Underneath the Arches - Sub- trainian Forest Gate!

Tuesday 26 April 2016

 We have covered the history and route of the Gospel Oak to Barking over-ground rail line(GOBLIN)  through Forest Gate on this site before (here). It was constructed amid much controversy and protest locally, as its construction involved knocking down a number of relatively recently built, and much needed, houses, over 120 years ago.

To minimise the house demolition programme, much of the route was built across a series of viaducts, which resulted in an elevated track, giving it the nickname the 'Chimney Pot Line'. The viaducts, in turn, created over 100 railway arches along the short stretch of the line that passes through Forest Gate, alone.

GOBLIN, or Chimney Pot Line, route
 as it meanders through Forest Gate
These arches have traditionally been either left vacant, offered passageways - as in some of the section on Woodgrange Road - or have been rented out, typically to metal-bashing workshops, car body repair shops or storage depots.

Many are currently boarded up and unoccupied, while others are vacant, having recently been refurbed  and open for leasing at ever-increasing rents.

Gradually, changes in function are beginning to take place, as property prices in the area generally have soared, and the once shunned arches are now offering relatively cheap locations for a number of local enterprising service-sector businesses.

This post offers a quick glance at some of the more interesting ventures that have cropped up in recent years as the GOBLIN meanders through Forest Gate. They are unlikely to be adversely affected as the line shuts down for 8 months major refurbishment later this year.

The map, above, shows the route and the rest of this blog looks at some of the more unusual businesses operating underneath the arches.  We are taking a generous interpretation of Forest Gate's area, and tracing the line from Woodgrange Park station, on Romford Road, through Wanstead Park station till it leaves Cann Hall Road on its journey to Leytonstone High Road.

Hampton to Balmoral Roads Four of the more traditional metal bashing/car repair workshops. Nothing of exceptional interest.

Sebert to Lorne Roads Perhaps the longest-established, non traditional, user dominates this stretch: The Old Slate Yard. It is a florist and what is politely referred to as "architectural reclamation yard" (web)

As their website says: 
The Old Slate Yard is a family run business situated in the heart of Forest Gate London. The Yard started 30 years ago buying and selling reclaimed slates, bricks and tiles etc. Since then it has now expanded greatly and now has a beautiful florist catering for all your floristry needs"

Floristry at the Old Slate Yard
 Much the greater part of the yard is occupied by reclaimed building materials - extremely useful for people trying to get an authentically traditional feel for their Victorian house. This is particularly helpful for those living within conservation areas (like the Woodgrange estate) where materials, such as this firm supplies, are often specified for those seeking planning permission for major works to the houses.

More traditional reclamation
activities at the Old Slate Yard
The firm's website and more recent initiatives within The Old Slate Yard have, however, focused more on the firm's floristry and gift offers. This is probably a generational thing within the family running the Yard. It is to be hoped that the traditional side of the business does not fade away as time moves on.

This section of the arches also houses a fast-food storage depot.

Latimer Road Less interesting: there are three storage arches and three car repair workshops occupying the arches along this stretch.

Cranmer Road Milma Foods (web)is an  Asian food manufacturer,  registered in Manor Park. It occupies three arches along here. It  produces and stores mixes for Dosa/ Wet Idli. According to the company's website it is "The leader" in the production of these mixes in the U.K . and supplies them  to hotels and catering establishments in Britain and elsewhere.

Milma's famous mix
On the opposite side of the road is an ally, hosting 15 units, many recently refurbished by Network Rail, running behind Woodgrange Infants school, to Avenue Road.

While most of these are the traditional car repair workshops, two recently occupied ones catering for the sport/fitness/wellness sector have popped up.

These are MBox  - a boxing and martial arts gym (web). According to its website: 
MBox Forest Gate is a specialised boxing, martial arts and performance training space in the heart of East London's historic boxing scene.

