Selborne Park

Selborne Park 1920



The railway was a late arrival in Walthamstow, but when the time finally came in the 1860s to find the most suitable route between the planned Hoe Street Station and Chingford, the choice fell upon part of the common land near St Mary’s Church, the Berry Field. The Vestry – the parish committee that had organised most aspects of local government for many centuries – drove a hard bargain, negotiating not only a good purchase price but an undertaking to build the railway in a cutting which was to be planted with trees, and any excess land to be made available as a recreation area – as it still is.

Selborne Park children c1930After much consideration, the committee decided to buy the land that is now Selborne Park, carefully minuting that it was to belong to the people of Walthamstow to provide recreational space for all. Once the new Council came into being in the early 1870s, the Vestry agreed that a Council Officer should “interest himself” in the management of the park. As time went on the Council seem to have assumed that the land was theirs.

All through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the park was the venue for many concerts, meetings and performances. There were roundabouts, a slide, a giant chess board, boules, a café and carefully tended planting.


Selborne Park tank day 1918

During the First World War one of the newly invented tanks came to visit as part of a fundraiser to persuade local people to contribute to the price of more tanks and guns. Bands played, minor scuffles were quelled and endless impromptu football games played. In later years there was a public art project.

It was not until the late 1970s, after the Victoria Line came to town, that the local authority took a chunk of the park space for a new bus garage. Then another chunk vanished to provide a shopping mall – the land was sold to the developers on a long lease. Only around a third of the original park remains, and it is a precious, and all-too-small green lung in a crowded area. Recently an attempt to cut down up to half the mature lime trees and sacrifice all but a handkerchief of green space to provide yet more shops met with fierce resistance from residents. For the moment, the trees, game playing children and summer sun bathers can remain.

The Victoria Hall, later the Granada

Granada main auditorium probably during Walthamstow Pageant


Panel Four Victoria Hall in c1890In 1887 J F H Read bought a green field site in Hoe Street. He joined forces with a local builder, John Cropley, to build the Victoria Hall, which was to be Walthamstow’s first professional music venue. The opening event, presided over by Read, was a combination of gala concert and religious service. The Rector of Walthamstow led the audience in prayer, and Read then took over as conductor. This was the first of hundreds of concerts, featuring both amateur and professional performers. Read often subsidised the cost of the programme, buying in the services of singers and instrumentalists while keeping the ticket price affordable to most. Another priority was to make the hall available for some of the many events that funded the multiplicity of charities that underpinned everything from the local hospital to boots for poor children.

Panel Four Read Harold programmeThe venue hosted everything from touring theatre to temperance meetings, and in 1896 one of the first-ever cinema shows was held there. Walthamstow was, for a few years, home to some of the studios in the infant film industry so that films were shown that had been made less than a mile away. By the early twentieth century the building was being used largely as a cinema.

Granada publicity poster

In 1930 the hall was demolished and replaced by the vast, state of the art Granada Cinema, commissioned to be a venue for Sidney Bernstein. The architect, Cecil Masey, and interior designer, Theodore Komisarjevsky, provided a grand, and huge, design that combines Spanish baroque with Moorish decoration. The main house had a capacity of nearly 3,000, and the building included an orchestra pit, two organs and a splendid marble lined foyer.

Beatles booked cropped

For more than three decades the Granada was the scene of not only cinema but live music. Capacity audiences attended gigs by the Beatles and the Kinks, while this was also the place where new young bands were invited to play in return for a fiver.

Other venues locally included Leyton Baths which, in the winter months, boarded over the pool and was used as a music venue. Here Terri Hallett remembers the Rolling Stones coming to Leyton.

The Dave Clark Five travelled to the Granada by bus from Tottenham. On Saturday mornings children queued for film shows. And in the days before television, many people went to the cinema several times a week. But little by little it became more difficult to make the venue pay its way.

Now, after being sold by the Granada organisation, then sold on, and nearly lost as a performance space, the Granada cinema is to be restored.

John Francis Holcombe Read

J F H Read c1890

The young John started his career in the Ordnance Department like his grandfather, but at some stage he moved to the stock exchange, where he made his fortune as a broker.

Read 1871 census p1

By 1871 Read, by now married with eight children, had bought The Chestnuts in Hoe Street and was living there in some style, with a household including a governess and nurse as well as five other servants including a cook, parlour maid, two house maids and a coachman. By this time, as well as being wealthy and well connected in the City, he was also established in Walthamstow life, serving as a JP and as a trustee of numerous charities and on many local committees. He had also helped set up the Walthamstow Musical Society, and was devoting much of his time to music, as a conductor and a viola player and, increasingly, as a prolific composer.

