This is the seventh in an occasional series of articles by Forest Gate resident, 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.
Names associated with the City of Norwich are common in Forest Gate because the old land owing families like the Gurneys and Frys originated in Norfolk. Sprowston is part of Norwich.
|The 1863 Ordnance Survey (OS) Map. Details, here|
|1895 OS map. Details, here|
These houses, many of which survive, include detached, semi-detached, and terraced types. In Romford Road, where sites were no doubt more expensive, they are often three-storeyed. Some on the north side of that road had coach-houses in Atherton Mews and Sprowston Mews (see below).
Comfortable, middle class occupants
Many of the houses in Sprowston Road are very substantial and the late Victorians and Edwardians would have called them villas. They were aimed at solid professionals (solicitors; engineers; musicians; politicians; senior teachers), attracted by the excellent railway service to the City, nearby open space and the many good shops on Woodgrange Road.
The 1901 census, for example, includes:
• Robert Leslie marine engineer lived at Mayfield, Sprowston Road(A few years later in 1913 this same house was occupied by an architect Frank Webster)
• 20 Sprowston was occupied by a marine chemical manufacturer, Herbert Canham
• 14 was occupied by a bank manager
• 12 was occupied by a solicitor
• 21 was supervisor in Inland Revenue (see below for later occupant - servant employing painter and decorator)
• 23 was a bank accountant
• 7, 8, 24 and 25 were occupied by people "living on their own means", i.e. they had money
Domestic help was still common until the Second World War, as the adverts, below, indicates:
|Chelmsford Chronicle, 18 May 1888|
|16 Sprowston Road in 2015|
Chelmsford Chronicle, 19 Sep 1890
|Essex Newsman, 4 Jun 1938|
|The Era October 1935|
Famous ex-resident: Tony Banks MP
One of the most famous residents of the street was politician Tony Banks MP who lived at number 7 till the late 1990's, with his wife Sally Jones, a Newham Council social worker. Extra security was added to the house, because of possible threats, including alarms, grilles and external roller shutters, like you see in Germany.
|7 Sprowston Road, former home|
of the late Tony Banks MP
Block adjacent to 2 Sprowston Road
This is an example of one of many small blocks of flats built speculatively in Newham over recent years to a fairly low standard which has ended up in the private rented sector (PRS), not owner occupation. Space standards are minimal and the overall quality is not good, but there is an insatiable demand for renting.
|Speculatively built block at the corner of|
Sprowston and Earlham Grove.
In 1991 census the PRS has about 20,000 dwellings in Newham and it was declining. By 2011 census this has risen to over 40,000 dwellings. Newham estimated in 2010 there were 4,000 landlords; in fact there are over 22,000, as revealed by the council’s pioneering landlord licensing scheme which requires every PRS property to get a licence from the council to operate.
Many amateur landlords have one or two buy to let properties, effectively their personal pension.
Some were divided into rooms. This particularly happened from the mid 1990s when councils became very short of accommodation as the Right to Buy, the boom in buy to let and the end of rent control in 1988 had a major effect on supply of affordable homes in London. Councils were not in a position to build homes and had to rely on housing associations.
The table of housing statistics, below, illustrates the position. The coumns are, respectively: Date; Bed and breakfast; Homes leased from private landlords; and Council’s own stock let on temporary basis:
1.4.92 199 1960 314
1.4.93 50 2407 288
1.4.94 45 2346 273
1.4.95 96 1770 174
1.4.96 53 1500 300
1.4.97 83 1255 84
1.4.98 226 1381 38
1.4.99 270 1202 157
1.4.00 346 1369 292
1.4.01 698 1522 494
1.4.02 1000 n/a n/a
Source: Homeless statistics Newham
published on government websites.
The council also had about 70 bedspaces in its own hostels like 136 Earlham Grove. The property crash of 1992-6 account for the low numbers in B&B during those years. Leasing fell when the property market recovered and B&B went up.
