The Bassano Family

Bassano family recorder

King Henry VIII was intent from his earliest days on bringing London into the premier league of world cities. At the beginning of the sixteenth century it had some way to go, battered as it was by decades of civil war. But the new young king was helped by the fortune left by his father, Henry VII. And one of the ways of building the country’s status was to make it an international centre for art, architecture, learning and music. So artists, scholars and musicians all over Europe found themselves in demand by the agents of the King of England.

Millefeuille tapestry with musicians courtesy of Heirloom tapestriesIn Venice, the Bassano family were settled as musicians to the Doge. Probably of Jewish descent and originally from Sicily, Jacomo Bassano had moved to Venice in the early years of the sixteenth century. By the 1520s his six sons were employed not only playing and composing music but making musical instruments. Evidently they were adaptable in terms of what they played and of what they made – both wind and stringed instruments. It took several years of negotiations before most of the family finally moved countries and Courts, and became musicians to Henry VIII. Several of them set up as instrument makers in London, buying property near All Hallows by the Tower, which became their parish church. But as they became richer, they invested in country property.

Bassano (workshop active 1530–1650, Venice and London) Tenor Recorder, ca. 1600 Boxwood; Length 625 mm, fipple 63 mm. Width of labium 16 mm The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Amati Gifts, 2010 (2010.205)

The Bassano brothers were employed to play both wind and stringed instruments at Court, and we know, too, that they produced and sold a wide variety of instruments. It is likely that the King, himself a competent player and composer, was among their customers. Some examples, bearing the family’s mark of three moths, survive and are playable today. A recorder recently turned up in a street market in New York.

By the 1550s one of the Bassano brothers, Anthony, had acquired houses and land holdings in Walthamstow. His will mentions “messuages, lands, tenements and heridaments” in both Walthamstow Toni and Salisbury manors; two major properties were listed as “Fannes”, in Marsh Street (later the High Street) and “Starlings”. After Anthony’s death his descendants kept the properties, and were evidently still living in the area in the 1650s. As well as their Walthamstow connections, however, the later generations kept their connections at Court, until the start of the Civil Wars, with the All Hallows area of London and with Italy, where one of the first generation of brothers had returned and where his descendants continued to thrive.

by Bassano, vintage print, 1902

by Bassano, vintage print, 1902

Anthony Bassano was a person of some status. His Walthamstow property was substantial, and would have needed both domestic and farm servants to run it. This was a time when most music was performed in private – so the servants in the Bassano household are likely to have heard at least some music that was otherwise only heard at Court. This, then, was a Walthamstow household with international connections.

In later centuries the name Bassano has continued to crop up in the arts in Britain: there was a Bassano photographer in the Victorian theatre world, and in recent years there have been Bassanos playing in at least two London orchestras.

Markhouse Common Allotments

Then the railways came, things changed and the commons were enclosed. The people got a bad deal – most of the common land was taken for development, and only few acres remained.

In 1851 the remaining land became allotments. This meant they became available for “spade husbandry”. The plots were intended to enable the local “respectable poor” to grow their own food. The point of the spade husbandry was to make sure no one brought in a plough and made a commercial enterprise of it. In those early days, allotments were often known as “potato grounds”, and the rules make it clear that the plot holders were generally expected to concentrate on that one crop. The point was that potatoes were cheap, easy to grow and, once harvested, would keep for months, helping to feed a family over the winter. No work was allowed on Sundays: as this was the only free time most working people got, it must have been difficult for plotholders to do the necessary work.

The allotment site used to reach as far as Queen’s Road. But in the 1980s Waltham Forest Council took a strip of land and built flats on it. Now the remaining allotments are hidden from view, but still enable local people to grow food – although there is now a wide variety of crops.

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.

Markhouse Lane/ Markhouse Road

Markhouse Road

The Mark House stood on the site of what is now Markmanor Avenue, just to the west of St Saviour’s Church – there was a house there from at least the thirteenth century; it changed hands many times, belonging at one time to the nuns of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate.

The name comes from the word “maerc”, which means boundary – part of the manor was in the parish of Leyton, part in Walthamstow, and the house stood beside one of the boundary stones.

