Woodgrange Farm and the growth of modern Forest Gate

Friday 31 May 2024

Mark Gorman (@Flatshistorian) continues his series on the agricultural lands that dominated the pre-suburban Forest Gate. In this article he examines the history of Woodgrange farm, the longest surviving farm on the edge of Wanstead Flats.

Although only its name survives today in the names of a road, an estate, a school and a medical practice, Woodgrange was the longest surviving farm on the edge of Wanstead Flats. Its name means the farm in the wood, and it may have been established when, after the Norman Conquest large areas of the manor of West Ham appear to have been cleared for agriculture.   

This reflected the growing importance of the London market for food production, which was to dominate the agricultural economy of the area round Wanstead Flats until the nineteenth century. 

A charter of 1189 confirmed the donation of Woodgrange to the abbey of Stratford Langthorne, which held it until the dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538. Both the Abbey and the later owners of Woodgrange manor claimed the right of grazing sheep between Woodgrange and Walthamstow, on what is now Wanstead Flats.

Woodgrange Farm appears on a mid-18th century map of the estate holdings which were later owned by the Pelly family.


Woodgrange Farm land south of the Romford road (“The Highway”) on 'A map of Plaistow Ward taken by Ino. Iames 1742'. Upton Lane is on the right of the map. Possibly Stark House was an earlier dwelling than the 19th century farmhouse just to the north. (London Borough of Newham Archive).

The map shows Woodgrange Farm, or fields which were part of the farm, on the south side of the road to Romford, land belonging to “Mr Chaynie”. Two buildings are also shown, labelled Stark House, which may have been an earlier farmhouse replaced by the one a few hundred metres north in the 19th century.   

One hundred years later the sale of Woodgrange Farm in 1845 included one lot of 24 acres of “very valuable garden ground” called Margery Hall, which may refer to this piece of land. In the early nineteenth century Woodgrange Farm, along with much of the built property in Forest Gate, was owned by John Pickering Peacock. 

His tenant Samuel Winmill was a member of one of several farming families in the area (the Plaxtons and the Lakes being others – see Cann Hall Farm and Aldersbrook Farm articles, earlier in this series). When Winmill died in 1827 the farm consisted of 110 acres (of which nearly half was sown with potatoes). The rest was sown to wheat and rye (which supplied the Truman, Hanbury and Buxton Brewery) together with the usual complement of five cows, probably kept for domestic consumption.

All the crops, together with a substantial amount of farm equipment and “20 powerful cart horses”, were put up for sale, pointing to a significant commercial operation. Winmill’s successor at Woodgrange Farm believed that the farm business had been severely undermined by thefts, and indeed that Winmill had been bankrupted by them.

While Peacock retained ownership of the valuable freehold land, the new tenant was Richard Gregory, from a long-established Spitalfields family with aspirations to join the gentry. Gregory was a potato wholesaler at Spitalfields market who “in the course of a few years had become the first in the trade”, earning a large fortune in the process. 

This enabled him to invest in local agriculture and become a country gentleman, and in the 1841 census he was living at Woodgrange with three small children and 4 or 5 servants (though he also appears to have maintained his home in Spitalfields, presumably to be close to his main business).

The farm also made him significant profits; the potato crop alone could yield 13 tons a day in summer, which would have sold for up to 50 shillings a ton in the Spitalfields wholesale market (August 1838 prices). When he died Gregory left his family over £100,000 (worth over £7 million today). Even though Gregory died in 1843 the farm for a number of years was known as Gregory’s, and what became Woodgrange Road as Gregory’s Lane. 

By the mid-nineteenth century Woodgrange was a little over 200 acres in size, and like most of the neighbouring farms, continued to comprise mainly market gardens. It extended from Stratford Green in the west to the East Ham parish boundary (modern day Balmoral Road) with the farm buildings located to the east of what is now Woodgrange Road.