• McCreadies Hotel
• Newham Hotel
• Hartley Hotel
• Manor House hotel
• Forest View Hotel
• St Andrew Hotel
• Viking Motel E15
By the 1990s Newham had a number of policies in place to try to limit the impact. For example, under its planning policy there was a presumption that further hostel-type uses would not be allowed round Earlham Grove and the neighbouring streets as there were already children’s homes, hostels for single mums and young people as well as the homeless families’ accommodation.
Passmore Urban Renewal, 1 of 5 pilot partnerships trialled by the then Labour government, formed between local housing associations and LBN, was registered in Nov 2000 with an office at 238 Romford (a property that became controversial for other reasons in 2015 when a Newham councillor was seen to be breaching licence conditions for an HMO he had established there without obtaining relevant permissions, see here).
Its aim was to lead urban regeneration in Forest Gate within the HMO Registration and Single Regenerating Budget (SRB) whose boundaries were co-terminus, for example buying empty or badly managed private sector homes and making them available for either renting to key workers or sale. Funding was obtained from the government’s SRB or Single Regeneration Budget and New Deal for Communities or NDC money. Fuller details can be seen here.
Local Housing Associations
Later in the mid 2000's Newham Council formed a brand new housing association called Local Space with the sole aim of providing better quality homeless temporary accommodation. Newham handed over 450 occupied tower block flats as starting equity, the government put in £25m and there was a large commercial loan from the Bank of Canada secured against the equity and government money.
In the next few years Local Space was able to buy 1000 additional homes across east London as high quality homeless temporary accommodation for Newham at relatively affordable rents to the tenants. Local Space has been commended as an example of innovative good practice. Passmore assets later went to Local Space. See here.
The 19th century Quaker philanthropists like the Frys and Gurneys would have approved on such public sector driven renewal at rents people can afford given their involvement in things like Cadbury’s Bourneville village trust in Birmingham, and Rowntree and Terry’s in York.
The block of flats below at the corner of Sprowston and Earlham was developed by Columbus First Housing Association in the 1980s. The association was wound up soon after and became part of Circle 33 HA, themselves later absorbed in Circle Anglia.
This reflects the rationalisation of the housing association movement, the absorption of small associations into larger and larger ones. Some now own 80-100,000 properties. L&Q, a local association, has 70,000 and massive cash reserves and now build homes without government grant, to avoid some of their constraints, for example forcing housing associations to develop homes for sale not rent.
|Flats on corner of Sprowston and Earlham Grove;|
housing association property, but also centre
of strange international tax haven network
of companies - see immediately below
31 Sprowston Road: international intrigue
This flat emerged as an address of convenience for a bewildering collection of companies and investment trusts, based in international tax havens, earlier this year (a photo of the block it is in is above).
These were revealed by the recent so-called Panama Papers, produced by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The ICIJ published over 11 million documents obtained from Panama-based lawyers, which showed the use of tax havens on an industrial scale by citizens from around the world, assumed usually for tax evasion purposes (see here).
It is difficult to know exactly what role the Spowston Road flat (picture) has, other than as an address of convenience for a complicated mish-mash of international wheelers and dealers.
The following would appear to be the case, according to the Panama Papers. The address is associated with a Chinese citizen, Zhu You Ting. This person is a shareholder in a Hong Hong company, registered in 2006, called UP and UP Co Ltd. The address at which it was registered in Hong Kong is also the registered address of over 7,000 other companies.
The other shareholder in UP and UP is a company called Mossfor Subscribers Ltd. This firm is a shareholder in over 4,000 other companies.
The jurisdiction of UP and UP Co Ltd is Samoa. One of the reasons for using tax havens for international registration is that there are minimal demands on transparency from companies so registered. Thus, there are no publically available details of the activities, incomes, beneficiaries or taxes paid by UP and UP - anywhere.
So: bewilderment. But it seems unlikely that anyone (or group or people) would resort to creating the complicated web of international jurisdictions and addresses of convenience, if they did not wish to hide activities, or evade taxation.