In the 1880s Read joined forces with a local builder to create the Victoria Hall in Hoe Street, on the site now occupied by the Granada Cinema. The elaborate opening event featured Read himself as conductor, a long programme with performers including both local amateurs and professional singers brought in for the occasion as well as prayers led by the Rector.

Read Harold programme p1 (2)Over the next two decades Read wrote many pieces, often conducting his own work. His output included everything from cantatas to organ music to at least one school hymn. Music and charitable work were clearly his greatest loves, with the first often financing the second. We know that on two occasions, having cut down the amount of time he spent making money in the City, Read, found he needed to go back to work to generate more income to pay for all his commitments and to fund everything he wanted to do, including substantial donations to charity each year.

Poverty Children's breakfast fund concert 1899By the late 1880s many of Walthamstow’s grandees were leaving town, selling up their land for the housing development that was taking place with the coming of the railway. And at this time Read sold The Chestnuts and its extensive grounds to a railway company in the expectation the house would be demolished. In the event, the agreed route of the new railway line skirted the house, which was then sold on to the local authority, which in turn leased it out as a mental hospital – in the language of the time, a “female lunatic asylum”.

Unlike many of his prosperous neighbours, Read did not leave Walthamstow, moving instead to a smaller house. On his death in 1901, his obituary noted he had died a comparatively poor man – his last home had only eight bedrooms. Some of his children became stockbrokers in their turn – but his daughter Mary had become a professional singer and was to make her living as a performer until the 1930s.

Read’s is a name that deserves to be remembered: he believed passionately that music should be for everyone. And it was he who gave Walthamstow its grandest performance space, the Victoria Hall. Its successor, the Granada, is now to be restored and opened once again as a music, theatre and cinema venue.

St Saviour’s Church



Markhouse Road was still Markhouse Lane when plans were made for a new church. The area was still sparsely populated, although the years of rapid growth were beginning. This part of Walthamstow was to remain one of the poorest local areas, and it is notable that many of the new houses were smaller and more cheaply built than others in the town.


St Saviour’s started as a mission church, but was soon adopted as a parish church. Richard Foster, a City millionaire who was one day to fund the building of St Barnabas Church less than half a mile away, was one of the patrons.


The church was built in the Gothic style, with most of the details copied from thirteenth century churches. The services held there have always been in the high church tradition, with a great emphasis on formality and ritual.


By 2016 the roof was in a bad state and the church on the Buildings at Risk register. Most recently a programme of restoration work has begun.

Queens Road Station

Queens Road Station from above

Queens Road Station was opened to passenger traffic on 9th July 1894 – the line had opened to goods trains a week before on 2nd July. It was part of a line that ran from Stratford into Saint Pancras Station

The building of the line, originally called the ‘Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway’ had been a source of argument from the first proposals to build it. The local paper, the Walthamstow Guardian, had said in 1890

‘A direct line to Victoria is what is wanted to make Walthamstow in all respects complete’ (19th April 1890)

This was perfectly true, though local residents would have accepted a route to Kings Cross as a poor second best. There were many local meetings , generally in favour of a passenger line to ease overcrowding on the Chingford Line and provide competition for the current service.

They were promised by the local investors, especially Courtney Warner, a line that would run almost entirely passenger trains through an area that was already becoming densely populated with small houses, taking passengers into Kings Cross, well to the west of the Chingford Line’s terminus in Liverpool Street.

However, the Midland Railway company, one of the main backers of the plan, wanted a rail route for goods trains from the docks at Tilbury, through East London, into Central London. This is what was eventually built, with a big interchange at Stratford, terminating finally at St Pancras. The passenger service was a very poor second to the freight traffic. In recognition of the fact that the line was running through areas that were already heavily built up, a great deal of the line is on arches – it is one of the most elevated train lines in London.

Other lines were proposed in the last years of the century, but none got enough money backing to be built. It was not until well into the twentieth century that the Gospel Oak to Barking passenger service (part of the original line) became more prominent; a connection to Victoria had to wait until the coming of the Underground .

The Dyson Family

The family had lived in the village for many generations, and were descended from John Dyson, who was the parish clerk in the 1750s, and a man of some local importance. But in later years most of the Dysons were farm labourers, earning little and living in rented cottages with no protection against eviction.. As the nineteenth century went on, wages dropped and work was scarce, and many farm workers left their homes and went to London or other cities in search of a job.