Until the 1850s there were only a few farm labourers’ cottages along the southern part of Markhouse Lane. But with the coming of Lea Bridge Station the area began to be developed – Union and Prospect Roads were built on land that had been part of the common.

Gate to Markhouse Common 1861

Gate to Markhouse Common 1861

As Walthamstow grew, more land to both sides of the lane was sold for the development, the lane became a road, and St Saviour’s Church was built so the new residents did not have to walk all the way to St Mary’s Church on the far side of Hoe Street.

The Lighthouse Church was built, and quickly became a local landmark, in the 1890s.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Markhouse Road was lined with houses, shops and small factories, and had become a busy through road. It had also become one of the poorest streets in Walthamstow, with all the problems associated with poverty.

It is worth noting that there was never a village here.

Hoe Street

Hoe Street / Albert Road 1914

Hoe Street itself was a wide but peaceful road, lined with tall trees. As late as the 1880s, a small boy moving to Walthamstow remembered riding in the furniture waggon and seeing the tree branches meeting overhead.

Most of the houses along Hoe Street were large, set back from the road in their own grounds. The Chestnuts still stands, but has lost all its once-extensive gardens.

Moving north, Grosvenor House  was next, its site now occupied by a church; Grosvenor Park Road now runs along the route of what was once an avenue leading to its door.

Past what is now the turning to Queen’s Road, the Cedars (link) was the first of the mansions to go – when it was demolished, and the huge cedar tree in its garden was felled to make way for houses, people came from miles around to collect a piece of the wood as a souvenir.

With the coming of the railways and Walthamstow’s rapid growth, Hoe Street changed rapidly, and out of all recognition. Most of the big houses and their gardens vanished, making way for development. Hoe Street itself changed in character, becoming mostly a place for shops and premises for doctors, lawyers and banks.

Near the new Hoe Street Station a large hotel, now the Goose pub, was built, and did well providing accommodation for the many business travellers who now visited the town.

The junction between Hoe Street and the Lea Bridge Road became known as the Bakers’ Arms after the pub that opened there in the 1860s, itself called after the newly-built almshouses provided by the Bakers’ Company for members who had fallen on hard times.

By the early twentieth century, Hoe Street had become much as it is today – many of the same buildings still stand. Only the shops are different.

High Street / Marsh Street

Marsh Street

In the 1660s the diarist Samuel Pepys visited his Navy colleague Sir William Batten in his house in Marsh Street. Pepys recorded that Batten had a vineyard in his garden, and that the wine he produced was as good as anything imported from France.

By around 1700 the Chequers pub had opened its doors, and was popular for meetings as well as drinking. In later years, the landlords provided dinners of soup and bread for poor children – the first free school meals.

In the later years of the eighteenth century, Francis Wragg of Marsh Street was running a stage coach commuter service to the City, with seven services running to and from Walthamstow each day. When Lea Bridge Station opened in the 1840s, Wragg’s began to offer a coach between Marsh Street and the station, as it was a longish walk.



Fanny Keats, younger sister of the poet John Keats, lived in Marsh Street in 1819-20, staying in one house and attending an Academy for Young Ladies in another. When her brother visited, he walked from Hampstead, as he did not have the money to take a coach.

In 1870 the railway got to Walthamstow and a station opened at Hoe Street. That was when serious development started and the gentry started selling up and moving away. Some houses in Marsh Street were sold on for other uses such as schools and factories; one became Walthamstow Truant School; others were pulled down and replaced with small houses and shops.

That was when the market came into being. Up until then, Walthamstow had never had a market; by the 1880s street traders were setting up their stalls and doing good business. At first the local authority tried to get rid of them, but soon they were issuing rules for stall holders – the market was there to stay.

Installation image coffee stasll mid 19C

In 1882 Marsh Street officially changed its name to the High Street, recognising that this was now Walthamstow’s main shopping street.

By 1900 the High Street was busy for most of the twenty-four hours in every day. There were shops from fishmongers to a department store to a dolls’ hospital, plus cafes, pubs and a theatre.