By turns: fascinating and frustrating - like most of the Panama Papers!
At the Romford Road end of Sprowston Road is the mews. It even figures on specialist mews website like this one, where it says:
Situated in East London in the Borough of Newham is Sprowston Mews; a through road off Sprowston Road. The Mews contains 22 properties used for commercial purposes. It is located on the site of the original Mews, but has been redeveloped to a degree that it no longer contains any surviving Mews properties.
The Mews is not part of a Conservation Area. A high explosive bomb fell into Clova Road, just north of the Mews in World war 11 (see here, for details). The properties have plain brick facades, surrounded a tarmacadam road surface.
The original purpose of the Mews was to provide stable/coach house accommodation for the main houses on the surrounding streets and nowadays they are used primarily for commercial purposes.
Before and since 2003 there have been a large amount of planning applications made for alterations to the properties within the Mews, the most notable thing being; the complete demolition of many properties and the erection of newer developments.
As Tony Banks was happy to point out,. the minicab firms, garages, panel beaters and car sprayers caused a lot of problems at the end of the road and this continues to this day. There is congestion, noise and the smell of the spray paint. An official Newham Council document from a few years ago summarises the planning position:
Sprowston Mews is an unadopted lane which runs between Norwich Road and Sprowston Road. The lane is within a largely conservation area and the western entrance is adjacent to the listed former Congregational Church (currently Azhar Academy Girl's school - see here for details of English Heritage listing). Buildings are in various uses, mainly employment (particularly car repair) and open spaces relating to gardens of residential properties.
The condition of the mews, buildings and land provide concerns relating to unauthorised uses of premises, pollution, noise, traffic congestion, fly-tipping, drainage and other anti-social behaviour issues.
Sprowston Mews is an allocated site within the Newham UDP (development plan) (m2) as a mixed-use development including residential, live/work and employment uses suitable for a residential area. There is guidance provided in the Sprowston Mews Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG).
The official council map below shows the extent
of Sprowston Mews (source):(note this
SPD is no longer current policy).
In 2016 the eastern end is all car related businesses, but in the last few years at the western end near Norwich Road some low quality residential properties have appeared. With gentrification in Forest Gate some innovative architects are proposing further residential development; as mews type dwellings in wealthier parts of London can be enormously attractive and up market. This mews clearly has potential.
Nearby £2m house?
Almost opposite the Mews is what the recent owners hoped would become Forest Gate's first £2m house - unfortunately they look unlikely to receive that asking price (see here for full details, and more recent developments).
Former businesses in Sprowston Mews
Westhill & Co
|Essex Newsman, 24 Jul 1915|
|Essex Newsman, 28 Mar 1931|
1954 Rye-Arc electrical engineers
1922 Palfryman printers & stationers
1949 Ampee Brush Co
|Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish|
Advertiser, 17 Feb 1950
Fire engine near 22 Sprowston Road February 2012
Dennis started building fire engines in the 1908 and the Rapier is considered by many fire-fighters to be the finest appliances ever built, with extraordinary road holding, even as speed. Sadly Dennis ceased to build fire engines in 2007 just before the centenary, another British manufacturer with a world-wide reputation for innovation and brilliant design that could not compete. Scania, Mercedes, MAN and Volvo dominate the market. (See here)
(The author Peter Williams is writing a book on the history of West Ham Fire Brigade, which used Dennis fire engines from 1911 to the brigade’s demise in 1965. For an extraordinary survival to this day of an open top 1931 West Ham Dennis Big 6 fire engine see here)
The West Ham machine is now in safe hands, in a millionaire’s private collection in the NE of England.
Location of a vicious and futile double murder in 2003
|A mach machine pistol like the one used|
Other informative press cuttings relating to Sprowston Road and Mews
Chelmsford Chronicle, 24 Dec 1886
|Chelmsford Chronicle 9 Dec 1892|
|Essex Newsman, 11 Jun 1904|
|Chelmsford Chronicle, 7 Oct 1938|