Edwardian Forest Gate - a photographic essay (2) - community life

Friday 30 September 2016

This is the second half of a two part photographic essay of life in Edwardian Forest Gate. As the previous article indicated, the Edwardian era - essentially the first decade of the twentieth century - co-incided with a boom in the production of postcards; and today we are the beneficiaries.  

Many of them survive, which makes it is possible to produce a fairly detailed photographic account of many aspects of contemporaneous life, for the first time.

The first post featured a range of fairly standard shots of roads at the time - mainly bereft of traffic, resplendent with trees and showing glimpses of Edwardian dress worn by the passers-by.

Here, we feature a number of themes of community life. The photos in each are interesting in themselves, but also illustrate changing times, as the copy below illustrates.

Recreation and entertainment

Although economic times were tough for much of the Edwardian period, widespread popular entertainment developed significantly.  This was supported by the emergence of a significant lower middle class, with some surplus income - and Forest Gate's population was a prime example of this; and also the widespread adoption of a five, or five and a half day, working week - which permitted time for leisure.

So, locally, concerts were regularly held in Earlham Hall, in Earlham Grove, and the Forest Gate Public Hall (later a cinema, theatre, skating rink, Upper Cut club etc) was opened for public entertainment for the first time (1902), at the every start of the Edwardian era.

Wanstead Flats attracted hundreds of people, with a bit of cash, for perhaps the first time.  So, below, we show fairs, a cinema and model yacht racing attended by huge crowds, on the Flats during the first decade of the twentieth century.

Wanstead Flats was not the only very pleasant open space, locally, for a stroll - as the photo of West Ham park in 1904 indicates.

Forest Gate could claim considerable sporting success at this time too, with Clapton FC winning the Amateur Cup in 1909.

The club itself, of course, was tucked behind the famous Old Spotted Dog, and the pleasant painting, below, shows that pub, to good effect, in the Edwardian era. The pub, itself, was in competition with probably twenty other pubs and alehouses in the district, at the time - the largest and most significant of them being the Princess Alice, located less than half a mile away.

Artists 1897 impression of Earlham Hall

Grand Theatre, Woodgrange Road, soon
 after opening and celebrating
 coronation of Edward V11, in 1902

Donkeys on Wanstead Flats, Whitsun Fair - 1900

Taylor's travelling bio-scope cinema
 - Wanstead Flats fair, 1903

Wanstead Flats fair - 1907

Wanstead Flats fair - 1907

Crowds at model yacht pond,
 Wanstead Flats, 1908

West Ham Park - 1904

1909 Clapton FC Amateur Cup winning
 team - Walter Tull second from right, front row

Old Spotted Dog - painting by H Smart, 1903

Old Spotted Dog, 1910

Princess Alice - 1907


Forest Gate had two MPs during the Edwardian era; one Conservative (Edward Gray - until 1905), and one Liberal (CFG Masterman, 1905 - 1910). 

Gray was followed by another Liberal posh boy: Baron de Forest (1911 - 1918). His election was provoked by the death of Edward V11 - so in many senses, he represented the entrails of Edwardian England.

This was the last time during which the area was represented by non-Labour MPs. (See here for details of Parliamentary representation for Forest Gate)

Profound social changes during this time, notably the Suffragette movement; and then the war effort by large numbers of working class people, meant that the right to vote could no longer be restricted to reasonably affluent males after World War 1. 

The franchise was extended immediately after the war to embrace almost all men over 21 and women over 30.

The Edwardian era, then, was very much a watershed for politics in Britain. As far as Forest Gate was concerned, activities by the likes of local suffragette, Minnie Baldock (see here and here for details)paved the way for the future votes for women. And posh white men were no longer parachuted in to represent non-labour interests in a largely working class district.

Local suffragette: Minnie Baldock

Forest Gate's last Tory MP:
Ernest Gray: MP 1895 - 1905

Forest Gate's last but one Liberal MP: 
Charles Masterman - 1905 - 1910

Forest Gate's last non-Labour MP, posh
 boy Liberal Baron de Forest, literally
 elected on the death of Edwardian England


The Edwardian era was a transformation time for education, too. The 1902 Education Act meant that the local authority (West Ham Council, then) took over responsibility for education for the first time.

Local authorities began to set higher standards and drive out some of the old "Dame" schools - that were often little more than child minding agencies.

See here for our history of early formal education in Forest Gate, and here for a fuller account of the history of St Angela's.

