Tollgate or not Tollgate?

Friday 27 April 2018

The origins of our district's name are fairly obvious and well known - the details, less so.  In this article we attempt to piece together sometimes conflicting historic accounts to provide a likely, and perhaps controversial, version of the  full story  behind "the gate".

The Forest Gate was located roughly between what is now the Lord Lister clinic and the former Eagle and Child pub (now Woodgrange pharmacy) on Woodgrange Road.

Position of "the gate" today
There was no metalled road during its lifetime, simply a track - and "the gate",  was principally an attempt to prevent cattle straying from "The Forest of Essex" (the lower part of which is what we now know as Wanstead Flats) on to the meadows and orchards of the Woodgrange, or on to the main Colchester to London (now Romford) Road.

Forest Gate's earliest appearance, by name, in surviving records, appears to be in the mid seventeenth century, in the West Ham burial register, which refer to the internment of Martha Jordon, from "the house of William Hare of fforest gate ... Monday ye 9th of April 1655".

The next surviving reference seems to be almost 40 years later, in 1693, when officers of "His Majesty's Forest of Essex" were:
To suffer William Hopkins to enclose two acres near Wood Grange gate, within the said forest, and also give him licence to erect a dwelling house thereupon.
Eighteenth century maps appear to confirm the existence of "the gate".

The Survey Map of John Rocque (see below for an extract), published in 1746, somewhat confusingly calls Woodgrange Road, "The White Gate", and William Hopkins property between Woodgrange Farm and The Eagle and Child pub is labelled "The Red Gate", but the location of the forest gate does snot seem to be indicated!

The Forest Gate section of John
Rocque's 1746 map of Essex

Andre and Chapman's map (see below for a small detail), published some thirty years later, seems to show "the gate", close to the Eagle and Child pub.

Abstract from Andre and Chapman's map, 1777
A local family historian has discovered that "three tenements on the north side of the Eagle and Child in Epping Forest" were insured with Sun Fire Insurance, in 1837, by a Robert Clayworth, who was a poultry farmer of Whitechapel. It looks therefore, as if the area adjacent to "the gate" was farmed by poultry keepers, who sold their stock in the City's Leadenhall Market.

Martin Wallace, in his history of St Mark's church, published in 1986, says that the original gate was replaced in 1851 by the Lord of Woodgrange manor, who erected a new five-bar gate, together with a keeper's cottage - known as Forest House. 

The present article reproduces 6 drawings of "the gate" and its surrounds, but only the last of them shows the five-barred gate.  The others illustrate the earlier, rickety ,older, and perhaps, original one.

The Forest Gate (undated) - clearly
 a popular subject for local artists
Twentieth century commentators (see below) assert that it was not a toll-gate, and this version has become the received wisdom since.  But the evidence, published in a facsimilie of its original form for the first time here, seems to dispute this claim.

The 1851 census, for example (see extracts below) describes a 68 year-old Robert Baker, born in Dagenham , to be living at "Forest Gate Toll House" and as being a "toll keeper". Why the use of the word "toll" twice in this contemporaneous census entry if "the gate" in question were not a toll-gate?

1851 census transcript: Forest Gate Toll House, Robert Baker, Head, married, 68, Toll Keeper (born) Essex, Dagenham.  Also Mary Baker, wife, married, 66, Essex
Martin Wallace does not paint a very sympathetic picture of Baker, describing him as:

Being famous locally for his association with footpads, highwaymen, gypsies and poachers, who used barbaric traps to catch their prey.

According to Victoria County History of Essex  (1986):

(We) and several other authorities doubt if the Forest Gate was ever a toll gate. ... A draft Ordnance Survey about the same time (1851) places a "toll gate" across the road at that point. It is possible that, with the development of the neighbourhood tolls may have been temporarily charged for the upkeep of what became Woodgrange Road until the Local Board (ed: predecessor to West Ham Council) took over the highways  (ed: probably in the 1870's).