 Woodgrange Farm on the Ordnance Survey 25-inch map 1863-67. Forest Gate station is on the left; the farm was situated south of what is now Hampton Road.

In July 1845 Woodgrange Farm was auctioned off as part of John Pickering Peacock’s estate. The farm was described as having “a farm residence, extensive farming buildings, in stabling, cow-houses, barns, wheelwrights’ and smiths’ shops and shed”. The potential of the estate as building land was emphasised in the sale advertisement, a sign of the rapid changes that were about to come in Forest Gate. By that time the farm was let to William Adams, a locally born farmer who was still at Woodgrange for the 1851 census.

Samuel Gurney bought the estate in 1845 and the 1852 tithe apportionment map shows that William Adams was his tenant for nearly the whole of Woodgrange Farm, including the fields east and west of modern day Woodgrange Road (Gravel Pit Field to the west, and White Horse Field south and east of the farm). 

Adams also rented two fields north of Forest Lane, the splendidly named Jack Ass Field (between modern day Magpie Close and Forest Gate School) and “The Twenty-Seven Acres”, which Gurney subsequently sold to the Parish for what is now West Ham Cemetery. The farm continued to focus on vegetable production for the London market, not only potatoes but also peas, parsnips and rhubarb.


The farm was obviously profitable in the 1840s, as this advertisement indicates (although Woodgrange is misspelled). Chelmsford Chronicle, 19 February 1847

Nevertheless, the urbanisation of Forest Gate was gathering pace. Gurney clearly saw Woodgrange Farm as a development opportunity, and as early as 1846 was planning to build large houses along the main road to Ilford (today’s Romford Road).

By the early 1860s William Adams was no longer living at Woodgrange Farm, but at Plashet Hall. Presumably he still had the tenancy of Woodgrange Farm, and the census records him as farming 850 acres and employing 116 men. In 1871 there is no census entry for Woodgrange Farm itself. The farm foreman, 64 year-old James Hayes, was living at the Farm Lodge in Woodgrange Road, while John Garrett, the farm bailiff (either for Woodgrange Farm, or possibly by this time Plashet Hall Farm, William Adams’s residence), was living in a terrace house at 1 Suffolk Street. Farm workers were becoming suburban residents.

In the mid-1870s the Glasgow businessman Thomas Corbett bought the 110 acres of Woodgrange Farm which lay on the east side of Woodgrange Road between Romford Road and the Great Eastern Railway line. He paid the Gurney estate £400 per acre, £44,000 in all. In 1877 Corbett started building the Woodgrange estate, in the process obliterating all traces of the farm.  

In 1897 the Woodgrange Estate celebrated its twentieth anniversary, and a local newspaper commented on the changes to the area in that time

An effort to the imagination is required to realize the Forest Gate of twenty years ago. A stranger emerging at that time, into the Woodgrange Road, from the old wooden railway station would see market-gardens directly in front of him as far as the eye could reach, and on his way towards the Romford Road would have these same market gardens on his left hand and only a few private houses on his right. The population of Forest Gate, all told, at that time did not exceed 5,000. Now it is at least ten times that number. The houses on the Woodgrange Estate alone number 1,160 and account, probably, for a larger population than the whole of Forest Gate contained in 1877.

Woodgrange Farm disappeared under the new estate, the farmhouse building now lying under the gardens of 26 Hampton Road and 25 Osborne Road. Within two decades Forest Gate had been transformed out of all recognition.

