The Chestnuts, Hoe Street

The Chestnuts exterior courtesy of Waltham Forest Guardian

The beautiful original staircase and plasterwork are also still in place, as are some of the fireplaces and other features of the 1740s, having survived more than 250 years of changes of owner and of use.

Like many other Walthamstow mansions, this one started out as a family home but changed hands quite frequently as its owners made and lost City fortunes.

The Chestnuts 19C drawing

One of the last families to live here were the Reads. John Francis Holcombe Read was a City entrepreneur by trade, but his real love was music. Read, who played the viola himself, devoted much of his money to bringing music to Walthamstow – he built the Victoria Hall, where many of his own compositions were performed. As Read devoted more time and money to music, his fortune was largely spent and he had to move to a smaller house.

The Chestnuts and its garden and grounds were sold to the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway Company – the house narrowly escaped demolition as the final route for the railway line runs a few hundred yards to the west.

The Railway company did not need the house, and looked to sell it, but by the 1890s it was too big for any of the people who were coming to live in Walthamstow to buy as a home. So it was bought by the local authority, and became a mental hospital for women – it was known as the Chestnuts Branch of the Brentwood Lunatic Asylum.

In the 1930s, the Chestnuts became a commercial school for girls, where shorthand, typing and book keeping were taught. And later again, it became an evening school.

Now the house is temporary housing for students and others while the local authority decides how best to restore and use it on behalf of the local community to whom it belongs.

Belgrave Road

Belgrave Road 1912

Much of the land was bought by Henry Casey, a prosperous City merchant tailor who, although he worked on a smaller scale than Courtney Warner, was one of those who made a fortune from the development of Walthamstow. By 1901 Casey, his wife and children were living at the Priory, Forest Road – a large house with extensive gardens, where they employed a nanny for the children and a cook, parlour maid, housemaid, coachman and gardener.

The plots of land that make up Belgrave Road were sold in the 1890s, and built on as soon as possible. The houses were almost all constructed to one of only two patterns; those in the southern section of the road had black and white paths and stained glass sections in their front windows; those in the northern section had multi coloured paths and fruit and flower patterns in the plasterwork around the front doors. The houses had a front parlour, a kitchen with a Kitchener range, a scullery, outside lavatory and most had three bedrooms upstairs. All had small front and long back gardens.

By the time of the 1901 census, Belgrave Road was complete and most of the houses were lived in. We know that perhaps nine out of ten of them were rented out – they had been built as buy to let investments. Some of the landlords were professional developers who kept the houses so as to get the best return – as the years went on, some of these houses were offered to tenants to buy. Many others were local people who might buy three or four houses, live in one and rent out the rest.

The people who came to live in the houses were a mixture of commuters and whose who were working locally. In Belgrave Road in 1901, there were clerks in businesses from a stockbroker’s to railway offices, shop workers, a silk weaver, a journalist, a scattering of teachers and a number of printers. A few worked in the building trades – there was a carpenter, a bricklayer and a plasterer. There were few unskilled labourers, and only one person in the area had a live-in servant. The vast majority of households consisted of a married couple and their children, with up to ten people living in a three-bedroom house. Wives stayed at home, but adult daughters went out to work.

One local couple, Len and Babs Finney, live in the house where Babs grew up; her grandparents were living two streets way in 1911 – several neighbours live in the houses their parents or grandparents moved into early in the last century. Another lady, now a widow, lives in the home she came to as a young bride from Cyprus in 1947.

42 Chelmsford Road


Early in 1914 the Walker family moved in, bringing their possessions in a covered van from round the corner in Beaconsfield Road. There were seven Walker children, and the youngest, seven-year-old Harold, was to remember helping to move the family’s most precious possessions in a coster barrow (the kind of barrow then used in markets). These included a whatnot – a wooden stand designed to hold ornaments – a wooden coal scuttle and a highly polished brass shovel.

Harold was very aware that Chelmsford Road was “posher” than Beaconsfield Road, but missed the friendly neighbours they had left behind. However, some of the residents were far from posh – there turned out to be huge rats living in the sewer pipes.

All over the neighbourhood, many residents used their houses as business premises as well as homes. Most of the keepers of the dozens of local shops lived in the back and upstairs rooms. Harold Walker remembered a shop in Gamuel Road that specialised in smoked fish, including “the most delicious kippers, bloaters and haddocks”. The fishmonger, a Mr Daines, prepared the stock in a smoke hole in the yard to the side of his house – no one complained, even though the smell of the fish pervaded the area. Nearby there was a “rag and bone shop”, which offered metal, bones, rags, paper, jam jars and every sort of rubbish for a few pence.

