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

The street where you live (7) - Sprowston Road

Tuesday 20 September 2016

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
The Eastern Counties railway arrived in the late 1830's and started to open the area up to development. However you can see on the map above that the area round Sprowston Road was undeveloped in the mid 1860's. It is to the left or west of the Pawnbrokers Almshouses (see here for history of the almshouses).

1895 OS map. Details, here
On this map the Almshouses have gone, and in this 30 year period hundreds of houses were built, including Hamfrith, Atherton, Norwich, Sprowston, and Clova Roads, and Earlham Grove, which were part of the Gurney estate (c. 1870–90) ....and the north side of Romford Road. 

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

Rupert Vigor was a plumber and decorator. As late as 1938 domestic help was still needed to sleep in:

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
When the Channel Tunnel Rail link (CTRL) was built in the mid 1990's the tunnel passed directly under the houses, and he made various comments about the blight. For more on Tony Banks and his famous quotes and remarks, including those about the tunnel, see here.

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.

Over the years many of the large houses became run down and the landlords switched them to HMOs (House in Multiple Occupation, as the council call them). A number of the houses were homeless temporary accommodation. In other words, councils rented the property from a private landlord and then placed families that Newham has a duty to house in the accommodation.

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 columns 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.

23 Sprowston Road

This house, see photo, was purchased in 1959 by the Gradosielska family, who were instrumental in establishing community organisations for the first wave of post WW2 Polish immigrants (see here for details of the early days of the community).

The interesting map, setting out the footprint of the property prior to construction in 1876, shows some interesting features on Woodgrane Road at the time, including the presence of the pawnbrokers almshouses, Woodgrange Place, Havering Villa and the location of the soon-to-be-built vicarage for nearby Emanuel church. It also shows the site for no 25, see below for details.

No 23 - home of the Gradosielska
family since 1959

1876 map, showing the footprint of number
 23 and 25 (see below for details)

Cheap hotels

Global Guest House 25 Sprowston Road still operates as a cheap hotel for the homeless and other homeless hotels trade on the Romford Rd nearby, though some have tried to move up market and attract tourists and building contractors since the Olympics:

McCreadies Hotel
Newham Hotel
Hartley Hotel
Manor House hotel
Forest View Hotel
St Andrew Hotel
Viking Motel E15

Often these were used by other London boroughs, not Newham, as homeless temporary accommodation and conditions could be a concern for Newham's environmental health inspectors.

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!

Sprowston Mews

At the Romford Road end of Sprowston Road is the mews. It even figures on specialist mews website like this one, where it says:

The Mews
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:

Site description
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).

Interestingly a number of years ago a group of council officials recommended pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on all the businesses, but councillors did not agree, as the cost would have been very considerable, as the council would have had to pay market value in compensation.

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
And in the same premises a few years later we have 1990 Mick Tomlin supplier of drapes and tracks to theatres:

Motor dealers

Fire engine near 22 Sprowston Road February 2012

As mentioned, above, there are a number of motor dealers in the Mews and one of them must have bought this Dennis Rapier retired fire engine from the West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, it was a bit of an anomaly in East London, with its distinctive livery. It was not in Sprowston very long. It originally served at Worthing and has recently been preserved by an enthusiast in the south of England.

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

As we reported in our Murdergate blogs recently murder, there was a particularly brutal and pointless double murder near Sprowston Mews in 2003 (see here and here). Below is a photo of the weapon used in the killing, and a screengrab from the BBC website reporting on the conviction.

A mach machine pistol like the one used

Other informative press cuttings relating to Sprowston Road and Mews

Chelmsford Chronicle, 24 Dec 1886

22 Sprowston Road was known as Archibald House

Chelmsford Chronicle 9 Dec 1892
William Boddy had been born in Mevagissey, Cornwall, about 1840 and was a retired builder. He had migrated to London and had done well.

Essex Newsman, 11 Jun 1904
And finally the sad story of a headteacher worried as her school might be evacuated:

Chelmsford Chronicle, 7 Oct 1938