Eileen later began working at Coppermill Primary school and stayed there until her retirement in 2012.
Eileen later began working at Coppermill Primary school and stayed there until her retirement in 2012.
In 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.
The 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.
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.
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. The Dave Clark Five travelled there 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.
ow, after being sold by the Granada organisation, then sold on, and nearly lost as a performance space, the Granada cinema is to be restored.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
For centuries Walthamstow’s dead were buried in the graveyard of the parish church of St Mary. There was easily enough space there to provide burial places for the needs of a small town.
In later years, with the arrival of Nonconformist churches and chapels in the eighteenth century, each had a burial ground for their own congregation. And as Walthamstow grew, three new Church of England churches were built, each with a graveyard of its own.
In 1870 the local authority agreed in principle to set up a new cemetery. The first thing they did was to appoint a committee, and this began to meet regularly to discuss the project.
After many meetings and some arguments, and after rejecting a number of suggestions as impractical, the committee finally agreed to buy eleven acres of land near Markhouse Common for £5,000. The owner, a Mr Innes, had asked unsuccessfully for an extra £500. The price included the timber, plus a right of way from Hoe Street to the site.
The committee now started to meet once a fortnight – there was a lot of organise. They decided the cemetery should be divided into two sections, one for members of the Church of England, the other for everyone else. Similarly, there were to be two chapels, one for Anglican (that is, Church of England) services, the other, for Nonconformists, that is, all other Christians except Roman Catholics (who had a church and graveyard in Shernhall Street).
By this time there had long been a Jewish community in the area, and they had had synagogues and burial grounds since the early eighteenth century – there were several in Hoxton and Hackney. The first mosque in England was to open in 1924, in Southfields. In the late nineteenth century there were a few people in Walthamstow who may have been Hindus, Muslims or Sikhs – but they do not seem to have settled here permanently.
So two chapels were going to be enough. The committee decided there should also be a caretaker’s house and various outhouses, and that the cemetery should be fenced all round, with impressive wide entrance gates and main pathway.
It was also agreed that the Coroner’s Court should meet at the cemetery whenever an inquest into an unexplained death was necessary. So a meeting room was added to the list of requirements. Six architects were invited to tender for the work, and A J Reed was awarded the contract – the cost was not to exceed £2,250.
The committee attended to every detail of the preparations, from advertising for and interviewing candidates to be caretaker (John Walter Amey got the job) to giving instructions for rounding up the cows that kept invading the site and eating the newly laid turf.
They prepared posters with the prices of different kinds of grave space, and placed advertisements in the local paper. Queen’s Road was laid out and surfaced with gravel. And finally, on 6th October 1872 the cemetery was ready, and official photograph was taken to mark the occasion.
At this time some funerals were very elaborate and expensive, involving many carriages drawn by black horses with black harness decorated with feathers, coffin bearers in black top hats swathed with veiling, and dozens of wreaths. For the funerals of people who had been well known locally, most of the neighbourhood would line the route of the procession. And there would generally be a reception after the burial, with special food and drink. Poorer people often put themselves into debt to pay for a “proper send-off” for a loved one.
And if funerals were elaborate, for those who could afford it, memorials were splendid. People wanted to show not only how much they loved their dead relative or friend, but also how important the family was, and what good taste they had. Most grave markers were in the shape of a cross, a pillar, or were a simple stone slab with an inscription. But In some Victorian cemeteries, for example Highgate, there are many memorials the size of small houses, with space for up to a dozen coffins.
At Queen’s Road there is only one such mausoleum, that of Harriet Hooker. Few people in the area could afford this kind of memorial. Indeed, only the moderately well off could afford any kind of stone for the grave of their loved one. However, it was not long before several monumental masons were in business in Queen’s Road.
Those who could do so, also paid to have the grave looked after. There were soon up to eleven people working at the cemetery. Most of them were gardeners – there were greenhouses on site, and families would pay a subscription to have a grave planted up with flowers each season.
Most graves, like that of Annie West were unmarked. The cheapest graves, especially those of the many children who died, had up to ten burials in them. And they were resold and reused after a set number of years.
When the cemetery was new, there were paths between the graves, and mature trees had been left in place. As time went on and space grew short, all but a few of the paths were used as grave plots, and many of the trees were felled.
Some of those who died in the two World Wars have their graves here, and many of these are marked with a special stone.
Now there is no more burial space left in the cemetery. And because there is a lot of gravel in the soil, many of the gravestones have subsided into the ground, meaning they now stand at odd angles. There are no longer any gardeners, and the chapels have not been used for services for many years.
But many people visit and tend graves. And this is a place that holds clues to the stories of thousands of people. Some of them are retold on this website.
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.
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.
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.
He 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’
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.