Emmanuel church (1) - origins of the Church of England in Forest Gate

Monday 27 August 2018

This is the first of a two part article on the history of Emmanuel Church and of the CofE in Forest Gate. The second half, on the rise and fall of the Church of England locally will appear next.

There have been literally dozens of churches and religious buildings in Forest Gate over the last 170 years of its existence as a significant community. None is probably better known, or more familiar to today's residents, than Emmanuel church, sitting as it does on the key cross roads of Forest Gate - the junction of Upton Lane with Romford and Woodgrange roads.

This is its story, told in two parts - and we are totally indebted to a one-time curate of the church, Andrew Wilson, for being able to retell it. (see footnote for details).

John Fothergill, the Forest Gate botanist (see here for details), planted an acorn on the site of the church, during his residence at Ham House (now West Ham park). It grew into a fine oak, and was mentioned in the Katharine Fry/Gustav Pagenstecker history of West Ham (see here for details).

John Fothergill, whose acorn was
 planted on the site of Emmanuel church
The tree gave Upton Lane the nickname of One Tree Lane at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.

The coming of the railway to Forest Gate in 1840 lead to the beginnings of its rapid population growth. A decade later a decision was made to build a Church of England church in the area, to service its burgeoning community.

It was originally conceived as a chapel of ease (a sub-church, for those who were unable to reach a more established church - in this case, West Ham parish church) and it was consecrated on 22 May 1852.

The area to be served by it was from land half in the then parish of West Ham and half in the old East Ham parish. The existing dividing line between the two parishes was along roughly what is Green Street, today.

The area covered by Emmanuel church's parish.
The dotted line is what is now Green Street,
and the boundary between the old
West and East Ham parishes
The two parishes paid £50 each towards the establishment of this hybrid church, which was referred to as being a "consolidated chapelry" (because it was carved out of two existing parishes).

The right to nominate a vicar of Emmanuel alternated between East and West Ham parishes until 1962 - when the church, itself, joined to form a new parish, by merging with St Peter's of Upton Cross (see later for details). Nomination rights for selecting the vicar then transferred to the Bishop of Chelmsford.

The alternating of vicar nominations process caused problems during most of the 110 years the arrangement operated. Broadly, West Ham church has a "low" church tradition, and East Ham, a more formal "high" church tradition. So, the seeds of the on-going conflict soon became apparent.

The territory assigned to the Emmanuel parish (see map) was considerable. Rapid population growth in Forest Gate led the church, itself,  later to spawn "daughter" churches within the parish, to cope with speedily growing parishioner numbers.

The Emmanuel parish boundaries extended roughly from Wanstead Flats in the north, to Plashet Road in the south and from Water Lane in the west to High Street North, in the east. Unsurprisingly, pretty much the area we know today as Forest Gate!

The "daughter" churches - some of which have not survived - included St Saviour's, St Marks, All Saints and parts of St Edmunds, St James' and St Peter's Upton Cross (see later for details).

The original Emmanuel church building cost £4,235 to construct - the bulk coming from the pocket of the Rev Tuile Cornthwaite of Walthamstow. The Church of England Commissioners only supplied £150.

The eminent church architect George Gilbert Scott designed the building. It was of an early English decorative style, built with Kentish rag stone and York stone.

Architect, Giles Gilbert Scott, signs
off the construction of the church
The original church (it has been subsequently much altered) was built to accommodate a congregation of 500 (see illustration). The titles on the steeple were in two colours - with 'V' shapes. The stripped steeple lead to Emmanuel colloquially being referred to as the 'Harlequin church'.

As well as a church, a new school was planned (see here for article on early education in Forest Gate). Samuel Gurney (see here) gave land on the corner of Woodgrange Road and Forest Street for the Emmanuel National school (see here). An infant's school followed in 1864.

The vicar and wardens of Emmanuel were the school's first trustees - until they passed responsibility on to St Saviours (one of the daughter churches) in 1888. By this time, the school's numbers were in decline, as state run School Board schools proved to be more popular. The Emmanuel school closed in 1894.

The Gurney family (Quakers) again gave land for a vicarage for Emmanuel, in 1876. It was built three years later, at a cost of £2,480. It was located on the site, currently being redeveloped by Mura estates on Earlham Grove, next to the Community Garden. See photo, below. It remained the parish vicarage until 1950.

The Earlham Grove vicarage, built in 1876
On completion, the vicarage was immediately deployed as a soup kitchen, during a particularly severe winter. This early version of a food bank gave out soup at 1d per quart, together with sacks of donated coal to poor local parishioners.