This would make complete sense - charging travellers for the use of a half decent road to and from the forest before there was a formal publicly funded mechanism for paying for the maintenance of public highways.

The 1851 pen and ink drawing, below, is titled "Ye olde toll gate"  - a strange name for a contemporary to give his work if "the gate" were not, in fact, a toll-gate.

1851 pen and ink drawing of "Ye Olde Toll Gate"
Another sketch of the old gate,
in a slightly worse condition

Another, undated, high resolution
 view - this time looking south
John Spencer Curwen (see here for details) wrote, in his recollections of life in Forest Gate and Upton, that:

I do not remember the gate ever being closed. It was set back against the wall of the cottage, but anyone who wished to could have closed it.
In my childhood (ed: the 1850's), when we dropped by, the woman in charge would come to the door and catch the penny we tossed her.

This extract does not prove "the gate" was a toll-gate, but why else would a passer-by throw money at a person standing next to it?

Unfortunately, Ordnance Survey maps of the period are not very illuminating.

The 1863 OS map of Forest Gate and district appears to be cut off just feet from where "the gate" was located - and so can't settle any controversy. A larger scale, 6" map, indicates what is now Woodgrange Road ran to the Eagle and Child, and not beyond suggesting that although not formally a "toll road", tolls were collected by the toll-gate keeper to pay for the upkeep of Woodgrange Road, from Romford road, to the pub.

The next event in "the gate's" history, for which records remain, is the earliest (only?) surviving photograph of it. The occasion was a visit of Princess Louise (Victoria's 6th child and 4th daughter) through the district around 1876, on her way to a charitable event in Essex.

The only (?) surviving photo of "the gate" location
 - unfortunately it is open!, c 1876 
The photo was taken before the Eagle and Child pub was re-fashioned, in 1896. The old pub is at the back of the photo and the building attached to it, in the foreground, was a butcher's shop - see below.

The gate is clearly open, but would have stretched from post, on the roadway, to the left of the photo to the lamp-post on the right.

Describing the scene twenty years later, in September 1896, the Forest Gate Weekly News wrote:

Only some twenty years ago the Eagle and Child was the hostelry of the district; its gardens, with summer houses and statuary were much sought out for rest and refreshments by persons passing by, or strolling through the forest.

1879 sketch of toll-gate house, with a row 
of early cottages behind. 
"The gate" unfortunately is not in view.
(nb - this caption amended on 14/05/18)
The paper gave credence to the existence of a toll-gate, in the same article, writing:

There are still (1896) residents among us who can remember the old gate and the little toll booth (ed: our emphasis) by which alone from this part of the country, communication was had with the Forest from the high road, from Ilford to London  ... it was necessary first to pay the gate keeper, who eked out his slender honorarium by the sale of cakes, nuts and ginger beer.

On the south side of the gate there were but a few houses then, one occupied by Mr Castell (see below) and another by Mr Baker (ed: what relationship, if any, this person had to the Robert Baker, above, is not clear) on the east side, and some small cottages on the west side, were all the buildings that were near the gate.

The Mr Castell the Weekly News refers to appears in the 1881 census as George Castell, a 45 year old dairyman, living at Sunny Villa ("Mr Baker" does not appear living nearby in these census returns). Doubtless, George Castell supplied, if not owned, the butcher's shop, featured in the  banner photograph of "the gate", above, and probably herded his cattle on Wanstead Flats.

George Castell lived with his wife and seven children in the house in 1881. In the next census, a decade later, he was described as "retired" and was living at 62 Capel Road.

The Weekly News reported in 1896 that the houses that the Baker and Castell families lived in were still standing, but by now "they are hidden by the sight of the shop fronts that were added to them years later "- rather as those further down Woodgrange Road are today.

So, the Weekly News, writing of the 1870's mentioned a toll-gate, but also writing of the 1870's, an old West Ham resident, Major Sharp Hume penned a vivid description of his recollections of "the gate" and its surroundings, in Notes and Queries thirty years later (see the facsimile reproduction, below).