Harold’s mother sent him shopping almost every day – there were no school lunches at that time, and children came home in the middle of the day. For Harold, the break was usually mostly spent in either a dash to the High Street or a trip to the off licence for beer. He remembered with resentment that he rarely got his lunch until just before afternoon school started, and blamed this for the stomach trouble from which he suffered later in life. But he did sometimes have a little pocket money to spend – this he generally did in the sweet shop, which offered a choice of bulls’ eyes, hundreds and thousands, honeycomb, locust beans and a green liquorish which Harold thought disgusting, but which children still bought.

The Walker family moved house within Walthamstow on several occasions during Harold’s childhood – this was very usual, and easily organised, as almost everyone rented from a private landlord, usually by the week and with only a week’s notice on either side. And moving was easy for another reason – most people had very few possessions by modern standards. Neither did many of the landlords do anything to maintain their properties. It was the damp, fungus and smell of dry rot in the house – and more visits from rats – that made the family move on yet again just after the Peace Party in 1918.

Lea Bridge Station

Lea Bridge Station 1940 (Courtesy Vestry House Museum

The station itself was at road level, on a bridge over the tracks, and passengers went down steps to get to the platforms
Before the coming of this station, the local coach company, Wraggs, had run a horse horse drawn coach service right into the City of London, and continued to do so for a few years after the railway opened.
As the trains became more accepted, and because the station was at some distance from the large houses spread around Hoe Street and Marsh Street (Later re-named the High Street) Wraggs changed their service, offering instead a horse coach to the station.
The station was used almost entirely by gentlemen travelling to City offices, and there were no cheaper early tickets for workmen for many years.
After only four years in service, in 1844, all the tracks were taken up on the line and re-laid to match the gauge (width ) that was becoming standard throughout London, and eventually the whole country
In 1870 It was temporarily connected to the new station at St James Street, and Shern Hall Street, (part of the Chingford Line,) in order to run trains on that line while some parts of it were still being built.
Because the land round the station was low-lying and still rather marshy, it never became heavily built up with houses, and a lot of the land round the station was developed as railway shunting yards, light industry and warehousing.

Henry Allingham


He was one of the last three veterans who could remember serving in the First World War, and although for most of his long life he had kept his wartime experiences to himself, in later years he was persuaded to talk about his life and memories, as a tribute to those who had died in that War. Assisted by a member of the veterans association, and with a prodigious memory, he wrote an autobiography, starting as a small child in a Britain still ruled by Queen Victoria.

He described the world he lived in as a small boy

‘There were individual tradesmen’s carts delivering bread, milk ,groceries and coal. Milk was carried in steel containers holding up to 15 gallons and was dispensed to customers who brought their own containers to carry it home’
‘Shops had counters and shelves holding jars tea, cocoa and biscuits and so forth. sugar, rice and dried fruits were kept in hessian sacks and weighed out on demand. Carcasses hung from hooks at the butchers and there was often a pigs head staring out at you’
His own father had died of tuberculosis when Henry was three, and he was aware of the prevalence of life-threatening illness, in the days before the National Health Service and antibiotics.
‘Tuberculosis, diphtheria and fevers were common and often fatal – as was the case with the early death of my father. Cancer never appeared on death certificates as it couldn’t easily be detected.
‘ Funerals were more commonplace, and almost always started from home – it was the natural thing to do’

He had many memories of his early school days

‘I went to Gamuel Road School in Walthamstow at the age of five, in 1901…’of the 40 or more children in my class the majority were poorly dressed, had no shoes, and quickly resorted to fights
‘Boys wore short trousers until their legs got hairy. girls wore combinations (all in one vest-and-pants) I know that because I saw them on washing lines. Shoes were always a problem, at least well fitting shoes were. I have had two hammer toes all my life due to badly fitting shoes.
‘At school we were taught to read and write. … We had sandboxes to write in. I will always remember the smell given off by the sand. It ponged. We had to trace the letters in sand using a metal skewer. and there was trouble if anyone spilled the sand. ….. any books we had were shared and dog eared
‘I left Gamuel Road School at Easter 1902 and went to Bessborough Road School. In June I remember watching soldiers home from the Boer War parading in front of the Town Hall in Hackney – troops known as the Clapton volunteers.’

He remembered holidays with his grandparents on the Isle of Wight, and in Scarborough (they went to Scarborough by sea!) coping with the local school bully and earning money for football lessons by selling horse manure door to door as garden fertiliser – a piece of early enterprise that only stopped when someone stole his home made cart. He and his mother went to Hampstead Heath for the August Bank Holiday Fair every year, and played football in the street – though he secretly preferred cricket. He joined the new Carnegie Library in Manor Park on the day that it opened in 1905, and got issued with ticket number 13.