The soup kitchen was later moved to the grounds of Emmanuel school, and was in operation until 1883. This was the time of maximum housing development in Forest Gate.

By the 1880's the 500 seater church, designed by Gilbert Scott, was proving to be too small for the rapidly expanding congregation - and it was extended. - adding a further third to its eating capacity in 1886. Further expansions were objected to locally, as they would have meant disturbing the occupants of the graveyard!

The extended church, post 1886 - with a
perpendicular extension, adding another
200 to the seating capacity

The Emmanuel Institute - the building on Romford Road, facing the church - was built in 1882, as a Sunday school and remained as a location for church events for 80 years before being rented, then sold, to Wag Bennett, as the weightlifting/bodybuilding gym, for which it subsequently became famous (see here and here for details).

Emmanuel Institute, built 1882 -
later to become Wag Bennett's gym

Forest Gate Nurseries in 1996, land
owned by Emmanuel church for expansion
that did not occur - now Ralph Jackson
House, on Romford Road
As a Sunday school, the building regularly attracted over 500 pupils, with 35 staff, in the 1880's. The land next to the Institute, also belonged to Emmanuel, which had unfulfilled plans to turn it into a library and a reading room. They didn't materialise, and for many years the space was occupied by a small garden centre and is now Ralph Jackson Court, a block of flats.

Footnote: This article is almost wholly based on a now out of print booklet That big church on the corner - a history of Emmanuel church, Forest Gate, by Andrew Wilson (then assistant curate, now rector of St John of Jerusalem church, Hackney), 1995, to whom we are most grateful.

Edwardian postcards of the Woodgrange estate

Saturday 18 August 2018

The Edwardian era (1901 - 1910) witnessed a boom in the use of picture postcards as 'social media', in the days before the introduction of domestic telephones.

There would have been four or five postal deliveries a day, and people could conduct a correspondence about travel and meeting up arrangements, when visiting each other, for example, with the greatest of ease, over a few hours.

Among the most popular of the postcards were photos of prominent local streets, churches and parks. So, West Ham Park and Wanstead Flats are well represented, as are almost all local churches of the time. There are literally dozens of different surviving views of Woodgrange Road and small numbers of some local streets - usually the more prosperous (Earlham Grove, Capel Road, Chestnut Road being good examples).

People used the postcards, employing the relatively recently developed use of mass reproduced photography, as a combination of a calling card and an illustration of their locality, or residence.

The streets of the Woodgrange estate are all well represented, and this article features a number of the postcards, which collectively inform our understanding of the development of the estate, as well as present a nostalgic glance back to a car-less era of wide, uncluttered roads.

Many of the postcards of the era survive, and there is a busy, and increasingly expensive, market for them on E.Bay. There are at least two local collectors of Forest Gate life, Tony Morrison, a friend of this site, and another equally valued contact, who wishes to remain anonymous.  We are grateful to both for sharing relevant sections of their collection with us, so that we can display them in this article.

One rather splendid set survives of all four of the main roads on the estate. The photos are all hand-tinted and indented on high quality photographic paper/card, to give the appearance of a framed photograph. We reproduce the four- as a set - in minature, including their frames, here. We produce larger versions, without frames, so that the details can be examined more closely, in the separate road sections, below.

Top: Windsor and Osborne, Bottom: Hampton and Claremont

We are covering the main roads on the estate from south to north. In very broad terms, that was sequence of grander to less grand houses in the estate, according to the surviving 1878 sales leaflet for the houses - see below. 

As the leaflet shows, the earliest houses on Windsor had the widest frontages (47 feet) and were most expensive (£590). Then came those on Claremont (44 feet, £530), followed by Osborne and Hampton (both 39 feet and £490).

It is those largest and most expensive houses on Windsor and Claremont that were bombed during WW2 and replaced by the 1950's estate.

Below is a rare postcard of one of the largest of the original houses on the estate. It is of 4 Windsor - with its 47 feet frontage. It is unusual in a number of regards. Firstly, as the sign on the far left indicates, it doubled up as a house and a Music and Dance Academy. Kelly's Directory of 1902 shows that it was occupied by "Madame Marian Finer, Professor of Music" and Thomas Owen Finer.

The 1911 census shows the same couple, with a 25-year old daughter, Edith. It also suggests that Marion married Owen when she was just 16, and he 40, for in 1911 they were 45 and 70 respectively.

The house has a conservatory at the front. We have seen no evidence, photographically, or in writing of any other house on the estate having such a feature.  Many houses on the estate had verandahs - some of which survive - but none other, as far as we are aware, a fully enclosed glass frontage of the kind shown below.