Notes and Queries 9 August 1890
The highlighted sections clearly mention "the gate", but not as a toll-gate, suggesting, perhaps that the West Ham Board had by then taken over responsibility for the road and no longer charged travellers for using it.

It could be deduced from the above that perhaps the tolls were no longer charged from the late 1870's - as some with recollections of the early years of the decade recall the tolls, and those remembering the later years of the decade don't.

The 1896 Weekly News' article, above, acknowledged that no written history of "the gate" was in existence, even then, but referred to surviving oral history accounts of events in its past:

From time to time, imposing, even royal cavalcades, principally hunting parties, or visitors to Wanstead House (ed: see here for details of the House's history) passed through the gate and imperfect records of their pageants were handed down from generation to generation of gate-keepers, but for want of a local historian to reduce them to writing, much that would otherwise be entertaining reading would be lost to us.

Step forward Katharine Fry, daughter of prison reformer, Elizabeth and long-time resident of Forest Gate. Over a number of decades she collected fragments of local history, which Gustav Pagenstecher (see here for details) pulled together and published as a History of the parishes of East and West Ham in 1888. This fairly detailed book, however, has precious little to say about "the gate", after the area in which they both lived was named.  Quoting the relevant part in its entirety, they say:

The hamlet situated beyond the highway, known as Forest Gate ...used in its former years to consist of only two or three gentlemen's houses and the little wooden hut occupied by the keeper of the "gate to the Forest", which was generally shut, to prevent cattle straying from Wanstead Flats to the High Road.

And, that's it! E7-NowAndThen's verdict on their history of the area of their residence: poor show!

A more distant sketch of the toll house,
 Eagle and Child, with a clear view
 of the five bar gate, on the left
Most commentators and historians agree that "the gate" was demolished sometime between 1881 and 1883. This is just three or four years after the Corporation of London took over responsibility for Wanstead Flats and after the West Ham Local Board would have taken over responsibility for the upkeep of Woodgrange and Woodford Roads. The proximity of these events is probably not coincidental.

Within fifteen years the sands of time, however, had blown over much local memory of "the gate", with the Weekly News commenting :"of its ultimate fate, we have no information."

A decade later, writing in the authoritative Essex Review, John Avery asserted that:        

The old gate house at the corner of Forest Street (ed: now Brooking Road) was never a toll-house, but the residence of the keeper of the gate, which was placed across the road to prevent cattle straying off the Flats on to the highway.

And that has become the accepted version of the story: a forest gate, but not a toll-gate.

A crude chronology of "the story" of "the gate" would be, that nineteenth century witnesses declared the gate to be a toll-gate, and twentieth century "experts" dismissed the observations as fanciful. Perhaps revisionism is in order today, and we go back to believing the contemporary witnesses.

Cows on the Flats in 20th century
Piecing the evidence together, the following seems at least to be a plausible account of "the gate's" history.

A gate was in existence, on what is now Woodgrange Road from, at latest, the mid seventeenth century. It was there to keep cattle straying off what we now know as Wanstead Flats on to nearby arable and orchard land, and the main London to Colchester road.

It could well have been erected by the Lord of Woodgrange Manor to protect his crops from animal damage. He may well have charged a toll for the grazing animals to pass through the gate, on their way to market in central London, by way of recompense for the damage their hooves would have done to the road he maintained, en route to Smithfield.

Forest Gate began to develop as a settlement of some importance from the 1840's. This would have brought an increase of passenger traffic along Woodgrange Road, into Leyton and further points north. The old gate clearly, as illustrated by some of the sketches in this article, suffered from disrepair .

In 1851 Samuel Gurney (see here) bought the Hamfrith estate, including the "lordship of Woodgrange Manor" (see above)and immediately erected a new main  gate with the side, five bar, one, referred to above. He also appears to have built a gate-keeper's house - whose occupants would assist both foot and carriage passengers, while still preventing stray cattle wandering.