At the age of nine, he left Walthamstow to live with his mother again, in Clapham and continued at school there.

He left school at the age of 15 and after a short spell as a scientific instrument maker, went into work with coach builders, working on cars; a career he would follow for the rest of his working life.

When the First World War broke out, he tried to volunteer as a dispatch rider (he had his own motor bike) but promised his mother that he would not join up. When she died of cancer in June, 1915, he considered himself released from his promise, and joined the royal Naval Air Service, doing his mechanic’s training at Chingford.

175px-Henry_Allingham_in_1916He became a skilled mechanic, and even went up in a plane – he recalled that everyone covered their face with Vaseline or engine oil to try and protect it from the cold and wind. – and was working on ships launching planes from deck a the battle of Jutland, and remembered ‘ seeing shells ricocheting across the sea’ Later in the war he was stationed in Northern France, as an observer and bomb launcher, and saw front line troops preparing to go ‘over the top’.
‘They would just stand there in 2ft of water in mud filled trenches, waiting to go forward. They knew what was coming. It was pathetic to see those men like that’

The royal Naval Air Service became the RAF in 1918, but Henry always thought of himself as a ‘Navy Man’

He married in 1918, and after the war lived for many years in Forest Gate, before moving permanently to the South Coast, near Brighton after the Second World War.

He came to public notice in 2005 when, with two other survivors of the First World War, he attended the Remembrance Day Service, and from then on until the end of his life he would give talks to schools and other groups about his experiences. He attributed his long life to ‘cigarettes and whisky and wild, wild women ‘ though he also acknowledged that the only woman that he had ever kissed was his wife, Dorothy.

When asked what he thought about the First World War, he replied,  ‘War’s stupid. Nobody wins. you might as well talk first; you have to talk last anyway’

Annie West

1899 child copyright free

The inquest into Annie’s death was reported in the local paper. And what emerged was a very sad story.

Annie and her mother had quarrelled that Boxing Night, and Annie ran out of the house without a coat or hat or warm boots. She wandered around the area for the rest of the evening, and spoke to several children she knew, telling each of them her mother had thrown her out. One girl, Ada Lebern, walked a little way with Annie, and gave her an orange to try to cheer her up. She remembered that Annie had been shaking with cold, but had said she would go home and sleep in the dog’s kennel.

Annie’s father worked at the Lea Bridge Gas Works, and one of his colleagues spoke at the inquest about meeting Annie at their offices about a month previously. She had arrived, forlorn and shivering, looking for her father.

At the hearing, Mr West accused his wife of having neglected their six children, of spending money on drink and of living in chaos. The coroner and the jury accepted everything he said, and put all the blame on Mrs West, saying she was morally responsible for the death of her daughter. But there was nothing they could do further, as no crime had been committed. No one seems to have suggested Mr West might have had any responsibility for caring for the children, or that he might have found help for them or for his evidently very sick wife.

That was the end of the newspaper story – we do not know what happened to the surviving West children or to their parents.

Harriet Hooker

Harriet Hooker's Mausoleum

Harriet was born near Hastings in Sussex in 1842, and by 1871 was living with her widowed mother Eliza, her husband William and her baby son, another William, in a large house in London Road, Hastings. This was run as a lodging house, and the other residents included a widowed Italian Countess and her daughters and lady’s maid, and a retired sea captain and his family and servants. William Hooker gave his occupation as carpenter and joiner – he may have had a job in Hastings.

People page Harriet Hooker Old London Rd Hastings c1905The next trace of Harriet is not until 1901, when she was living in Walthamstow with her by now adult son and his wife Julia. The younger William was working as a Land Surveyor, and Harriet is listed In the census return is living on her own means. It was not until two years later that William and Julia’s son was born – sadly the little boy was to die aged only seven; his grave is in Queen’s Road Cemetery, near his grandmother’s tomb.

By 1911 Harriet was living as in Winchester Road, Higham’s Park as the lodger of Francis Hill, who lived in a five-roomed house with his wife, daughter and mother in law as well. She could certainly have afforded a home of her own, but may have chosen to live modestly to save money – or she may have liked the company. By this time William and Julia Hooker had moved to Coventry, and had two small daughters, Ethel and Florence.

Harriet is listed in the 1911 census as being deaf – we do not know whether she was born deaf or had become so. She was also still married – her status is wife and not widow. It appears that neither her husband nor her son were a part of her life by this time. The story goes that the older William was “no good” and drank too much, so when Eliza died, Harriet sold up, took her son and left both Hastings and her husband for good. We are told, too, that Harriet had fallen out with William and Julia over their son’s death, and the quarrel was never made up.