The photo suggests that the house was quadruple fronted, with an arch under the left hand extension leading either to the garden or perhaps to a coach house, at the rear. 

4 Windsor Road, in 1908. 
Destroyed by WW2 bomb.

The sales leaflet, above, mentions the estate office.  The manager was Mr Donald. This was located at 2 Hampton Road, and can be seen protruding from the fabric of the house in the postcard below.

The estate office was important, for many years after the houses on the estate were constructed and sold.  Most were sold on a leasehold basis - for 99 years, in the 1880's. Others, as the leaflet suggests, were rented;. Those sold had a significant ground rent to pay each year. 

Corbett, the estate's developer, was fastidious about maintaining high standards on the Woodgrange estate. The original sales contract for the houses, for example, insisted that the purchaser kept the house in good repair, "and particularly will paint the external wood and ironwork in every Fourth year of the said term and the inside wood and ironwork in every Seventh year of the said term." 

Corbett reserved the right to inspect all houses that he had "sold" twice a year, to ensure that this was adhered to, and required any concerns to be addressed within three months.

Anticipating the Conservation Area requirements, imposed a century after the construction of the estate, the house deeds stated: 
The Lessee ... will not make any alterations in the plan or elevation or in the architectural decorations of the said dwelling-house or any additions thereto or erect of build any new or additional building on any part of the said premises without the previous licensee in writing of the Lessor.
The upshot of the conditions imposed on the initial purchasers of houses on the estate was that conformity of high standards was enforced - through the estate office.  So, in many of the photos below, it will be clearly seen that the trees in gardens were  pollarded and pruned together - to ensure a consistency and uniformity of appearance.

Corbett began to sell the freehold of houses in the estate twenty five years after they were first erected - possibly to finance some of his ambitious housing schemes in south east London (see here, for details). It was only at that point that the owners were able to "individualise" their houses and make significant changes to their interiors, or exteriors.

The postcards reproduced below, therefore, probably display the houses on the estate at their most uniform and mature - reflecting the kind of vision Corbett and his heirs had for the estate - neat, tidy, well-ordered and maintained to a consistently high standard.

The estate office, protruding from 2 Hampton
 Road, above, in the postcard.
Below, the same building, boarded up, today

Almost all of the postcards reproduced below are of the Edwardian era - as testified by the stamps and frank marks on the correspondence side of the card. Some are later, though difficult to date, if they have not been posted.

It is noticeable that all gardens hosted three or four trees, which were maintained by the freeholder. There were no trees on the pavements at this time - which taken together with the lack of traffic on the raods give the impression of wide, distinctive boulevards.

The approach in this article is to display general views of each street, as chronologically as possible, followed by rather more specific (sometimes single house) postcards.  With these later cards we have, wherever possible, tried to produce a "now" version of the view today. In some cases the destruction of some of the original features of the houses makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Windsor Road

Tinted postcard of Windsor c 1908, from the series, 
mentioned above. Note consistent pollarding 
of the trees, suggesting considerable 
on-going involvement of the leaseholder
 (Corbett) in the appearance of the estate. 

Undated postcard of the entrance to
Windsor Road, from Woodgrange Road

Second house on right hand side is number 4
(see above) - a slight impression of the
conservatory at the front, which does not
seem to be present  on any other house

Above and below: noticeable that one front
wall stands out from all the others in being of 

a paler brick. Given the attention to symetery
 and detail elsewhere in the houses, perhaps this
was the first to exercise the "right to buy" the
freehold, and so express individuality - like 

"right to buy"  council properties in the 1980's?

Above: undated postcard of roundabout on
 Windsor  and Richmond Roads. Below: the 
location today. The railings around the 
roundabout were doubtless taken down 
and used to help the war effort in WW2.

West end of Windsor Road, post WW2 bombing,
 prior to construction of modern estate of flats

Above: unusual postcard of the east end of
Windsor Road, at its junction with
Hampton. Judging by the height of trees, 

likely to be Edwardian.
Below: the view, today.

Above: Edwardian postcard of 54 Windsor Road.
Below: a treeless and hedgeless 54 Windsor Road,

 today, complete with a first floor extension to the annexe

Claremont Road
The Claremont card from the 1908 had-tinted set.
 To the left is the Woodgrange Methodist church,
 bombed during WW2. The white stone capped
 pillars on the right were an entrance to the church.
 The buildings on the far right were the side and
 back of Woodgrange Road shops, also bombed
 during WW2, and replaced by the surviving
 1950's estate.