The gate-keeper, gate and road would all have required maintenance, A toll was charged, to cover, or at least contribute to, the costs of the upkeep of the road, gate and keeper.

When the West Ham Board took over the upkeep of the road, they would have abolished the toll, and made the toll-keeper redundant, but kept "the gate" to keep the cattle at bay. This, however was removed in the early 1880's, as it would have become a serious impediment to the increased volume of traffic. 

Cattle subsequently resumed their  wanders from the Flats down what was by then Woodgrange Road (see photo), as they  would for the next century, until an outbreak of BSE finally stopped cattle grazing on Wanstead Flats in the 1998.

Cows wandering down Woodford Road,
from grazing on Wanstead Flats, in the 1990's
Footnote: We are deeply indebted to local post-card collector and photographer, Tony Morrison, for the use of some his high resolution images to illustrate this article.  We hope to be working with Tony to provide other images from his fine collection in future articles on this blog.

A survivor's tale - 1941 bombing of the Princess Alice

Friday 20 April 2018

One of the delights of running this website is that sometimes articles can prompt replies and memories that can add colour and flavour to our understanding of the past.

One such correspondence was provoked by our article on the history of the Princess Alice (see here for details). Reader, John Muskett was in the pub the night of the bombing. We are posting this article on the 77th anniversary of the bomb - 20 April 1941.

This is his story:
I was guided to your web site and was sad to hear that The Princess Alice is no more. 
I was actually in the Princess Alice at the time of the bombing and wanted to show my eldest son something about it.
Princess Alice pub in the 1930's - pre bombing
The Landlord at that time was Mr Albert Smith. His wife, Violet, was my mother's sister. I lived with my maternal grandparents, - as my mother had died a year or so before.  Another aunt lived with us, but our house had been bombed and we were, homeless at that time. We lived, temporarily in the pub for a while, until we were rehoused.
John Muskett - whose memories are retold
 here, at about the time of the bombing in 1941
The cellars of the Princess Alice were very extensive, at least they were as far as a 5 1/2 year old was concerned. One of them rather resembled a hospital ward, being surrounded by beds. My aunt and uncle giving any passing serviceman without somewhere to go, a bed for the night.  I was down there we were when the bombing happened. 
Bomb site, where the pub
once stood - after April 1941
The Head Barman also lived in the pub and had been in the cinema - see photo of bombed Queen's cinema, below - on which the bomb actually dropped, the fall-out from the explosion hit mainly the front of the Alice - opposite.
Queen's Cinema, Romford Road, in the 1930's,
 opposite the Princess Alice and between
 Barclays Bank and what was the Odeon
 Cinema and is now the Minaj-ul-Quran mosque
I remember the head barman being asked how many people he thought may have been in there, by a fireman leaning on a felling axe. 
That was something that must have impressed itself on me as I cannot think why my memory of that particular incident should be so clear after all these years. 
I also remember the next morning when we had to pick our way over all the bricks and rubble to get out and I picked up the top of a soda syphon which I had for a great many years afterwards.
Queen's Cinema, completely destroyed by a
parachute mine on the day the Alice was struck
by what John says was collateral damage.
The death of the man you mentioned (ed: killed while out walking his dog) has always served to remind me just how simple decisions and luck can make a difference to life and death.
He was the dentist who lived next door and came in to us for shelter when there was an air raid (ed: according to the West Ham register of the WW2 civilian dead register, this looks like it would have been Herbert Emile Kaye, aged about 60 of 1 Woodgrange Road). On the night of the bomb, he chose to come just when the bomb exploded, and he was still in the street when he was hit. 
The Sunday Express describing the dramatic
 night of bombing that saw the end of
 the Queen's cinema and destruction of the
 Alice, April 1941
I was told that he was blown through the flaps in the pavement where the beer would have been lowered into the cellar, and was found in the cellar next to the one we were in. How true that was I cannot say. 
 Some years later - I think maybe in the 70's or 80's - there was a report in one of the evening papers that the ghost of the dentist had been seen in the Princess Alice. When I told my aunt, she said he was looking for her, as she had paid a deposit for some new dentures and never had either the dentures or her deposit returned!
There is just one question I would like to ask you if I may.  I know I went to school while I was there, although not for any great time. It was a small school, in possibly a couple of houses in one of the streets close to the pub.
It was certainly within walking distance and run by nuns. Quite why I went there I do not know, as we were not Catholics.  I assume that it is no longer there but would appreciate it if you could confirm that for me.
 (Ed: I'm afraid we cannot help you with an answer to your question, John. It sounds as if the sisters may have been some that stayed in Forest Gate after St Angela's school evacuated to Norfolk.  John seems to think the school may have been in the Earlham Grove/Norwich Road area. Perhaps one of our readers can assist, and post a comment, below?).
I still have a small card inscribed, To dear little John from the Sisters.

