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

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