Forest Gate in 1907

Friday 28 November 2014

 This is the first in a three-part series looking at the Forest Gate area just over a century ago, through the eyes of social researchers, Howard and Wilson, who set out to describe conditions in an outer London area, in their highly-acclaimed  West Ham - a study in industrial problems.  The book looks at the whole of the borough and painted pen portraits of each of the local authority's electoral wards, in 1907.

Below is their description of Forest Gate Ward (see map for the extent of the boundaries). Their portraits of Park and Upton wards will be posted over future weeks.
Boundaries of Forest Gate ward, 1907
 In 1901, Forest Gate Ward had a population of 21,000 - the time of the census just before the authors conducted their survey. 
Howarth and Wilson describe the ward, thus:
The ward lies to the north of the Great Eastern Railway to Ilford. The eastern part is divided from the western by the Woodford Road, a main thoroughfare connecting the southern part of the borough with Wanstead Flats, which adjoin the northern boundary. The two parts are different in character. In the eastern the houses are larger, and many of them are owned by the occupiers, or let an annual or quarterly rent.
Chestnut Avenue and Avenue Road, which lead from Forest Gate Station to Wanstead Flats were built about 1875. The houses are detached or semi-detached, and are let by the year by the year or by the quarter at rentals varying from £28 to £50 per annum. The tenants are chiefly business people and clerks, whose work lies in the City.

Chestnut Avenue c 1911
A change has overcome Avenue Road property during the last five years. 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 of this is a demand in this district for houses with gardens. The lease of one of these with four rooms and a wash-house, was sold for £230, whereas it fetched £175 twelve years ago.
In Godwin Road and its neighbourhood the homes contain five, six or eight rooms, and are inhabited by clerks, warehousemen, shop assistants, school teachers, and a few retired tradesmen. Some of the largest houses are the property of these last.
Land east of the Woodford Road was acquired by the British Land Company and sold to them by the Manor Park Cemetery Company, who developed this district, except the part between Woodford Road and Chestnut Avenue.
Woodford Road c 1905
A great part of the western section of the ward, that between the Woodford Road and Tower Hamlets Road, belonged to the Dames estate. In 1855, it was sold in plots of 75 to 80 feet by 100 to 110 feet, but was developed very slowly, a few houses being put up at a time. In about 1866 it was bought by a land company, and the development became more rapid. Londoners, such as Curtain Road (Shoreditch) cabinet makers and inhabitants of Whitechapel, often bought plots for gardens.
They used to put up huts and spend the week-end in them, and many built houses at a later time. A large number of the plots were bought by the Conservative Land Society and United Land Company, who cut them up into smaller plots and resold them for sites. Building ceased about 1880.
In Dames Road, which for the most part runs northward from Woodford Road, are some new flats, with separate front doors. The accommodation consists of four rooms and a wash-house downstairs, and three rooms and a wash-house upstairs. They were built in 1903, and are inhabited mostly by newly married City clerks.
Dames Road
These flats are very strictly kept, as they are in great demand. The rest of Dames Road, which was built in 1878, is chiefly inhabited by clerks and businessmen in the City, and has shops on one side of the southern end. The rents vary from 8s 6d, per week to £40 per year. The houses have maintained their level up to the present time, but the shops are difficult to let.
Vansittart Road, which is mainly inhabited by carmen (drivers of vans, or carts - at this time, usually horse drawn)and casual labourers, runs from Dames Road to the cemetery. It was built mainly about 1878, and consists of six-roomed houses, which are now let in halves, though originally meant for a single middle class family. The type is a common one in many parts of the borough.
Downstairs there are two rooms with folding doors, a kitchen, and a wash-house; and upstairs, two rooms and a kitchen, supplied with a range and a sink. The rent of the lower flat is 6s 6d; and that of the upper 6s.
In some of the shorter roads off Dames Road the houses are mostly four-roomed, and are let at 9s; but there are also some six-roomed houses at 11s, which are occupied by two families. The tenants are builders, joiners, stone masons and other artisans, with a few clerks.
The Forest Gate and Tottenham Railway, which is raised above the ground level crosses all these roads. It was built in 1891, and is said to have caused a depreciation of property, 15s house rents having fallen to 11s. It has only been within the last eight or ten years that houses in this part of Forest Gate have been let to two families.
The inhabitants of Field Road and Odessa Road, which date from 1854, are less well-to-do, being mostly artisans earning a low wage, carmen and labourers. The houses generally contain five rooms at a rent of 9s, and the tenants usually sublet. 
One of the artisans/carmen of Odessa Road,
described by Howarth and Wilson
From St James Road to the western boundary of the ward the houses are usually of a better class. They are occupied by men employed by the Great Eastern Railway Works (in Stratford, on what is now Westfield and the Olympic Park), and are the better paid artisans. Private speculators purchased land in this part, and estates in the neighbourhoods east of the Leytonstone Road were bought by the National Freehold Land Society.
Forest Lane, which is the southern boundary of the ward, faces the Great Eastern Railway. It contains several large houses, but laterally some shops have been built at the Forest Gate end, because the present inhabitants of the district, less prosperous than their predecessors, demand shops within easy reach of their homes.
Part of West Ham Cemetery and an Industrial School belonging to Poplar occupy a considerable space in the ward."
The above description focuses mainly on male occupations, elsewhere in their book, however, Howarth and Wilson consider female employment, which would appear to have predominantly in the clothing industry.
They have a few observations that relate to the area,, for example:
Many women work to meet some definite part of the family expenditure, such as children's clothes or boots and a considerable number of girls in Forest Gate and Upton Park make underclothing in order to pay for their dress.
Sebert Road, 1910
Looking as specific aspects of the rag trade, they have the following to report:
About 75 per cent of the workers employed in blouse-making live in the better parts of Plaistow, West Ham and Stratford, and in certain streets in Forest Gate and Upton Park where the rent is often 12s to 14s a week. It is noticeable that those who live in Forest Gate and Upton Park, a considerable number live with their parents, while others have several brothers or sisters living with them, who are occupied in various ways, often as clerks.
And finally on costume making, about half those employed in the trade were single women:
The majority were found in the better class streets in Stratford, Forest Gate and Upton. One or two rented their houses by the month; but on the other hand, one woman was living in a single room. The work is mostly of a good class, and is only entrusted to the superior type of home worker. All the workers in this group appeared to own their own machines. In some cases materials and models are sent by West End firms and the work is largely done by hand. The costumiers sometimes do private work, and are practically private dressmakers, who eke out their means by taking private work from shops.


  1. Gillian Lawtence27 April 2018 at 11:23

    Wonderful article. Vansittart is very intetesting in that there is a mixture of solid posh houses and smaller 2 up 2 down. Dames Road is just interesting. It was fine to read about the women doing piece-work and costumiers sending stuff up West. To perhaps Angels in Shaftesbury Avenue? Fanciful musings.

  2. Read it all again after a walk down Field Toad towards Forest Lane. So wanted to stop and stare but it's Bank Holiday so people indoors looking out. Bit scummy at the Forest Lane end. Narrowed pavements. Leonard Road is wide with large houses and front gardens. There is a church converted to a house or apartments opposite Dean Road so I will try to find its history. Could be not a church of course but arched windows. Why are there Cormorant and Stork Roads? Seen herons over the Flats but not bigger birds. Love this area.


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