The early recorded history of north Forest Gate

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Over the last few weeks we've run a couple of items on the nineteenth century Industrial School, that later became a workhouse then hospital, and is now residential accommodation, on Forest Lane.

Now, a combination of details from a booklet brought to our attention by Gladys Dimson House (the present incarnation of the buildings)resident, and local author, Paul Holloway, and maps from the Newham archives enables us to offer an earlier history of the site before it was built upon in the 1850s, and north Forest Gate, more generally.

The Friends of Forest Gate Hospital, in 1954 published a booklet celebrating the centenary of the building as a public institution - during the course of whose existence it had at least four titles and was controlled by six different public bodies.

The booklet, The History of Forest Gate Hospital, compiled by West Ham's then librarian, ER Gamster,  states:


At the time of the Norman Conquest the skirts of the great Forest of Waltham came down to the northern edge of the Saxon village of Hamme - from which the modern East Ham and West Ham (get their names) ..This proximity of the forest is still preserved to the people in the remnants of Epping Forest and Wanstead Flats.
Map of Hamme, c 1050 - Forest Gate
would be where "Forest" appears, north of
the road, which is the basis of the current A12

Forest Gate takes its name from a gate across the road to the forest (now Woodgrange/Woodford roads), near the Eagle and Child public house. The gate was erected in former times to prevent cattle straying on to the high road. As the locality developed and its original necessity declined in later years, it stood open, but the gate and its attendant cottage were not demolished until 1881.
Eagle and Child, once a pub on border
of Forest Gate, now a pharmacist
and block of flats

Picture of Ye Olde Forreste Gate, c 1860
A West Ham antiquary has traced the mention of a "Forest Gate" back 300 years (360 - today!) to the time of the Commonwealth, but it did not come into use as the place-name of a locality until the first half of the nineteenth century.  The aspect of the neighbourhood at the time of the hospital's first foundation is graphically described by an old West Ham resident - Major Sharp Hume.  he is writing in a Notes and Queries in 1890, in answer to a resident's query regarding the gate, and says:
John Oliver's map, 1696
I perfectly remember the old five bar gate leading to Wanstead Flats, from which the suburb of Forest Gate takes its name. Not more than thirty years ago (i.e. c1860) the surroundings were perfectly rural, however improbable that may seem today. Approaching the gate from the south (or from the railway station), on the left hand the lane was bordered by a row of labourers' cottages, with a pump in front of them, the houses dating back to the beginning of this century.
1840 map of East London, Forest Gate
is on either side of Eastern Counties Railway

At the end of this row of cottages, which have now been built out and turned into shops, stood the gatehouse, projecting into the road, and the gate itself spanned the road to a post on the other side. Opposite to these cottages was the park of West Ham House, with a fine row of elms overhanging the lane. The mansion is still standing, but is quite hemmed in by small houses and shops.
On passing through the gate, on the right was a small brick cottage and a smaller wooden one , and adjoining them, the old Eagle and Child inn, which was approached by a double row of stone steps. This old inn is now transformed into a modern tavern (and now, a pharmacist, and block of flats!).
Beyond that again was a mansion, standing in its own grounds, at the corner of Chestnut Avenue, and another large house where the lane merged into the flats. On the left hand, after passing through the gate, were fields, bordered by a hedge and elms opposite the inn, and at the fork in the road, opposite Chestnut Avenue, were the fine grounds, splendidly timbered of a very large mansion, running on that side, as far as the Flats.'
The twelve acres of land on which the hospital now stands, originally formed part of the Woodgrange Farm. This area formed the ancient manor of Wood Grange of which separate records go back to the 12th century. Then, as part of the Lordship of Hamme, it was granted by William Montfichet to the newly founded Abbey of Stratford Langthorne, and in whose possession it continued for four centuries, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry V111.
Newham in Tudor times. Source: Newham archives
From that time the manor passed through various hands, but apart from the first Queen Elizabeth's Earl of Leicester and the Jacobean Earl of Totnes, no one of any national note appears to have possessed the property. In the later part of the 18th century it came by marriage into the hands of the Peacock family, and in 1847 was purchased by Samuel Gurney, the local Quaker, banker and philanthropist and brother of Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer.
It is always fascinating to look at old maps, and in this way the development of West Ham can be traced in reasonable detail over the past two centuries. John Roque's Map of London (1741-5) shows the neighbourhood..:
John Roque's map, 1746
Maryland Point, The Eagle and Child, Wood Granges Farm, Stratford Common and two windmills off Romford Road, south of the Pigeons Hotel (now Tesco metro on Romford Road, near the fire station).
"It may be interesting to note that the present Vicarage Lane (a little further into Stratford) is shown as Ass House Lane on the map and this lane was alternatively known as Jackass Lane...
Chapman and Andre's Map (1777) shows similar details, together with a property called "Mousleys" between Maryland Point and the site of the hospital, along Forest Lane, and Stratford House, the seat of the Henniker family in what is now The Grove.
Chapman and Andre map, 1777

Map, 1800 - East and West Ham; Eagle
and Child and Wood Grange marked
One of the most valuable possessions in the local collection of the (Newham Archives) is a survey made of the parish of West Ham in 1821 by James Clayton. ... What we now know as Forest Gate, Upton and old West Ham proper were in the Church Street ward of the parish - the wards then, of course, being of larger extent and greater administrative significance than the present day electoral wards.
Clayton's map, 1821

Key to Clayton's 1821 map
To return ... Samuel Gurney (who is commemorated by the obelisk and fountain in Stratford Broadway) was not only a great private philanthropist, but was also ready to assist local authorities in developing their responsibilities (West Ham has cause to remember him with gratitude and we originally owe West Ham park to the generosity of his family). In 1852 he conveyed the plot of land to the Guardians of the Poor of Whitechapel Union for the sum of £2,640 and the original buildings were erected at a cost of £40,000
Samuel Gurney (1766 - 1856)
For the onward history of the buildings see here.


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