Two years and counting

Friday, 17 April 2015

This is the second anniversary of this blog; so - time for a little retrospection.

Below is an account of how we are faring, in "hit" terms and our most popular postings.  This is followed by a cursory glance at some of the significant changes that have hit E7 since we started. Feel free to comment, and join a conversation on the good, the bad and the indifferent of Forest Gate's recent past.

In terms of output/contact/readership, since we started we:
  • have posted 90 articles on this site
  • receive over 250 visits per day to the site
  • have a supporting Twitter account, with over 700 followers (@e7_nowandthen)

The five most viewed articles since the site was established have been (each with the hyperlink to the article and a reflective illustration):

  • Fire Guts Famous Gym This blog's first post coincided with a fire at the former home of Wag Bennett, where Arnie Schwarzenegger lived in the mid 1960's while training to be Mr Universe.

Arnie and Wag, outside the gym
 and house on Romford Road. The
 house now boarded up,
 after a fire, two years ago.

  • The Upper Cut Club, part 1 - the rise There is a plaque on an iron gate, next to Percy Ingle's on Woodgrange Road, denoting that on the site of the railway ventilation shaft behind the gate stood the Upper Cut Club. This was owned by Boxer Billy Walker and for one brief year, in the mid 1960's, showcased the very best in British and American popular music of the day.

Billy Walker, recently celebrating
 The Upper Cut's golden era

The Princess Alice (pre WW2 bombing),
 once a giant pub at the foot of
 Woodgrange Road, now a restaurant

  • Christmas Day in the Forest Gate Workhouse In what is now a refurbed block of flats on Forest Lane is a building that has been a maternity hospital, but which was originally constructed in the mid 19th century as an Industrial School, for the children of workhouse inmates from East London. This is a contemporary press account of conditions in that Workhouse school in the mid 1890s.

Christmas day in the Workhouse

  • The Rise and Decline of Forest Gate's Jewish Community Forest Gate hosted a significant Jewish community from the 1890s until the Second World War. This post looks at the growth and decline of that community and particularly its Synagogue, which was for many years the largest in Essex.

Former West Ham Synagogue,
 Earlham Grove

The last twelve months

Meanwhile, the five most viewed posts, of those published in the last year, have been (with hyperlink and illustration):

  • 24-hour Forest Gate Gourmet Trail An illustrated wander around six Forest Gate eateries, with a different meal/nibble at each. Delicious - follow the trail, and be ready to let out your belt a notch or two!

CoffE7 - part of the gentrification
 of Forest Gate - but with a damn
 good breakfast and coffee offer!

  • Fascists in 1930's Forest Gate Forest Gate hosted a thriving Fascist group in the 1930's, with a base close to Wanstead Flats. The British Union of Fascist held rallies on the Flats. Many rare photos included in this blog.

Woodford Road site of Fascists' 1930's
 Forest  Gate HQ and bookshop

Site of Forest Gate Industrial
 School, Forest Lane

  • Tragic End to World War 1 Romance Local resident, Paul Holloway, has recently self-published There are No Flowers Here - a touching story of his Forest Gate grandmother's romance with local lad Jack Richardson. Two posts summarise the story, and its tragic end on the World War 1 battlefields. 

Jack Richardson - one
 half of the tragic romance

    • Wanstead Flats Saved from Post World War II Development Wanstead Flats had a busy part to play during the Second World War. In its immediate aftermath there were plans for considerable housing construction there to accommodate East Enders bombed out during the conflict. This post examines the struggle.

    Map produced by Wanstead Flats
     Defence Committee, showing
     areas planned for the "land grab"

    Retrospective glance

    Clearly, there have been significant changes to the area in the short time that we have been running - most notably the continued "gentrification"/house-price-lunacy that has affected the area.

    Arm-in-arm with this has been an explosion of related social activities - most notably the massive improvement to the local food and drink offer. We've seen the opening of three independent coffee shops in a little over the two years (Kaffine, CoffeE7 and Compotes) and a serious upgrading of the local alcohol range, thru the new Forest Tavern, eclectic Wanstead Tap and the recently revamped and face-lifted Golden Fleece.

    The up-market food options are beginning to emerge, too. There are already good cheese, organic veg, bread and charcuterie stalls on Woodgrange market, together with regular tasty options and menus at the Tap, Tavern and CoffeE7, and a bit more initiative from Aromas, the best Indian eat-in/takeaway around. On the horizon are the eagerly awaited Pie Republic, on Upton Lane and the well-trailed Pyramid Pizza at the junction of Forest Lane and Woodgrange Road.

    One downside on the foodie angle is the imminent demise of the popular Siam Cafe on Woodgrange Road, closing this weekend, after a reported (and shocking) hike of 140% in the rent, come lease renewal time.

    Brik-aBrak has gone upmarket too, with The Emporium, some interesting offers at Woodgrange Market and frequent pop-up "vintage fairs" in a variety of local venues. Environmental and related conservation issues are moving up the agenda apace, with the recently established (but yet to open) Community Garden on Earlham Grove and the frequent "Clean up Wanstead Flats" forays, so effectively run and supported.

    The Arts are beginning to assert themselves more vigorously, with live music regularly on show at the Tavern, the Tap and CoffeE7, and the emergence on an interesting Arts trail in the district.  All of these initiatives are backed and their efforts re-enforced by the recently established, on-line E7 Magazine (

    The downsides are almost the flipsides of some of the above. With gentrification has come the pricing out of local young people from being able to afford to live independently in the area in which they were brought up - always a serious sign of social dysfunctionality (like the fate of the Siam Cafe - see above). Some of the area's old boozers, notably the Live and Let Live (or in its case, Die) have gone under and some of our few local historic treasures (Old Spotted Dog, Wag Bennett's old gym) are being left to rot and decay under our eyes.

    Heritage under threat - The Old Spotted
     Dog, boarded up, and rotting
    But there is life in the Old Dog yet - in an odd kind of way - at least on the football terrace side of things. Clapton FC has been one of the true success stories on English non-league football over the last couple of season. Two years ago you could count the number of spectators at the Old Spotted Dog ground in the length of time it took to line up and take a corner kick (about 30 fans).

    In a recent match (on an international break, when major league football was not being played in the country) over 400 showed up. The "Tons" are widely regarded as having some of the best non-league support in the UK, lead by the dedicated Ultras (pyros, banners, chants and all). And now they have an appearance in their first cup final in years to look forward to on 2 May. Just such a shame that the club's owner seems to hostile and disinterested.

    Pyros and anti-homophobia
     demos - there's more than just
     football, supporting Clapton FC,
     at The Old Spotted Dog ground,
     these days
    Politically, E7 continues to be an all red patch in the one party state that is Newham. But the local councillors seem to be very effective within the extremely limited scope within which they are able to operate - particularly the three young women councillors in Forest Gate North and the more experienced Diane Walls in Forest Gate South.

    A shame that their efforts are clouded by the absurdity of the Mayor appointing a personal "Advisor on Forest Gate" - on a sinecure - who is not from among them. We'll return to this in a future post.

    In summary, it would seem that overall, the Forest Gate's curate's egg is mainly good, but unpalatably expensive for the children of the last generation's inhabitants, and longer established eateries - which leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth, of an otherwise story of sweet success. (Ok - a strained metaphor too far. I'll get my coat).

    1 comment:

    1. Pie Republic has not opened yet and there is no sign of life. Shame about Siam Cafe - Debron hairdresser, further down Woodgrange Road, went the same way. The landlord wanted more money than they were making. I hope Forest Gate does not go the way of Walthamstow Village.


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