On the corner of Woodgrange, with the 
pre-bombed  Methodist church on the left.
 The composition  is very similar to the second
 postcard of Windsor Road, above -
-suggesting they were possibly part of a set

Above, uniformly post pollarded trees, in the
 winter. Below trees in full leaf, in the summer.
As with all these postcards it is noticeable
not at just how little traffic there is on the road,
but how few pedestrians there are, too.
Almost all of them seem to be children
 or young people.

Judging by the maturity of the trees, a slightly
later postcard.  The white capped posts on
the bottom left mark the entrance to the Methodist
church - see above, for further evidence.

Above: Edwardian 30 Claremont Road. Below:
 the house today. "Modernised" before the estate 
became a Conservation Area. The trees and 
hedges have gone. "Modernisation" has resulted 
in newer, out of character, windows, a porch 
and pebbledashing.

Osborne Road

Fewer postcards seem to have survived of Osborne Road. The first two, below, have been taken from very similar positions. The red-tinted building on the far left is the side of what is now the Woodgrange Medical Practice, on Woodgrange Road. Immediately behind it is the end of a row of what were coach houses, or mews and are now an unsightly alley of garages.

The white-capped pillars and taller iron fences on the left hand side are where Kay Rowe Nursery is today, and mirror those of the Methodist church entrance in Claremont Road, above. 

One more in the 1908 hand-tinted series of
local postcards - see Windsor and Claremont,
above, for others in the set.
Slightly later postcard,
shot from a similar location

An even later postcard, with taller,
but still uniformly well-pollarded trees
 Hampton Road
The Hampton postcard from the 1908 hand-tinted
 set. Lower roofed buildings on near left and
right would have been coach houses. First house
on right was the estate office - see text above.
A later shot, from a similar angle, but this
time with more mature trees and - for the
first time, telegraph poles.

The mews, coach houses, at the side
of number 2, today, in a run down state
A later shot, with more mature trees,
and the suggestion of a verandah on the
first house on the left.
A more unusual shot - looking west, towards
 Woodgrange Road. The shop at the far end is
 the studio of William E Wright, the photographer
 featured on this website.

Above: 85 Hampton - then, and below, now.
  The house is today obscured by over-grown trees
 - hence the partial view.

Above - 88 Hampton, then. Below - now: garden
 fence, trees and hedge removed, with a first
floor annexe built and part of garden turned into
hard standing for a car. In a sign of changing
times, chimney stacks replaced by satellite dish.

“Save the Forest!” Forest Gate and the campaign for Epping Forest

Wednesday 8 August 2018

by local historian, Mark Gorman - celebrating the 140th anniversary of the Epping Forest Act and highlighting the role of ordinary east Londoners in rescuing the forest from destruction.

140 years ago this month, on 8 August 1878, the Epping Forest Act was signed into law. This marked the culmination of nearly two decades of action to save Epping Forest from enclosure and destruction for housing, a struggle which had involved not only leading politicians and lawyers, as well as bodies like the City of London Corporation, but also popular protest by thousands of ordinary Londoners. In this story Forest Gate played a key role.

Up to the 1870's Forest Gate was still a small west Essex village, on the edge of Wanstead Flats, which marked Epping Forest’s southern boundary. The forest, once part of a great stretch of woodland across the county, was by this time just 6,000 acres in extent, between Epping in the north and Forest Gate in the south.

The “toll gate” in Forest Gate (pictured here c.1850)
 marked the southern edge of Epping Forest.
 The Lord Lister Health Centre is located here today.
Even this shrunken area of forest was under threat as the 19 Lords of the Manor, who were the forest landowners, began to see the financial gain to be made from enclosing and developing this open space on London’s doorstep. By the early 1870's Forest Gate was beginning to change, as suburban development spread outwards, driven by the coming of the railway, which had reached Forest Gate in 1844.

As houses covered more and more of London’s countryside, voices of alarm began to be raised. Maryland resident Sir Antonio Brady, a leading campaigner to save Epping Forest, called on ‘citizens of the East End, to protest against the encroachments on the forest, and to do battle with those who had filched from the people rights they had inherited from their ancestors.’ 

Such calls met a ready response among east Londoners, who saw Epping Forest as their space. On summer weekends and holidays thousands of East Enders came by train, ‘holiday van’ or on foot, to enjoy the green space of the forest, and Wanstead Flats was a favourite destination.

Thousands of east Londoners enjoyed Epping
Forest, many coming in ‘holiday vans’ like
this one picture in the 1850's.

The government was called on to legislate to stop the enclosure of London’s open spaces, and Epping Forest in particular was the focus of attention. But Gladstone’s Liberal administration dragged its feet, to the frustration and anger of Londoners. Matters came to a head in the summer of 1871, when Lord Cowley, the absentee landowner of Wanstead manor, instructed his agents to fence off Wanstead Flats, in preparation for clearance and house-building. Outrage boiled over in east London. 