 Woodgrange Farm’s owners and occupiers in the 18th and 19th centuries






John Pickering


London merchant


John Pickering Peacock

Samuel Winmill

JP’s Indirect descendant


John Pickering Peacock

Richard Gregory

Winmill died 1827


John Pickering Peacock

William Adams

Gregory d. 1843


Samuel Gurney

William Adams

Peacock d. c. 1845


John Gurney

William Adams

Samuel Gurney d.1856


Thomas Corbett

Farm unoccupied

Sold by Gurney estate

Footnote 1. For more information on the Gurney family, the penultimate owners of Woodgrange farm, see here:http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2017/12/samuel-gurney-1786-1856-forest-gates.html

Samuel Gurney

 Footnote 2. For more information on the Corbett family, last owners of the farm, and builders of the Woodgrange estate, see here: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2018/06/archibald-cameron-corbett-man-and-his.html

Archibald Cameron Corbett and the clock tower he donated to Forest Gate

 Footnote 3. Early years of the Woodgrange estate: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2013/06/the-woodgrange-estate-early-years.html

Woodgrange Manor House, 1861

The Simpsons – Forest Gate’s jerry builders and slum landlords

Friday 24 May 2024

Local historian and housing specialist, Peter Williams, considers the story of probably Forest Gate’s most significant jerry builder and slum landlord families – the Simpsons.  For most of their time locally - from the 1860s until the 1890s – they lived in a property in what would now be the Sidney/Woodford Road junction, adjacent to Wanstead Flats and they acquired a considerable number of properties neighbouring it.

They came to own over 180 properties in east London – 26 of them in Forest Gate and were prosecuted over a dozen times for jerry building and slum landlordism in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. This is their story.

They hailed from Commercial Road, Whitechapel and by the middle of the nineteenth century had already been involved in a number of business ventures. David Caldow Simpson snr, who seems to have been the driving force in the family, was described as a painter, a blind maker and a “provision agent” when he was declared bankrupt in 1851. By 1857 he was back in business with his brother, and took out a patent for an improved roller blind.

Within two years he began to be identified as a slum landlord, with complaints made by the sanitary inspector of the Poplar Board of Works that he had rented out a property with without adequate toilet facilties which was causing a public nuisance to neighbours (Morning Advertiser 31 August 1859).

By the mid 1860s he was being prosecuted for insanatary conditions in:

 “fifteen filthy and dilapitated houses in Bartlett Street, Bromley … in which fever and sickness abounded ... dark, dismal, filthy … no ventilation … the stench was most noxious … No medical man or person of common sense could go to the houses without saying they were not fit for human habitation.  … Mr Simpson’s tenaments were abominable and a blot upon our civilisation.”  (Stroud Journal 10 February 1866)

Simpson was ordered to rectify the defects by the magistrates he was facing, within 14  days.

This press report is significant not just for describing the scale of Simpson’s slum landlordism, but also for the fact that it registered his new address as being in Forest Gate. It was Graydon Cottage, a spacious dwelling on the edge of the Flats (the 1871 census described the house as being on the Flats) – near what is now Sidney Road. Graydon was his wife’s middle name, and came from her maternal grandmother’s side (see map, below).

1873 Ordnance Survey map showing the location of Graydon cottage (later Villa) where the present day Sidney Road is located. Graydon was his wife’s middle name, and came from her maternal grandmother’s side.

The house was sold in 1884, see extract below, and it seems probable that the Simpsons bought it, as sitting tenants -a not uncommon move. It is interesting that the estate agent’s advert described the property as being in Sydney Road and “fronting Wanstead Flats”.  By 1891 the cottage had been renamed Graydon Villa – a more fitting name for an upwardly mobile family’s home! 

Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser - 1 November 1884

Simpson’s slum landlordism had clearly enabled him climb the social ladder, by moving from the crowded Commercial Road in Whitechapel to the pleasant suburban area of the up and coming, prosperous Forest Gate. And his businesses expanded almost unabated. Within three years he was advertising for lodging house keepers for “one of the largest (property) in London” (Clerkenwell News 2 October 1869). And in in 1881 the family were providing “educational opportunities for young ladies”, at a fee of 20 guineas (£21) – per year or per term is not clear – from their Graydon Villa home (Daily Telegraph 24 September 1881).

