Old Spotted Dog

Previous squatters have been evicted and the site is reasonably well secured and patrolled. The Campaign held a well attended and successful public meeting in April this year and have been able to report interest from the Prince's Regeneration Trust, in helping them secure a community future for the pub. Realistically, it is going to take at least £2m to acquire and refurb the location, so the campaign group has set up a trust with a view to raising the money and seeking to get some building plans drawn up. Contact them for further details, and how to help and get involved.


Updated history


Meanwhile, this website provides details of additional, Forest Gate pubs, that have been closed over the last century, that did not feature in last year's listing, and provides further details and photographs of some of those already covered. Huge thanks to them for their painstaking work.


The Builders' Arms, 47 Station Road, Forest Gate. There was a pub here, from at least 1874 until 1934.  Its last recorded publican was Herbert Henry Webb. There are now garages, attached to flats built on the former pub site.


Camden Arms, 70 Field Road. Although we recorded this pub, which closed in 2008, we didn't have photo of it.  Below is one (thanks to Stephen Harris). There was a pub on this site, although clearly at least one pre-dating the one in the photo, from at least 1870. There are now flats built on the site of the old pub 


Camden Arms, after closure


.
Earl of Derby, Station Road, Forest Gate. The fate of this pub caused a little controversy following last year's posting, when we described it as having been subsequently tuned into a nursery.  The photo below (thanks to Stephen Harris) confirms this fact. The pub was managed in the 1930's by former World Bantamweight Boxing champion, Teddy Baldock, who had to hand it back to the brewery during World War 11, when custom dried up.



Let there be no doubt, what was
the Earl of Derby is now a nursery!


Forest Glen, Dames Road.  There has been little change from last year, as the pub still appears to be awaiting refurbishment into residential accommodation, and possibly a restaurant.

The Globe, 40 Chestnut Avenue.  There was, what must have been a small,  pub on this site, according to trade directories from 1871 - 1886. The building remains, as a house.



It's a small world: site
of The Globe, Chestnut Road


Golden Horse, 111 Forest Lane.  A pub of that name was listed at this location in trade directories from 1861 - 1934, and continued until the 1950s. The pub and a large area of Odessa and Wellington Roads were bombed in the second World War, and prefabs and a prefabricated Golden Horse were ereceted on the site. They have subsequently been demolished ard the area is now occupied by  St James' school playground.

Jolly Smiths - Field Road. This pub existed between 1871 and 1885, until its publican, Edward Prince surrendered his licence to local magistrates. We don't have its exact location, unfortunately.

Parliament House, 1 Parliament Place, which subsequently became 63 Forest Street, by the 1911 census. A pub of this name was located there from 1871 - 1944. For a lengthy time at the end of the nineteenth century it was in the hands of the Burren family, who were landlords of a number of pubs in Kent and elsewhere in East London. The site of this former pub is now occupied by part of Forest Gate Community School.

The Plough, 55 Field Road. There was a pub here from 1871 - 1887. It is now the Al Dubbagh Indian restaurant and take-away.



Once The Plough, now and Indian take-away

Prince of Wales, 58 Forest Street. A pub of this name was located here 1872 - 1886. The building has long gone and the site is now occupied by flats, behind Forest Gate Community school.

Railway Bell, 129 Forest Lane, 1877 - 1886. This site is now residential accommodation.


The former Railway Bell, Forest Lane


Travellers' Rest, 12 Cemetery Road. Thanks to Brian Berry for use of a photo of the most recent manifestation of a pub that had been on the site from 1871, until its recent transformation into flats.


Site of Travellers' Rest, Cemetery Road


Well, that's this year's round-up.  At the current space of developments, it is likely to need an update - and we hope a better news on -a year hence.

Summer of Love in Forest Gate: Upper Cut, Summer 67

Monday, 11 August 2014

 
1967 has been labelled the Summer of Love, in the annals of pop music. Hippies, flower power, San Francisco nights, and the widespread emergence of hallucinogenic drugs within pop culture have characterised the era. In this, the last of our monthly round-ups of Upper Cut gigs from 47 years ago, we have a brief look at how that summer played out in Forest Gate. For a full list and links to previous posts Upper Cut-related posts, see footnote.


Stratford Express reports on
Upper Cut's summer difficulties


June and July were difficult times for the club. It faced an enquiry into renewing its licence, following complaints of late night rowdiness by patrons and anti-social parking.  The months were relatively slack times at the Upper Cut, before it closed for a summer break.


Stratford Express -
2 June, with The Turtles


There was only one act of any significance in the first four weeks of June: The Turtles, who played the venue on the third. They were a short lived American rock band, who managed to move swiftly from folk, through folk rock to psychedelic within about five years. They first came to prominence in 1965 with a cover of Dylan's It Ain't Me, Babe, but had their biggest hit, just as they were appearing at the Upper Cut, with Happy Together. The Turtles folded in 1970, with a couple of their members leaving to join Frank Zappa in the eclectic Mothers of Invention.


Turtles - not Happy Together for long



Stratford Express,
23 June, advertising
The Chiffons and The Toys


There was then a three week gap in Woodgrange Road's gig schedule, before a double header of two Black, all girl American groups: The Chiffons and The Toys, on 24 June. The Chiffons came from New York's Bronx and had been formed in 1960.  They helped define the girl group sound of the time, and in many ways foreshadowed the later Motown greats. By the time they appeared at the Upper Cut, they had already had chart hits and a gold disc with He's So Fine, and Sweet Talkin' Guy, a few months before the Forest Gate outing.  The core of the Chiffons broke up in the late 1960s, although off shoots continue to tour until today.