Harriet bought the plot for her mausoleum and made her will many years before she died. She left detailed instructions for a little house of solid white marble, with Ionic columns, gates, gold leaf decoration, the whole to have railings all round. Any money left over was to go to Walthamstow Hospital.

After Harriet died in her lodgings, aged 72, in 1913, it took more than a year before her tomb was ready. The work was carried out, exactly as she had wanted, and meanwhile her body waited in its lead coffin in a local mortuary. It is possible that either her husband or her son tried to contest the will, but in the end Harriet’s wishes prevailed

When her funeral finally took place, it was attended only by her solicitor, executors and a representative of the hospital: there was some money left to give to them. The local paper printed a report about the tomb and the ceremony – it is carefully worded and leaves out all personal details.

Harriet’s tomb is still in place – the gold leaf is long gone, and the white marble has weathered so it has become less eye-catching, but it is by far the grandest and most notable memorial in the cemetery.

North London Truant School

Northcott House (former Truant School) in 1964

This kind of school had come into being at the time compulsory education began. Local authorities started to set up special schools “for those children whose education is neglected by their parents, or who are found wandering or in bad company”.

This was a boarding school for boys from all over the area. Its 85 pupils had all encountered problems of some sort, either at their former schools or at home. Not all of them were truants – that is, had habitually stayed away from school. Some came from families where the authorities felt they would come to harm – for example if a parent had been convicted of crime. Others had been on the fringes of crime themselves. Yet others were homeless, and were found begging on the streets.

The official aim was to give the boys a second chance in life, to provide them with a decent education and the opportunity to learn a trade so they would be able to earn their living. Sometimes the boys were found proper apprenticeships. As time went on, the authorities began to provide vocational training to pupils. This was evidently of variable quality, and in some instances the practical lessons included activities such as wood chopping and cleaning, which arouses the suspicion that the pupils were being used as cheap labour.

It was not a school that expected to have many famous old boys. An exception to this was Job Driver from Barking, who, like many former pupils, went into the regular army. Job joined in 1912 at the age of seventeen. So it was that he was part of the British Expeditionary Force that went to Belgium and France in the first days of the First World War in 1914. During a retreat from a much bigger German force, Job was one of those who volunteered to try to retrieve a set of horse-drawn guns under heavy fire. He and his colleague succeeded in bringing one of the guns back, and they and their captain were all awarded the Victoria Cross for their bravery.

Job Drain immediately became something of a local hero. The headline in an item about him in “The Walthamstow and Leyton Guardian” was headlined “”How Walthamstow Truant Boy Won VC”, made much of his past, but agreed he had shown “his worth and his manliness”. Job Drain was to survive the war, having risen to the rank of sergeant. He returned to live in Barking, where he worked in a variety of jobs including as a fish porter and bus driver; he married and had two children, finally dying in 1975, and is commemorated with a statue in Barking.

Few of the thousands of other boys who attended the Truant School are now remembered. It remained open as an approved school until the Second World War, even though there were concerns about the quality both of the accommodation and of the education. One of the local MPs, Reg Sorenson, was concerned in 1936 about the facilities and whether there was proper heating. After the school moved to Hertfordshire, Northcotts was used as the headquarters of the Heavy Rescue Service, which dealt with the effects of bombing. After the war it was used by the council for storage. Sadly, it was demolished in 1965.

Lea Bridge Road

Bakers Arms c1910

When Lea Bridge Station was built in 1840, the road become even busier, with some of the first-ever railway commuters arriving from Walthamstow and Leyton each morning, some by stagecoach. At this time train fares were expensive, and only the well-off with good jobs could afford to travel in to London by train each day.

Next to the station, the Greyhound pub did good business serving beer and food to hungry travellers.

Further on, near the turning to Hoe Street, the Bakers’ Company bought a plot of land to build almshouses. These were built in 1857, were homes for retired bakers and their families who had become ill or fallen on hard times. The houses were well designed and built, but in the 1970s the local authority wanted to knock them down in order to widen the road. Luckily they were saved at the last minute and are now homes once more.

Bakers Arms c1910

Bakers Arms c1910


The Bakers’ Arms pub next door opened in 1868 and became famous, giving its name to the local area. It finally closed its doors in 2010, although the building still stands on the corner of Lea Bridge Road and Hoe Street.

By 1900 the area was built up, with a mixture of small shops, houses and Warner flats. It was evidently as busy as the rest of the area, with trams being added to the mix from 1905.

One local lady, now in her 80s, remembers being told about her own grandmother, who was left a young widow with three children. As she had very little money, and was frightened of having to go into the workhouse, she would go out picking wild watercress and then stand by the roadside at the Bakers’ Arms, selling watercress by the bunch to passers-by. She survived.