Phoebe Wynne-Jones, of MBox
Founded by Forest Gate local and professional boxing coach, Mickey Cunningham, and nutritionist/trainer Phoebe Wynne-Jones, MBox provides a relaxed positive environment, open to all levels from novice to pro. We focus on health and well-being in conjunction with a sense of community and good vibes.
Mickey Cunningham of MBox
The company offer twenty hours of classes per week.  Fuller details, and prices are available on the website.

The second is a yoga studio: Space East (web). According to its website:
The aim was simple... An inclusive studio, a welcoming space where everyone, no matter your shape, size, fitness level, age or ability, feels valued, capable and comfortable... however with a certain amount of healthy challenge!! 
Fitness class at Space East
Our aim is to provide an aesthetically pleasing place in which to keep fit and healthy. But most of all a space to enjoy and have fun. Here at 'The Space East' we include everyone, the young, the old, the bendy Wendy's and the not-so-flexible!
 It is a space we have created for you and we would welcome your thoughts. We value any suggestions you may have that would enable us to help you, and the people you love feel included.  
We really hope you enjoy 'The Space' 
Avenue - Chestnut Roads The half a dozen or so units along this stretch are currently out of service and operation and don't look like they will be hosting businesses any time soon.

Wanstead Park station There are nine arches here, running underneath the station platforms and track. There is an interesting selection, including a kitchen warehouse and builder's merchants, an embroidery workshop, a mobility-car sales depot and a unit offering courtesy cars as replacements for those damaged in accidents.

Wanstead Park station in 1967,
before major railway arch development
Recently installed up-lights on Woodgrange Road
 pavement, providing safety and increased
 attraction to the area
Bignold Road There are four car repairers/metal bashers along the section.

Strode to Station/Winchelsea Roads (arches 350 - 379) This is the most interesting and diverse sections of sub- trainian Forest Gate. A latter-day, older and less frenetic  Ian Drury may be tempted to pen a ditty entitled "Sex aids, and Folk and Alcohol" to describe it.

Unlike many of the other sections featured in this article, the majority of the units are in a row running parallel to, and having direct access off, a public highway - thus have a much more visible and accessible public presence.

The strip features half a dozen car and motorbike repairers and dealers and a small number of units which are currently to let.  In addition, there is an extensive construction company depot and firm specialising in 'structural architecture': RSJs and the like. There is also an insurance brokers along this stretch.

The more recent, and possible more interesting additions, include:

Sh! This is a  relatively large building and, apart from a sign simply announcing its name, fairly anonymous and incongruous looking. It is, in fact, the mail order headquarters of one of Britain's biggest sex-aid retailers. The company's HQ is located in similarly anonymous premises, just across the road; it once had two retail outlets (now just one) at fairly up-market London addresses.

Contrary to the impression in the company's name, it has much to shout about.

The firm is extremely woman friendly, and indeed some of the floorspace in its retail outlets has been women only access, and other parts are only open to men if accompanied by a woman.

Sh! - but quite a lot to shout about
It's website says:
When Sh! was launched, way back in 1992, we'd no idea would it would be a journey that would alter the face of the British sex industry forever, inspire change and bring respect and focus to female sexuality. We simply wanted a place we felt happy to shop in. From our first trip around Soho sex shops, to being taken to court, discovering Jessica Rabbit, introducing sex toys to the NHS and launching Cafe V .... we have an interesting history.
Strange how our little area of East London: with Sh! and the sex shops empire of West Ham FC owners, has turned out to be the sex-aid hub of the UK.

Hawkes (web) This is an exciting venture that opened last year, whose progress we have noted in passing in our articles on the local food and drink scene (see here, for an example). It is a relatively new ginger beer and cider-making company, brewing on the spot, but specialising in using London grown apples - thus taking sustainability a step further than most.

Hawkes: setting out their stall
The firm, intriguingly, has a "supply and return" offer, whereby local growers who donate apples in the autumn are paid for their troubles with bottles of cider made from previous brewings!