Sweet Talkin' girls - The Chiffons

 
The Toys also hailed from New York,  were a short lived group.  They disbanded the year after the Woodgrange Road outing, by which time they had already had their biggest hit A Lover's Concerto.


The Toys




A week later, there was the return of Chris Farlowe at the end of the month( 30th). He had appeared only two months previously at the club a return doubtless encouraged by the popularity of this Islington soul/blues shouter.
Then July. Only two gigs of note - but two of the most influential bands of the era - on successive Saturdays!


Summer of Love at
the Upper Cut, with
Cream and Chris Farlowe


Return visit from Chris Farlowe


First up, Cream (or The Cream, as they were advertised) on 1 July. Surely one of the greatest rock/blues bands of all time, and perhaps one of those bands who were to characterise the famed Summer of Love.  They had a short life (about two years) but left an indelible mark on British, and indeed international, popular music.  They sold over 15 million albums in their three years of existence, including the Wheels on Fire, the first ever platinum double album.
 


Cream of the crop


The three piece band consisted of the mercurial Eric Clapton , who had already outgrown his stints with the Yardbirds and John Mayall's Blues Brakers, and Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce, who had emerged from the Graham Bond Organisation, which played the Upper Cut in May. Cream had just released Disraeli Gears by the time they appeared in Forest Gate, so doubtless Strange Brew and Sunshine of Your love got a good airing on the night.




Small Faces revisit home club
 
And, the curtain closure before the summer break was the return of local boys, The Small Faces, who had played the club earlier in January 1967. They were just about to release Itchycoo Park. Whether it got its first public airing at this gig isn't clear; but it would have been highly appropriate, had it done so. The inspiration behind the song is much disputed, but Wikipedia, at least, is happy to accord it very local origins. The website says:




A number of sources claim the song's name is derived from the nickname of Little Ilford Park, on Church Road, in the London suburb of Manor Park, where Small Faces singer and song writer Steve Marriott grew up. The "Itchycoo" nickname is in turn attributed to the stinging nettles which grew there. Other sources cite nearby Wanstead Flats (Manor Park end) and Gardeners'  Corner, Aldgate, as the inspiration for the song.



Stratford Express,
7 July, with
The Small Faces

 
The club then took a six week break, over the summer months, not surprisingly, perhaps. But, the Stratford Express of 14 July offered an alternative explanation for the closure, when it announced:
 



Forest Gate police swooped on youngsters leaving Billy Walker's Upper Cut club and the Lotus dance hall on Saturday (the night of the Faces gig), in a bid to beat hooliganism.
Local shopkeepers had complained of vandalism and residents of noise and parking disruption caused by the club's patrons.
 
There was also chaos inside the club, as the Stratford Express continued:
 
After appearing at the Upper Cut on Saturday ... the Small Faces apologised to fans ... 'It was chaos on stage. We couldn't concentrate', said leader Steve Marriott. Tough bouncers either side of the stage rushed across the front of the Faces to drag away screaming girls to safety. In their rush, Plonk Lane's guitar was put out of tune and Steve Marriott's mike went dead. Dozens of hysterical girls were treated by St John Ambulance men and one was taken to hospital after being trampled in the crush. 'We're very sorry for the kids who got hurt but it was so hot up the front that they fainted and had to be dragged to the stage to safety' said Plonk.
 

 Back catalogue


This site has published a number of articles on the history of the Upper Cut club: the first detailing the time when Otis visited it, in March 1967. This post was followed by two, recording the first six months and the final six months of the club's existence.

These posts were followed by almost monthy updates on who played at the club, that month, 47 years previously. The final blog is a record of a recent meeting with former boxer, Billy Walker, the name under whom the club exisited, on his memories of it and Forest Gate almost half a century ago.

Below is a list of those blogs: the hyper links are the titles of the articles, and when hit upon should give access to them. The dates (in italics) are the time covered by the blog and the date in bold are the months the blogs were posted.

Although the content, and some of the comments on the individual posts, is pretty definitive, we'd love to hear any memories readers may have of the gigs, or corrections they could make to the copy. Just post in the Comments box, below.

When Otis played Forest Gate (March 1967) May 2013

Upper Cut (1) - a summary of the emergence of the first six months of the club (December 1966 - July 1967) July 2013

Upper Cut (2) - a brief survey of the second, and final half year of the club's existence (August 1967 - December 1967) July 2013
Georgie Fame, The Tremeloes and Unit 4 + 2 - (September 1967 at the Upper Cut) October 2013

When Stevie Wonder played Forest Gate - (October 1967) November 2013

Mouthwatering musical fayre on Woodgrange Road - (November 1967) December 2013

Club bills for the Upper Cut's two Decembers - (Decembers 1966 and 1967) January 2014

The Upper Cut beds down - (January 1967) February 2014

Essex comes to Forest Gate - (February 1967) March 2014
Stax comes to town - (March 1967) April 2014

A mixed bunch at the Upper Cut in April (April 1967) May 2014

Upper Cut - May 1967 (June 1967) June 2014

Summer of Love in Forest Gate (Summer 1967) August 2014

Golden Boy, Billy Walker's Forest Gate memories September 2014