 The card from the Sisters to John - 1941
 As you will no doubt have realised,  I am now in my eighties and, like so many older people, I so often think back to the times past. I find myself constantly surprised by the trivial little memories that come to mind. 
I was probably only living at the Princess Alice for about 4 or 5 months and yet one of the things that made a great impression on my mind was a visit to Wanstead Flats where I saw the Fire Brigade practising. I saw the rainbow in the jet from their hose and how it disappeared into the ground when the water was shut off! Why should that have made such an impression?
Prior to being bombed out and going to live at the Princess Alice we went there to see the wonderful new thing called television.  The room was duly darkened and the television set switched on but, to everyone's disappointment, nothing came on. 
Uncle Bert, who was not renowned for his patience, fiddled with all sorts of knobs at the back in vain and finally all attempts were given up.  Later, when the evening papers were delivered, it was discovered that all television broadcasts were discontinued for the duration of the war! The television, having been salvaged from the Princess Alice, was, strangely enough, the set on which I eventually saw my first ever television show when broadcasts began after the war.
I hope that the ramblings of an old man have been of some interest to you and remain,
 Yours faithfully,
John Muskett.

Fifth anniversary round up - past and future

Tuesday 10 April 2018

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the E7-NowAndThen blog, during which time we have published a little over 200 articles, on a ratio of about 1:2 - Now:Then. This article is a brief review of the past, with some pointers to the future direction of the blog.

First, the stats. The site has had just short of half a million visitors and now attracts an average of well over 400 hits a day. The complementary twitter account @E7_NowAndThen has a little under 1700 followers and is happy to re-tweet anything interesting about E7.

The articles receiving most hits, unsurprisingly, are those that have been live longest. The most popular tend to be about the "Now" rather than the "Then", and at the pleasure seeking end of the scale of topics covered.

The five year top five hits have been:

Forest Gate good (and not so good) pub guide, past and present (2013) - here

Forest Tavern in good pub guides

Forest Gate pub guide (2014) - here

Upper Cut Club, part 1 - the rise (2013) - here

Billy Walker's Upper Cut club

Fires guts famous gym (2013) - here

Kenny Johnson and the Lotus Club (2014) - here

Kenny Johnson's Lotus Club

The most visited post published over the last twelve months have been:

Criminal Landlords of Forest Gate, named and shamed - here

Bryan Forbes recalls his local origins - here

Bryan Forbes goes back to school in Forest Gate

Redevelopment plans for Woodgrange Road Methodist church - here

Woodgrange Methodist church,
redevelopment proposals

Dames Road disaster - here

Survivor's tale - Forest Gate Industrial school - here.

The Criminal Landlords post received the fastest hit rate in the shortest period of time on the blog  - racking up over 2,000 hits in its first week live.

Some of our most successful, and satisfying, posts (particularly the Dames Road disaster and Survivor's tale, above) have been when we have been contacted by witnesses or descendants of participants of significant events and have been able to shed a new light on an older story, and added to the depth of understanding and authenticity of local events of historic importance.