Henry Dyson’s father, another Henry, had had a good job as a farm bailiff, but there was no work in the district for his son. We do not know exactly when or why the younger Henry decided to move to Walthamstow – it may be he had heard there was plenty of local work – and the distance of forty-five miles would have been manageable. He married a Hoxton girl, Emma Rance, at St John’s Church, Walthamstow in Walthamstow in 1883 – they were both only nineteen years old – and they went to live in Chapel End. Their eldest son, yet another Henry, was born the next year, the first of a family of ten.

Life in Walthamstow did not go well for Henry and Emma. By around 1900 they had no work and no money, and had no other choice than to enter the Workhouse in Leyton. It was there that their sixthson Walter was born in April 1901. They stayed there for at least two years, and their second son, George, was sorry to leave, as he had appreciated having warm clothes and enough to eat, and remembered the teacher at the school he attended as having been kind and encouraging. In 1903 the family moved to Birdbrook in Essex, near where Henry’s father was now a farm bailiff, and it seems that he was now able and willing to help.

In 1911 the family (the parents and eight of their children) were living in a four-room cottage in Birdbrook, where Henry and his three elder sons were all farm workers. But just before the beginning of the First World War the Dysons returned to Walthamstow, where Henry now found work as a general labourer and a home in Beaconsfield Road. His eldest son had now become a professional soldier, but the younger children, including George, moved back to Walthamstow with their parents.

George was to have several different jobs after he returned to Walthamstow. He started out as a carter for Peter Robinson, delivering goods from the West End department store all over the London area. From this he went on to a series of labouring jobs, and then took the step of learning a skill – that of wall and floor tiling, after which he became self employed.

In 1923 George married. His bride was Amelia Elizabeth Peckham. Amelia was a widow – she had married sailor William Peckham in 1915, but he was reported missing, believed killed after his ship the HMS Coquette was sunk by a mine from a German submarine. Amelia then had to endure seven years of uncertainty before her husband was officially declared dead. Family legend has it that Amelia and George were waiting to marry for several of those years – the wedding was on 5th August 1923 at St Barnabas Church after which the newlyweds went to live in Queen’s Road. After about four years they moved next door, where they remained for the rest of their lives, bringing up their four children there.

During the 1930s depression, life was hard for a great many people, including the Dysons. George worked hard as a tiler, but all too often his clients either did not pay him for months, or sometimes, at all. So Amelia, as well as bringing up four children and looking after the house, earned some money by scrubbing steps and cleaning houses. One of her jobs was cleaning at the Synagogue (now a Mosque) opposite. Meanwhile George gave up on tiling, and took any job he could find, from labouring to road sweeping to sorting pig food at Low Hall Farm during the Second World War. He was too old to be called up, but served as an Air Raid Warden. Both George and Amelia lived to a great age – their grave is in Queen’s Road Cemetery only yards from where they lived for so many years.

Their daughter Eileen, now a great grandmother, lives in the house where she was born, within a mile of where she went to school, worked as a pattern cutter, was married, and where her own children went to school.

Arthur Spencer

Art trail panel 9 memory map

Arthur Spencer was the second youngest of the six Spencer children. The father of the family, Willi am Spencer, was a Hackney man – he and his wife, Charlotte, lived in Rushmore Road before moving to Walthamstow in about 1904. The older children in the family were born in Hackney; Arthur and his youngest sister Alice, in Walthamstow.

William was a skilled window blind maker, with a good job at a shop in Walthamstow High Street. It is likely that the family moved here so he could take up the new post.

The Spencers soon found a newly built house to rent in the Queen’s Road area- 104 Longfellow Road. They were to stay there for more than thirty years.

The children went to Thomas Gamuel school, just round the corner from home. Arthur was bright and enjoyed school, but remembered many other details of his childhood. He had lots of free time.

Arthur belonged to the Band of Hope youth club attached to the Boundary Road Baptist Church so that he could go on the summer outing to Yardley Hills each year. They travelled by train, then walked to a local farm where they ran races – Alfred once won a box of watercolour paints as a prize – then had tea at long tables.

There were several sports grounds in the area – a favourite of Arthur and his friends was at Chingford, where they travelled by tram. Often they spent the 1/2d return fare on sweets, and walked all the way home.