Clerkenwell News 2 October 1869

Daily Telegraph 24 September 1881

The family certainly were litigious, apparently treating local offialdom and courts with little more than contempt. Earlier in 1869 they engaged in legal action, which was dismissed as being frivilous, against the East London Waterworks company for not providing an adequate water supply to houses they owned in Canning Town (Essex Times 30 June 1869).

A dozen years later, a, clearly cocky son of David snr, William Simpson, was fined for being insulting to a local building inspector, in a case where he was labelled a “fashionably dressed young man”, and was clearly assumed by the court to have attempted to “hinder” the officer “in the execution of his duty”. (Leytonstone Express and Independent 2 December 1882). 

David Caldow Simpson jnr (Ancestry)

This bullying and arrogant behaviour exemplified the contempt with which the Simpons held the statutory authorities who attempted to enforce decent building and housing conditions, even in the 1880s, as the following series of episodes demonstrate:

1.      * January 1884. David Caldow Simpson jnr was summoned to West Ham police (magistrates) court by the local board of health for using unsuitable and inferior materials in houses he was constructing in Silvertown, at variance with the plans that had been approved for their construction. His father and brother were both called by him to say that all was fine with the construction. He was fined the maximum of £5 for the offence. Contemptuously, he pleaded “poverty”, on the grounds that he was not a householder, but was told by the court that if he did not pay the fine, he would be sent to gaol for a month. (Western Daily Press 28 January).

2.    *  November 1884. David Caldow Simpson jnr was found against at Bow county court for shoddy building workmanship and had a judgment of £11/6/9d, plus costs awarded against him. Interestingly, the press reported: “there were several members of the (Simpson) family, and they tried to shift responsibility from one to the other”. (Leytonstone Express and Independent, 1 November).

3.    * August 1886. David Simpson (not clear from the report whether this was snr or jnr) found guilty at Stratford police (magistrates) court of using inferior mortar in the construction of some houses in Leyton Road, for which he was fined £2. (Hackney and Kingsland Gazette. 27 August).

4.    * April 1893.. West Ham Medical Officer reported that DC Simpson (again, not clear whether snr or jnr) charged for renting out houses “not fit for human habitation” in relation to two houses on Barking Road. Not only had had he ignored the demand to close the houses, but had put their rents up by 6d per week! The Public Health Committee resolved to close the houses and make Simpson rectify the defects. (West Ham and South Essex Mail 15 April)

5.   *    December 1893. West Ham Medical Officer of Health: Failure to rectify sanitary defects in three houses in Custom House. Fined £2, with 11/6d costs and ordered to rectify defects. Similar charges in relation to  four houses in Hallsville Rd, Canning Town,  and a failure to make them “fit for human habitation under the Housing and Working Classes Act”, for which he was ordered to pay £1 costs and make good the deficiencies. (Medical Officer of Health records at www.wellcomelibrary.org).

6.    * January 1894 DC Simpson summoned to explain “why he should not be ordered to close four houses in Blue Road, High Street, Leyton”, which were alleged unfit for human habitation. He made no defence, and the bench ordered the houses be closed, and the defendant to pay £2.18s costs. (Essex Herald 2 January).

7.    *  January 1895 DC Simpson (not clear whether snr or jnr) charged by West Ham Town Council with “failing to render the premises 7 and 8 Victoria Dock Road fit for human habitation; closing order obtained”. (West Ham and South Essex Mail 12 January)

8.    February 1895 West Ham Medical Officer of Health, prosecuted DC Simpson with non-compliance with public health standards in relation to nos 98 and 98a Chestnut Avenue, Forest Gate. Conditions were so bad in the houses that they were ordered to be closed down completely and not tenanted, despite the fact that they could only have been built within the 20 years. (www.wellcomelibrary.org). The houses have clearly subsequently been considerably renovated, as they still stand today (see below).

98 and 98A Chestnut Avenue E7 today. These were built by DC Simpson and closed down by the authorities after just twenty years.

