The street where you live (3): Chestnut Avenue

Friday, 23 October 2015

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

Peter has complemented his own knowledge by accessing the increasingly digitised national newspapers' collection - which can be found here- and has added extracts from this that refer specifically to the roads he features. The reproduction isn't always clear, so we have transcribed sections of them.

They add greatly to an understanding of social circumstances of the time, and describe some pretty poor public health and social conditions.

Chestnut Avenue

Chestnut Avenue, especially the wider section, has been in existence since well before the Victorian houses were built. Its current shape may well be to do with land holdings going back to the 18th century and earlier – for example Chestnut Lodge a country house with orchards which lay immediately to the west of wide Chestnut Avenue. 

For details of the previous article on the nearby Woodford Road, the former Eagle and Child pub, Lord Lister clinic and cattle on Wanstead Flats, see here. That article also looked at the earlier Woodgrange farm and the original Forest Gate.

The 1863 Ordnance Survey map published 1873 (see below) shows the narrow and wide Chestnut Avenue, more or less on the current alignment, but with no housing development. 

  For an enlarged view of this 1863 map, click here
Trade directories of the time show that there was a pub at 40 Chestnut Avenue, The Globe, between 1871 and 1886.  There is currently a house at this address, which almost certainly replaced the former public house.

40 Chestnut Avenue today, 
location of The Globe pub,
 1871 - 1886
There is a very interesting plaque surviving on the wall of 48 - 50, in narrow section of Chestnut Avenue that records the role of the Spitalfields Investment Society in developing the houses in 1875.

Plaque on wall between 48 and 50 Chestnut
Avenue, reading: "This stone was laid on August
 5th 1875. Amos Sanders, John Newman and
 George Roberts, trustees of the Spitalfields
 Investment Society. Edward Brown,
 architect, C W Beale, builder
Below is an extract from a contemporary newspaper, which is the tender for painting 35 of these, cottages at Forest Gate.

Chelmsford Chronicle 11 May 1877

There were a number of these kind of societies in East London at the time, they were often known as Four Per Cent Societies. They were privately funded by non- exploitative investors/landlords, who wanted to build decent housing for working people, and in exchange were guaranteed a four per cent return on their capital - paid for from the rents. 

The idea was to provide good housing at reasonable rents, a far cry from much of the accommodation in the slums of East London, at the time (or, indeed, today). These, some of the original "building societies", were not totally philanthropic, but offered a fair rate of return on capital to the builders of decent houses. An idea that wouldn't go amiss, in helping address the housing crisis in London, today.

The need for good housing and sanitary conditions in this area was rather well illustrated twenty years previously. A number of concerned citizens called for an inquiry into poor environmental health conditions in the West Ham area in the early 1850's. The result was a very influential report, to which we will return at a later date, written by Alfred Dickens, the brother of the famed author.

His report, of 1855, had the rather clumsy title of Report of the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage and Supply of Water, and the sanitary Conditions of the Inhabitants of the Parish of West Ham in the County of Essex.

Its publication had far reaching local consequences, as we will show in a later blog.  Page 55 of it specifically referred to the area around what we know as Chestnut Avenue:

There is a well in Chestnut Walk, an open ditch flows into it and pollutes it. Near the Eagle and Child there is an open ditch, which is said to be very offensive.

The surrounding area had a number of market gardens and smallholdings, no doubt supplying the London Market. For details of some of the local market gardens, see here.

Chelmsford Chronicle  17 Jul 1896:

Partial transcript:

Lord Claude Hamilton, chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company is announced to open the fruit, flower and vegetable show which has been arranged by the salesmen of Stratford Market in aid of the funds of West Ham Hospital. Numerous entries have been received ... The entrance to Chestnut Lodge Paddock, Carnarvon road, Stratford is quite close to the tram cars running between Stratford and Manor Park ...

The press cutting, above, shows that even in the 1890s in Carnarvon Road, just this side of Stratford, there were active market gardens and horticultural producers. 

Originally some of the market gardens had wooden shacks occupied by residents from inner East London – Shoredittch, Hoxton – as weekend or holiday homes.

Stratford had a wholesale fruit and vegetable market developed by the railway company in Burford Rd. 

The cutting also shows the impact of the Great Eastern Railway (the current Liverpool Street line) in opening the area up to development, allowing rapid movement of people and goods to central London. It is comparable to CrossRail opening up Forest Gate again from 2018. 

The Great Eastern arrived at Forest Gate in 1839. The army of clerks in the City of London needed housing and new suburbs sprang up to meet the demand as shown on the next map.

For an enlarged view of this 1895 Ordnance Survey map, click here

This map shows more or less the current street pattern and the tree lined wide Chestnut Avenue. 

The map below also marks the arrival of the Tottenham and Forest Gate Junction Railway (now the Barking-Gospel Oak) with Wanstead Park station opened 1894. This is an example of blatant marketing by the railway company, since it is nowhere near Wanstead Park proper.

For an enlarged view, click here 
You can also see Angell Pond at the junction of Capel and Woodford Roads, developed by West Ham council engineer Lewis Angell to assist drainage on the Flats, which were very boggy. A bandstand soon appeared too demolished in the 1950s. 