Charles Hipkins, survivor of the Forest
 Gate Industrial school fire,
1890 - what he did next
Similarly, over the last couple of years, we have been able to produce ground-breaking biographies of a number of local people -  adding to our, and other historians', understanding of them as individuals - by pulling material, some very local, together in ways never previously done. So, we have added to the appreciation of a number of  people normally confined to footnotes in more general histories.

We are particularly pleased to have been able to achieve this with Frank FitzGerald, Irish patriot and father of one of the country's recent taoiseachs (Garret) - see here, anarchist and some-time William Morris associate, Charles Mowbray - see here. These were largely put together by local historian, @Flatshistorian, Mark Gorman. Most recently our biography/timeline on local suffragette, Minnie Baldock, did precisely this as well (see here).

Charles Mowbray and Minnie Baldock

For the future, we will be looking to build on some of these historic successes.

So - next week's post will continue the survivor's tale tradition, by telling the story of one of the witnesses of the bombing of the Princess Alice, in 1941 - the still very much alive John Muskett.

We are now working in collaboration with outside bodies, contributing to, and delivering, larger and more ambitious projects.

The first of these is a film, to which we have contributed, Archibald Cameron Corbett, the man and the houses, about the developer behind the Woodgrange Estate and the Forest Gate clock/horse trough, outside the railway station.  This fascinating hour-long, professionally produced, film will be showing at the Gate library on Woodgrange Road on Thursday 26 April, at 8pm - free of charge. To ensure entry, please book in advance. (see poster, below)

Archibald Corbett film - the Gate
Thurs 26 April 8pm - free!
Another collaboration project is with the family of William Edward Wright. He was a prominent Forest Gate-based photographer working in the latter years of Victoria's reign and throughout Edward V11's.  He had eight studio branches in total, including two in Forest Gate.  

We will be publishing a blog about the man in a few weeks, and hope to put on an exhibition about the man and his works, in co-operation with his family, later in the year, in Forest Gate and elsewhere, . This follows the collaboration we had last year with Paul Romaine, in putting on his exhibition on The Upper Cut, as part of Newham's Heritage Week.  See here for subsequent post on this blog.

 Wright, the photographer - blog and possible exhibition pending!

We have written extensively about bike building and pleasure in Forest Gate at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries (herehere and here). We are working with Boneshaker magazine to publish  lengthy, and to them and us an important, article on this significant industry and leisure activity locally - later in the summer.

Boneshaker - to feature cycling in Forest
Gate at turn on 19th/20th centuries
Layers of London is a lottery-funded history initiative sponsored by the Institute of Historical Research at University College, London. 

Theirs is a three year project which aims to display London history via a digitised map foundation, so that visitors can - by clicking on a pointer on the modern map - access the history of that spot and events that took place in or around it. It will also be possible to see how the immediate area has changed over time, by examining different era maps of the locality and "drilling" though them. 

Our features on local street histories (e.g Capel, Sebert Dames, Woodford Roads and Earlham Grove), written by local historian, Peter Williams, will be particularly valuable for this initiative.

We will be contributing to this project and by the time it is officially launched in June it will be possible to access over 100 aspects of Forest Gate history on it.

Layers of London - web pages under
construction - should have over 100
Forest Gate entries, when launched in June
As far as the "Now" aspect of the website is concerned, we will continue to cover major planning and development activities affecting Forest Gate, and offer the opportunities for people to engage in a discussion on the proposal. A good example of this would be our article on the development plans for 39 -49 Woodgrange Road (see here), which has had almost 4,000 hits and attracted over 40 comments in the two years since it was first posted.

We will also dig out E7 angles on Newham-wide, or national surveys and statistics - often being able to throw up major talking points - as our regular food hygiene surveys and recent surveys of crooked landlords and lettings agencies have.

We are always open to receiving contributory posts, or suggestions of areas to research and publish - subject to legal and decency considerations.

Thank you for supporting this blog over the last five years. We hope you can join us in looking forward to the next five!