 .     *  August 1895 Medical Officer of Health records show Simpson to have been charged with a two notices in relation to a house on his doorstep (33 Woodford Road), including one of failing to ensure an adequate supply of water – for which he was fine £2 in total, with a further £1 2/6d costs and a demand to rectify the faults. (www.wellcomelibrary.org)

1    * October 1896 Medical Officer of Health DCS fined £1, with 17s costs and a closing order imposed for non compliance with a previous order relating to rectification of defects at 14 Dames Road. (www.wellcomelibrary.org).

David Caldow Simpson senior died in January 1899. His death seems to have brought to an end the convictions for jerry building and slum landlordism, but he left a considerable property legacy to two of his sons, Frederick James and David Caldow jnr – valued at almost £60,000 at the time (in excess of £9.3m in today’s terms).

His wife died a couple of months later and almost symbolising the end of an era, their property was sold for building materials. Forest Gate was a rapidly expanding London suburb and there was money to be made from selling off building plots to build the terraced housing in Sidney Road that survives.(West Ham and South Essex Mail 24 June 1899).

West Ham and South Essex Mail 24 June 1899

It is not clear how the portfolio was divided, but both sons continued to be described as builders and house agents, well into the twentieth century.

The portfolio at the time of David Caldow snr’s death was considerable, comprising 65 houses, 19 houses with shops, 57 shops, 30 cottages and seven plots of land, together with a factory and a warehouse in east London.

The 180 lots were to be found in: Forest Gate, Leyton, Leytonstone, East Ham, Upton Park, Canning Town, Custom House, Plaistow Silvertown, North Woolwich, Tidal Basin, Poplar and Bromley.

Twenty six of the houses and shops and one plot of land were in Forest Gate, clustered around Dames Road, Bignold Road Woodford Road and Chestnut Avenue. The precise details were: Dames Road: nos 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 26, 28, 30, 30a, 34, 34a, 36, 36a, 38, 40 and 42. In addition, there was land to the rear of Dames Road (on Bignold Road), plus nos 52, 58 and 58a Bignold Road. Almost adajacent were the properties at 33, 35, 37, 39, 41, 43 and 45 Woodford Road.

Almost all of those properties existed in a triangle of what would be from the junction of Dames Road and Woodford Road, upto Vera Lynne Close on one side and Carrington Gardens on the other, on a site which with justification could be called Simpson’s Triangle. See below.


'Simpson's Corner' today - junction of Dames and Woodford Roads

It is not clear how the sons divided their inheritance from their father, or whether it continued to be managed jointly by the two of them. Frederick, the older, moved to Wanstead, where he lived comfortably with his family and two servants and was described as a “house agent” by the time of the 1911 census. He seems to have died in Wanstead in 1932.

David Caldow jnr, similarly, had moved to Wanstead by 1911, and then to Woodford Green by 1939, when he was described as a “retired property owner”. He died as the second world war concluded, leaving £40,000 (about £10.5m today) to his unmarried daughter Helen Marjorie Simpson and his son, John Graydon Simpson. The family had clearly moved on from being grubby slum landlords. John was an architect who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery during WW2.

Almost all of the houses in “Simpson’s Triangle” were of low quality, as in the 1980s Newham Council pursued one of its last slum clearance CPOs and knocked them down. Whether the Simpsons’ properties alone were subject to the CPO because they were easy to acquire in one transaction, or whether they were in a particularly poor state of repair is not clear. The photo below shows the site left behind after demolition.

'Simpson's Corner' in the 1980s, after Newham Council had cleared in in a slum clearance move

The surrounding properties on Dames, Bignold and Woodford Roads remained untouched, and survive to this day – some 40 years later.

Footnote: Newham Council who took over from West Ham have a significant record of prosecuting poor landlords. It was the first local authority in the UK to introduce in 2013 a borough wide property licensing scheme for private landlords. By the end of 2014 they had already prosecuted 350 landlords. By the end of 2016 there have been 960 prosecutions, more than the rest of the country put together. Concerted action against bad landlords is nothing new in our area.