The company also hosts great Cider and Pizza nights at weekends, where freshly, oven cooked pizzas are made, on site, by the great Lupollo pizza firm of Wanstead.

The staff are incredibly friendly and a great time can be had there.  Highly recommended!

Brettells (web) We have covered this company before (here), which has recently returned to its Forest Gate original home, after an extended stay in workshops in Chestnut Road. The firm of wood turners and works has a long tradition, being able to trace its origins to Huguenot settlers and Hackney workshops.

Wanstead Tap (web) After years of selling craft beers on farmers' markets, Tap entrepreneur, Dan Clapton, took a giant leap forward a couple of years ago and opened up "underneath the arches".  As such, it was a risky step, but one which seems to be paying off, with his unique offer.

Tap logo
The Tap is open most afternoons and evenings at weekends. The afternoon offer is mainly as a child-friendly cafe, although the great attraction for many, both then and particularly in the evenings is the extensive range of 80 - 100 craft beers and ciders.

The Tap is making a name for itself with its exciting and eclectic social evenings.  These are a bit sporadic, depending on the availability of guests etc. But, the 70-odd seater venue can often be found hosting book launches, in conjunction with Newham Bookshop and comedy nights, with well-know figures (Alexei Sayle and Bob Mills come to mind).

There are also fascinating "evenings with" interesting people, iconic folk musicians, and managers and support and promotional staff associated with major entertainment stars.

Setting up for another busy
 night at the Wanstead Tap
Open times are erratic. Drinking and entertaining times are good.

Aphrodite's (web) Aphrodite Fingal-Rock Innes (nickname: Dixie, pictured, below) and William Powell launched Aphrodite's in 2015 - a venture which emerged from a shared passion for Middle Eastern food, and a common childhood base in South Wales.

Dixie is a chef and finalist in Channel 4's The Taste. The two owners are innovators and their recently launched, unique Pomegranate Ketchup seems to be proving a big hit.

Dixie - the face of Aphrodite's
The pair operate a street food outlet, from the back of a Citroen van at weekends in Maltby St Market, and during weekday lunchtimes at different City locations.

Maltby St, in Bermondsey is a little jewel: it has developed rapidly over the last couple of years by young food suppliers priced out by the more established Borough St market, near-by, at London Bridge.

Maltby St - haven for those
 priced out of Borough Market
Check Maltby St and Aphrodite's out - you won't be disappointed!

Thorpe to Cann Hall Road This stretch hosts half a dozen metal bashing/car repair shops and a number that are currently vacant, or boarded up. There is also a scaffold company, toy and tool wholesaler and a car wash arch.

In keeping with the recent focus on sports and exercise, there is also a longer-established Karate school (web) It seems to have been running for about four years.

According to its website:
Okinwan Karate School (OKS) is a professionally run, independent family Dojo (ed: room where Karate and other martial arts are performed) at the heart of East London, in Forest Gate. It is fully kitted and offers a variety of classes.
 OKS specialises in teaching Karate to children between 4 and 16 years only, and although adults are not accepted entry level, children who start with OKS can remain with the team into their adult Karate training lives.

Youngsters at Okinwan Karate School
And just next door; another strange unit: Christ Embassy, Forest Gate - a black evangelical church.

These sub-trainian units, between them, probably employ 300-400 people, and as such, collectively represent the largest number of non-public sector jobs provided in Forest Gate, today.

Some of the unit holders are complaining at the rapidly increasing rents being charged by Network Rail for them - particularly after refurbishment. The rail landowners are obviously waking up to the considerable commercial opportunity their trains rumble over.
Anyone interesting in leasing one of the 20 or so vacant units in Forest Gate should contact Network Rail, on 0800-830-840,in the first instant.


  1. Really interesting read. Didn’t know they were there. Will certainly be giving it a look. Thank you.

  2. Sourdough Bakery opening Station Road. Arch Rivals great eatery Winchelsea


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