In the autumn Arthur and his friends took large bags to Epping Forest, where they collected acorns to sell to the pig keepers in the alley off Hoe Street – the man there also kept cows and was one of the local milkmen.

There were plenty of places to play in the immediate neighbourhood – a special favourite was a large naturally occurring pond on the corner of Beaconsfield and Longfellow Roads, where local children took home made boats and rowed them. If the children had money to spare, they would spend one penny on a cinema ticket on a Saturday, and a further penny on sweets from a market stall.

Sundays were everyone’s day off – the working week then included Saturday mornings. So there was much to fit into Sundays. Charlotte Spencer, the mother of the family, made cakes to add to packed lunches during the week. The children were sent on errands, and their father made toffee for everyone. None of the family went to church, although Arthur remembered they would have the kitchen window on Sunday mornings and enjoy hearing the church bells of St Saviour and St Barnabas.

Arthur was to live in Walthamstow all his life. When he was an elderly man he wrote a memoir of his childhood, and drew maps of the area as he remembered it when he was growing up.

Even though Arthur was clever and could have gone on to a senior school, his family wanted him to go out to work and start earning a wage as soon as possible. So he had to stay in the top class at Thomas Gamuel School for seven terms, repeating lessons he knew by heart and waiting until he was old enough to leave. The same thing happened to Arthur’s sister Ada.

When he got to school leaving age, Arthur went to work in a shop in Walthamstow High Street at a wage of five shillings a week. His working hours were 8.30am to 9pm during the week, Saturdays 8.30am to 11pm. He remembered walking home from work in the early hours of Christmas morning, with a five shilling “Christmas box” in his pocket.

And that is where his memoir ends. Arthur died, still in Walthamstow, in 1991, aged eighty six. It would be good to find out what else he did with his life.

J Hitchman and Sons

Hitchman's Milk Float

From all the evidence, most Edwardian families needed a lot of milk – for cocoa and for tea as well as the milk puddings and custard that were so popular in the days before yoghurt.

In the early years of the twentieth century, Walthamstow was a good place to set up a dairy. There was a big population of people to buy the milk. And there was still a good supply of land on which to keep the cows to provide the milk.

J Hitchman and Sons had been started by John Hitchman when he bought Chestnuts Farm in 1867, and was to expand and continue until finally becoming part of the vast Unigate empire in the 1960s. Hitchman’s were still keeping cows in the Walthamstow area in the 1920s.

But Hitchman’s was only the largest of many local dairies. Another, in Hoe Street, kept pigs in a stye behind their premises – they were fed on the buttermilk, and the pork and bacon produced was locally famous. The dairy installed a coin operated dispensing machine so their customers could have milk at any time – you had to bring your own jug.

Arthur Spencer remembered the milkman coming round four times a day in Longfellow Road. It was the same man each time, working a fourteen hour day.

Not all milk was delivered – some of the many local shops were dairies, selling milk, cream, butter, cheese and eggs. One of these was at the end of Somerset Road – in 1901 the shop was run by Philip and Alice Lazell and Alice’s sister Rachel. The family also lived in the flat behind the shop, with their two small children.

Many milkmen were self employed – house advertisements of the 1890s often suggest that premises with side access and a shed would make an ideal base for a roundsman, who would need to provide and house his own cart. Some carts were horse drawn, but many were smaller, and pushed by the milkman himself.

The first milk women made their appearance in the first years of the twentieth century. This was a responsible job, but not one that needed specific skills or much training, and the coming of the First World War meant many women took over milk rounds.

104 Longfellow Road

Census 1911 Spencers 104 Longfellow Rd

Arthur Spencer

Arthur describes his home as having two large bedrooms upstairs, a front room, known as the parlour, kitchen and scullery, with an outside lavatory and a garden. The rent was four shillings and sixpence a week, with the first two weeks free because work was still going on in the gardens. All the walls were freshly painted ready for the new residents.

What Arthur does not describe is how eight people managed to live in this small space.

Until the new houses were built in 1904, a stream with watercress beds had run along what was to be the line of their back gardens. The area was only just ceasing to be rural.

School Gamuel Road 1905

Like most local houses, 104 Longfellow Road was terraced and made of brick with a slate roof. There was a small front garden with a path leading up to the front door and a larger, long back garden.

By the beginning of the twentieth century many new houses were being built with bathrooms – but Longfellow Road, like many in the Queen’s Road area, was built as cheaply as possible for the “buy to let” market of its day.