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.


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

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

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.


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.

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