Protest meetings were held in Hackney, Shoreditch, Stratford and elsewhere, and a mass demonstration on Wanstead Flats was called for 8 July. At every meeting came calls not just for protest, but for destruction of the hated fences. At a meeting in Hackney one speaker wondered 'whether the fence would be in existence on Monday morning’. This remark was received with cries of ‘Down with it!’ and loud applause.

A crowd estimated at 30,000 descended on Wanstead Flats that day. The organisers of the protest, now fearful of the increasingly vocal calls for destruction of the fences on the Flats, adjourned the demonstration to the grounds of nearby West Ham Hall (now the site of Woodgrange School). They claimed that the military exercise taking place on the Flats that day meant that they couldn’t hold the meeting there. 

But the demonstrators were having none of it. As soon as the first speaker began, there was a storm of hissing, and shouts of ‘to the Flats’, followed by the manhandling of the carts, from which the gentleman leaders were speaking, up Chestnut Avenue and onto the Flats.

The 8 July protest meeting began in the grounds
 of West Ham Hall, pictured here in the 1890's.
The official meeting on the Flats agreed to petition the Queen over the forest enclosures, then the gentlemen leaders left, as did the large police detachment sent to guard the fences. Everything it seemed had passed off peacefully, until later that evening the mood changed. 

A large section of the crowd began to demolish fences near the Foresters Arms pub, which then stood near the corner of Capel Road and Centre Road. This was land rented from Lord Cowley by John Gladding (after whom a road is Manor Park is named) which had been laid out for building.

The police, hastily recalled from Ilford, arrived to find 100s of metres of fencing reduced to matchwood. The police charged the crowd and managed to arrest one of them, A Whitechapel cabinetmaker named Henry Rennie. A pitched battle then took place, as the crowd tried unsuccessfully to rescue him. He was later prosecuted, but Gladding asked for a light punishment, and he was fined 5/- (25p), which was paid for him by one of the Forest Gate organisers of the meeting.

The Wanstead flats meeting marked a turning point in the open spaces campaign. The demonstration attracted nationwide news coverage, much of it highly critical of the government. A few days later the Prime Minister, William Gladstone, came to view the Flats, after which his administration rushed through the first of a series of acts on Epping Forest, prohibiting further enclosures while a Commission investigated.

‘Epping Forest in Danger’ appeared in the 
Penny Illustrated Newspaper on 15 July 1871. 
Overseen by the local Lord of the Manor, a 
woodsman is cutting down ‘the rights of the people’, 
the tree about to fall on a picnic party in the forest. 
In the foreground John Bull vainly tries to awake 
the slumbering law. A sign reminds readers that 
there are royal rights over Epping Forest.
However, the campaign was just getting going. A pressure group called the Forest Fund, was established in Forest Gate, with local residents such as Charles Tanner, owner of West Ham hall, forming a key part of the committee. The secretary was William George Smith, a County Court Clerk lived in Odessa Road. Although now forgotten by history, Smith played a major role in the popular campaign for Epping Forest, working tirelessly over the next few years, organising petitions to parliament from east London vestries (the main units of local government before Councils) and lobbying MPs and voters during elections.

Newspaper advertisements in the 1874
General Election appealed to voters to elect
MPs who would campaign for Epping Forest
and other open spaces
In 1872 the Forest Fund organised a second demonstration on Wanstead Flats, timed to coincide with a further parliamentary debate on the future of Epping Forest. By this time the City of London Corporation had entered the fray, using their rights as Epping Forest commoners to bring legal action against the Lords of the Manor in the forest to stop enclosures. In doing so the City was seizing an opportunity to win popular support among Londoners. London’s government was increasingly seen as outdated for a modern city, and the City of London represented for many an undemocratic and unaccountable elite.

Their championing of forest preservation did win the City Corporation much popular support, though many were suspicious of its motives. One group of east London vestrymen laughed out loud when asked to sign a petition supporting the Corporation’s defence of ‘the weak’ against the forest landlords (though sign it they did). Nevertheless, a combination of the Corporation’s legal action and parliamentary action by radical London MPs finally led to the Epping Forest Act passed 140 years ago.

 But they did so in an atmosphere of protest and direct action by ordinary Londoners, with a determined group of Forest Gate residents in the vanguard of the campaign. 

So next time you are enjoying Wanstead Flats, remember that July day in 1871 when the crowd took matters literally into their own hands, and helped to shape the history of Epping Forest.