Below we show and advert from 1900 for the sale of one of the old Dame schools, on Claremont Road - quite how long it survived the establishment of the education authority, we do not know. 

There is also a photograph from Odessa school - one of the old Board schools, soon to become council-controlled, also around 1900 - showing, by today's standards, gross over crowding.

St Angela's, in comparison, was well provided for, in terms of having a science lab (in 1907!) and a delightful garden (1910).

School for sale! The fate of an old
 Dame school, on Claremont Road 
immediately prior to the local authority
 taking over control of local 
education, in the Edwardian era

All the signs of overcrowding in
 Odessa Road Board school, prior
 to the establishment of the West Ham
 education authority in 1903

But better dressed kids at Godwin school
 at approximately the same time.  Perhaps
 there was prior notice of the photo being
 taken, or it was on a celebration day

Science lab, in a girls school,
 in 1907!!. St Angela's school

Serene gardens for the young ladies of
 St Angela's - 1910. A considerable contrast
 to conditions at the Board school, above.


Edwardian Forest Gate was, like most of the country, nominally, at least a Christian district, with a small, but important, Jewish community (for a brief history of the community in Forest Gate, see here). Other faiths were barely represented in the area.

We will return to the history church life in the area in future posts, but suffice to say that in the second half of the nineteenth century all the major denominations of the Christian church had firmly established themselves, with large, commanding churches in the area.

A wander around Forest Gate in 1910 would have provided convincing evidence that it was a thriving Christian community, with a strong Jewish presence, as the following, contemporary photos indicate.

St Antony's Catholic church, 1904

Congregationalist church, Romford Road, c 1900

Emmanuel CofE church, Romford Road, 1907

Woodgrange Baptist church, Romford Road, 1907

Woodgrange Methodist church,
 Woodgrange Road - 1908

Exterior of West Ham synagogue,
 Earlham Grove c 1900


Trains and trams were, by the Edwardian era, long-established forms of transport, serving what had rapidly become the commuter suburb of Forest Gate. We have covered their histories, here and here, respectively on this blog, previously.

Below are a few photos of them, in action, in the area in the first decade of the twentieth century. They continued to dominate local transport for the next couple of decades.

One form of transport - commercial - was facing huge changes, however.

Motorised commercial vehicles, supplying local shops and residents became the norm in Britain by the 1930's.  Just two decades earlier, however, hand carts were very much in existence and evident as the main vehicles for local traders. They were, however, facing, unanticipated, extinction during the Edwardian era.

Below, we add a few of these, as they would have been very much part of the local street scene, which would, of course have been almost totally devoid of cars at the time.

 Forest Gate station, exterior - with tram, 1906

 Forest Gate station, interior, 1906

 Woodgrange Park station, exterior - 1904

 Wanstead Flats to Plaistow tram, 1907

 Tram terminus, Bective Road, c 1903

Robertson and Woodcock - forerunner
 to Trebor's (Katherine Road) - 
delivery horse and cart, c 1907

Webster's handcart, by Woodgrange
 Park station, c 1909

Edward Spraggs, bread delivery round
 for Burnett and Sons c 1912

Forest Gate bakers, c 1905


  1. My dad born July 1924 in Earlham Grove...in rented flat...midwife Ethel Goodwin living in Wanstead flats...her daughter Dolly...brother Bert married to an Elsie ...he was a good pianist....dads mother sang soprano in Mikado as one of 3 maids Gilbert and Sullivan operas locally so there must have a local opera society...perhaps there are records of their events...dads father played violin...they had evening soirees too. My grandfather had a job in analytical chemists from as lab assistant 1907-1910 John Heron and son Fenchurch St EC1....then going to a brewery probably a short time wonder which one..later going to Suffolk c 1911 to work in explosives factory. He had left school aged 14 but realised had to go to West Ham tech college to train as chemist so we are told. Returned to Forest Gate after WW1...active in local Masonry Little Ilford Forest Gate as was his brother..local jobs Dagenham etc marrying locally 1922 leaving area say late 1920s?

  2. My great grandmother Elizabeth Jarvis booked her place in East London Cemetary Feb 1917 but lived until aged 71 at least. Maybe I should check plot88504 square234.Maybe she had had a scare of flu in Great Ear. Think she was a widow by then... trying to find her family Coke....and husband Thomas George Jarvis info.

  3. Hi does anyone have photos of the old Elmhurst primary and junior school in Elmhurst road I went there from about 1964 till 1970
    We lived in Lancaster road
    Many thanks in advance Peter Burton


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