Angell Pond, with bandstand, as described, above
The development process is spelled out in this piece from the 1907 publication West Ham, a Study in Social and Industrial Problems by Howarth and Wilson:

Chestnut Avenue and Avenue Road, which leads from Forest Gate Station to Wanstead Flats, were built about 1875. The houses are detached, or semi-detached, and are let by the year or quarter at rentals varying from £28 to £50 per annum. The tenants are chiefly business people and clerks, whose work lies in the City. A change has come over the Avenue Road property during the last five years (i.e. the early years of the twentieth century). The houses are difficult to let, and although the tenants are of the same class as formerly, they belong to a rather lower grade. On the other hand, some of the Chestnut Avenue property has largely increased in value. The reason for this is that several of the houses have very long gardens, and there is a demand in this district for houses with gardens.  The lease of one of these, with four rooms and a wash-house, was recently sold for £230, whereas it fetched £175 twelve years ago.
By way of explanation for the variations mentioned in the extract above, building started in the mid 1870s but the 1880s saw a major recession in Britain and speculative house building slowed down. The report says that there was an adequate supply of housing between 1892 -97, but from 1897 -99 demand outstripped supply and rents rose. Families took rooms not houses. 

By the early 1900s the area was in some decline but then bounced back with a house costing £175 in 1895 and £230 in 1907. House price volatility is not a new thing.

Chestnut Avenue in 1910
In 1910 Chestnut Avenue was a quiet leafy suburban street with only the occasional small cart to be seen on the road. Notice the trees on the left, in the photo above, are in the carriageway not on the pavement.

Chestnut Avenue achieved a less welcome footnote to history between the two World Wars.  It was the home of Millicent "Scat" Bullivant, a leading light in East London fascism.

Bullivant was the daughter of middle class conservatives from Norfolk and was employed as the secretary to the sales manager at Yardley, the cosmetics company, the core of whose iconic headquarters survives on the approach to Bow Bridge, in Stratford.  She lived at 94 Chestnut Avenue.

She was a long-standing doctrinal fascist, having joined the Fascisti, a forerunner to Mosley'e British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1920's. She, and her brother, Richard Alveston Bullivant, were active early organisers of the fascists in Forest Gate and established its bookshop/headquarters, just around the corner from their house, at 18 Woodford Road. 

Bullivant, centre, with a couple of
 fascist colleagues in their blackshirt
 uniforms, before they were banned

Their ultimate fate isn't known, but they recruited the local organiser, Arthur Beavan to the role of local organiser.  He was a thug, who was detained, without trail, in 1940, following the outbreak of war with Germany.

See here for a fuller account of Fascism in Forest Gate in the 1930's.

What the papers' say

Essex Newsman - 2 February 1895


Run over and killed in Forest Gate

Mr Lewis held an inquest at the King's Head Inn, West Ham on 24 Jan, on the body of George Gilbert, aged 68, lately residing at 10 Derby Road, Forest Gate, who was run over and killed by a horse and van in Chestnut Avenue. Albert Edward Perkins, of 81 Park Road, West Ham who was cautioned, said he was employed by the Forest Gate Steam Laundry Company as carman, and was collecting linen in Chestnut Avenue. He pulled up at No 89 and got out to pu the chain on the hind wheel. Before he could do so the horse bolted and galloped Chestnut Avenue towards Woodford Road. Witness could assign no reason for the horse bolting. The horse was sent to the company on trial. He was told not to leave it.  A boy went with him, but at the time he was in Capel Road collecting linen. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death", but said that they considered that there was negligence on the part of the laundry servants, and that the widow be compensated.

Chelmsford Chronicle - 3 Aug 1900

Partial transcript:

Alleged artfulness of a servant

At West Ham police court on Tuesday Emily Taylor, 21, a servant of earl Street, Stratford, was charged with stealing a quantity of silver and other articles, a large quantity of household linen etc, valued at £!5, the property of William O'Reilly, of Chestnut Avenue, Forest Gate. The prisoner entered Mrs O'Reilly's employment on July 19 and the next day the family went away for a fortnight. ... The prisoner admitted that she had had a man in the house, and that she had helped him to pack up the things and to count the money, and that she had pawned some of the things. A remand was ordered.

Essex Newsman - 18 July 1896


Shocking death on Wanstead Flats: Something frightful

On Thursday an unknown wanderer was found in a dying condition on Wanstead Flats. He expired before medical assistance could be obtained.  The body was in a fearful condition, showing long-continued neglect. The coroner (Mr C C Lewis) held an inquest as soon as possible in order that the body might be buried. Constable Comley, 229K, who deposed to the poor man's death opposite Chestnut Avenue, said the clothing was of a very shabby description, and covered with vermin. Flies had also attacked his body and left live matter about. On the left leg of the deceased's trousers there was an appearance of blood, and the smell was "something frightful - you could hardly breathe". Witness loosened deceased's neckerchief and administered smelling salts, which he carried. He also blew his whistle, and thereby obtained assistance. Dr Boyton came, but the man was dead. The body was conveyed to the mortuary, where it was examined. The left leg was discovered to be one mass of mortification. Nothing was found in the clothing to lead to identification. The body was much emaciated, and live creatures were crawling over it. Deceased said nothing to witness. The Coroner adjourned the inquiry.
Bodies were regularly found on the Flats in the Victorian period, a reminder of the extreme poverty of the era.  There were also a number of suicides and the odd murder. 

FootnoteSee here for Peter's history of Woodford Road, and here for the Ebor Cottages article, posted earlier on this blog. Last week's blog featured the history of Brettell's, a firm of wood turners who have recently vacated their premises on Chestnut Road, after 30 years on the street.

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