Food and Cooking

Tinned food such as peas, pineapple, peaches and corned beef was available. Baked beans in tomato sauce had yet to make an appearance, but margarine was in the shops – this was the hard variety.

Victorian Walthamstow could offer much take-away and street food. Queen’s Road featured a fried fish shop, and there were several others in the High Street. Fish and chip and pie and mash shops were very common. And in the market there were stalls offering baked potatoes, roast chestnuts, coffee and sarsaparilla. Sarsaparilla was a soft drink, the late Victorian equivalent of coca-cola, and highly popular.

Teacher’s resource – Food and cooking

Going Out

Clacton 1920s railway poster

Until the 1850s public meetings were generally held in pubs and hotels, and impromptu entertainments were often in the same places. By the middle of the nineteenth century, music hall was coming into being – performances, originally held in pubs, during which the audience could eat, drink and smoke as well as listening to music and watching dance and comedy.

In the earlier years of the nineteenth century working hours were long and there was no right to paid holidays. For example, most domestic servants were expected to work from early in the morning until late at night with a few hours’ respite on Sunday afternoons, but no time to do much other than sitting and chatting.

But in the 1870s bank holidays became a legal requirement, and this gave all working people at least a few days a year when they could go out and have fun. This coincided with the expansion of cheap railway fares, and it was then that many Londoners could spend a day enjoying themselves – going to the theatre or having a day out, in the country or at the seaside. It was also then that bank holiday crowds became notorious.

Teacher’s resource – going out

The Railways

Lea Bridge Station in 1897

In the period between 1870 and 1880 massive numbers of houses were built, and the area changed for ever from a rural village with plum orchards and watercress beds to an area of houses, streets and shops. New houses were built for lower middle class and working class families.

The relative closeness to London, and the cheapness of the trains (if you were prepared to get up early) attracted less well paid City workers – clerks and shopworkers- and people from all over the country came, as has happened through history, to try and find a better life in London.

Teacher’s Resource – Railways

The Dyson family and the workhouse

Original block now converted to housing

When the Dyson family left West Ham Union Workhouse, their young son George was sorry. He had always had enough to eat there, and the teacher was kind. His baby brother Walter had been born in the workhouse infirmary – George had been allowed to visit his mother and the new baby. The worst things about living in the workhouse was only seeing his parents on Sundays. Now the family was returning to their Essex village, as the job their father had been promised in Walthamstow had only lasted a few weeks. The children’s grandfather had a good job as a farm bailiff at Stambourne Hall, a local manor house and farm, and was able to get work for his son to tide him and his wife and children over until they were ready to try their luck in London again.

This resource looks at conditions at the Union Workhouse in the 1890’s. Using this resource, children are asked to imagine a week in the life of Edith and George Dyson, in the week when they learn that the family is splitting up and some of them are moving to the workhouse.

Click on the link below to download the resource.

The Dyson family and the workhouse

Time Detectives – who lived here?

Alexander Downe 1911 census

When undertaking the research for this project we wanted to know who moved into the thousands of new houses that were built over only a few years at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The population of Walthamstow had been just over 11,000 in 1871 – by 1911 it was more than ten times as many, and the fastest growth in the Queen’s Road area happened during the 1890s.

That time is now, of course, beyond living memory. There are some local residents whose grandparents were among those incomers, and from them we have pictures, letters and passed-on anecdotes about those particular people. There are also newspaper reports, advertisements and official reports about the area.

Examining census returns offers us another good way of gaining information about a lot of people.  A national census has been taken every ten years since 1801 – the first three were essentially just head counts, but starting in 1841, the aim was to gather personal information about everyone in the country, including their whereabouts on the chosen day. Census returns are made publicly available after one hundred years, so the most recent information currently available dates from 1911.

All the census returns up to and including 1911 are now available to everyone, both online and in local museums.

Click on the links below to download this Teachers Resource and some sample census returns from Chelmsford Road.


Time Detectives – Who lived here?

Chelmsford Road Census Returns 1891, 1901 & 1911


One Walthamstow Family

Francis Alexander 1891 census

Until only a few years ago, there were people living in the Queen’s Road area of Walthamstow whose memories went back to the time when our streets were mostly fields. The transformation happened very quickly – dozens of streets and thousands of houses appeared in just a few years.

The people who came to live in the houses were from many different places. When the census was taken in 1901, nearly nine tenths of the adult residents were listed as having been born outside the area. Each of those people and families had their own story; each story is unique to the people concerned. But those stories often form part of a pattern that is echoed by the experiences of other people. Here is just one of them.

One Walthamstow Family – Download Resource