Walthamstow Notes

Chestnuts singing rehearsal cropped

Over the past three years Clio’s Company has worked with local children, adults, choirs, the Vestry House Museum, the Waltham Forest Music Service and many friends and supporters on the Walthamstow Notes project. We were honoured to be awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant to make this work possible.

The Walthamstow area has been renowned for its music making for centuries. For this project we focused on three different historical periods and looked both at famed musicians within them and at the lives, the places and the music associated with the many whose names may be less familiar.

Young composers 05 smallerIn the first phase, we traced the stories of the Bassanos, already eminent in Venice, who were persuaded to England by the agents of Henry VIII and whose descendants remained musicians by royal appointment for over a hundred years. Some of the family settled in Walthamstow, where they became prosperous land owners, commuting between their town and country homes and their commitments at Court. Musical instrument makers as well as composers and performers, some of their recorders are still playable – one turned up in a street market only a few years ago.

Chestnuts singing rehearsal croppedNext we looked at the time when Walthamstow was doubling in size every decade in the wake of the coming of the railways, and when music for all was becoming an aspiration. This was the time when J F H Read and his large family lived in one of the grand houses that lined Hoe Street. After a modest start in life as a City clerk, Read went on two make three separate fortunes on the stock exchange – but his greatest loves in life were music and philanthropy. Having built a concert hall, promoting countless concerts and guiding many of the charities which stood between at least some of the poor and the workhouse, Read died “A comparatively poor man” – in a house with only eight bedrooms.

Terry Rance and bandMoving to the more recent past, we focused on the music of the area in the 1960s and 70s, when Walthamstow was in the forefront of the rapid, and often controversial, changes of the day. Teenagers and their music and fashion were the centre of attention, the Beatles played the Granada, Tottenham Sound vied for supremacy with Mersey Sound, record players and TVs became affordable – and people from all over the world came to town, bringing with them much that was new, including musical tastes and talent to enrich the area.

The project has included research, workshops, performances, oral history recordings, installations, performances and several exhibitions. Some of the work is on this site – themes and articles listed here

Harry Brown

Harry Brown Thessalonika 1916 cropped


The gallant-looking World War I cavalry officer in this photograph, taken in Thessalonika in 1918 is Harry Brown, whose grand daughter has lived in Chelmsford Road since the 1970s.

Harry was the son of an Islington milkman who met the 4am milk train every day; his son was fostered with neighbours after his early death from asthma. Once grown up, Harry worked in the rag trade, married a girl he met in the church choir and had a son. But he volunteered for the army on the outbreak of the First World War – he was soon made an officer, survived four years’ service, and returned home to continue in the business he had started. Harry and Maud’s son, Leslie, was a promising pupil, but the family did not have the money to send him to university. So Leslie went to work in the accounts department at W H Smith, where he saved enough to put himself through theological college.

Leslie Brown became Archbishop of Uganda, where his daughter Alison spent much of her childhood. Alison remembers games, jokes and the excellent “sea lion” faces her grandfather made on her occasional visits to England. Evidently he never lost the family trait of ultra early rising.

All our stories


The First World War affected our area fundamentally, tearing families apart and forcing change as it did all over the world. In June we staged a performance day during the E17 Art Trail, telling just a few of the stories of individuals we have rediscovered. Children had talked to relatives about what they had been told as children, brought in family photographs and undertaken research. We also used existing interviews with, and diaries of, Walthamstow people who had lived through the Great War, and researched stories of those with memorials in Queen’s Road Cemetery.

As well as an installation in the chapels we staged a musical play we had devised together, recalling the experiences of local people in 1915 as well as some of our own families.

The children of 1915 had to grow up quickly. The school leaving age was still only twelve, and even before that many youngsters had part-time jobs. With tens of thousands of men away fighting, some jobs became available to women for the first time, although the war itself was causing much unemployment – and it was becoming clear that the war was not going to end any time soon. In recalling the children of a century ago we were imagining complicated, often hard and sometimes hungry lives.

We also learned a number of the popular songs of the day, adding new words to one of them.

This was the day of the Edinburgh Primary School Summer Fair, and our performers sang for the guests, becoming both First World War recruiters and publicists for our drama.

There were two well-attended performances, in addition to which children led tours of the exhibition, of the flower beds they had planted and of the memorials of some of the people whose stories they knew.


Chapel Clean up

Queens Road Cemetery Chapels, Walthamstow, E17

The two chapels within the Queens Road Cemetery date from the opening of the Cemetery in 1872. The Anglican chapel (orientated East-West,) is joined to the Non-Conformist Chapel (orientated North-South) by an open arch with a bell tower. Neither chapel has been used for services for several decades. The Non-conformist chapel still has it’s original beamed ceiling, and Victorian tiled floor; the Anglican Chapel had
We have been given permission by the Cemeteries Operations Manager to use the chapels for project events, and have set about giving the Anglican chapel a face-lift.( the Non-Conformist chapel needs some work to the ceiling before we can use it for public events)
Over the spring and summer we have had several clean up and painting days. The chapel walls had been painted a pale pink, but cracks in the plaster had been mended over this, so we needed to give the interior a coat of fresh paint.
Cleaning the chapel in preparation for painting took a while – the dust of years had settled on the window tracery, and there were cobwebs everywhere. With volunteer help we set about washing down walls and woodwork, and sweeping out huge accumulations of leaves from the outer porch before putting a coat of white paint on the walls. It has made a huge difference.
We are planning more works; we aim to apply another coat of white paint to the walls in the near future, and are hoping to get advice and funding to undertake more substantial restoration in both the Anglican and Non- conformist Chapels

Flower beds created by nine-year-olds

Queens Road Cemetery planting June 2014 smaller

Children from Edinburgh Primary school are working with Clio’s Company to create and maintain new flower beds in Queen’s Road Cemetery. For most, this is a first experience of gardening – there was a lot to learn about preparing and feeding the ground, planting the shrubs and bulbs with care, watering them in and continuing to look after them when needed.

There are now five new beds – one near the main gates of the cemetery, and four round the war memorial behind the chapels. The beds are getting well established, with wonderful displays of roses and lavender in the summer.

Sadly, human and squirrel predators have stolen some plants and bulbs, but plans are underway to replace the losses and expand the planted area.

When the cemetery was new in 1872 there were eleven full-time gardeners to tend it – now there are only occasional visits by contractors. So the local community is stepping up to care for this very special place.

Future plans include raised beds outside the chapels – and many more bulbs.