A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1973.
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Wanstead lies about 7 miles north-east of the City of London. (fn. 1) It is a dormitory suburb straddling the arterial road to Southend and Colchester and forming part of the London borough of Redbridge. The ancient parish extended from Wanstead Flats north for about 4 miles to the boundary with Woodford. The western boundary marched with Leyton and Walthamstow, and the river Roding formed the eastern boundary. The south-west of the parish comprised a spur called the Wanstead Slip which ran south of Leyton down to the marshes near Temple Mills, and included a small detached part locally situated in West Ham. This was more or less coterminous with the manor of Cann Hall, which was originally in Leyton but appears to have become part of Wanstead by the early 13th century. (fn. 2) The main body of the Wanstead Slip (207 a.) was merged in Leyton sanitary district in 1875 and was constituted a separate civil parish (Cann Hall) in 1894. (fn. 3) The detached part of the Slip (38 a.) was merged in West Ham local government district in 1875. (fn. 4) In the same area a small adjustment of the boundary between Wanstead and West Ham had been made in 1790. (fn. 5) In the south-east corner of the parish Aldersbrook appears to have been transferred from Wanstead to Little Ilford early in the 16th century. (fn. 6) That substantial change evidently took place without legal formalities and caused boundary disputes at later periods. (fn. 7) Later boundary changes included the transfer of 96 a. of Wanstead Flats to East Ham in 1901. (fn. 8)
In the mid 19th century Wanstead parish comprised 2,002 a. (fn. 9) A local board of health was formed for the parish in 1854. In 1931 Wanstead urban district contained 1,679 a. (fn. 10) In 1934 it was united with that of Woodford and in 1937 the combined district became a municipal borough. Wanstead and Woodford became part of Redbridge in 1965. In general that year has been taken as the terminal point of this article.
The land, which is mainly gravel, rises from the Roding to a height of about 100 ft. in the west. (fn. 11) Seventeenth-century maps show two streams flowing across the south of the parish into the Roding. (fn. 12) These, and the Roding itself, were altered and diverted in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when the owners of Wanstead House constructed elaborate artificial lakes and watercourses, some of which still survive. (fn. 13) The Snaresbrook(formerly Sayesbrook), another tributary of the Roding, rose in the north-west of the parish, to which area it gave its name. (fn. 14) The river Holt, or Wanstead ditch, entered the parish from Leyton, where the Woodford road crosses the boundary, running south-east through Voluntary Place into the Basin in Wanstead Park. Immediately north of Blake Hall a branch of it forked west: that was probably the stream, also called the Holt, which re-emerged below the Green Man in Leyton, running south to Cann Hall. (fn. 15) Neither the Snaresbrook stream nor the Holt is now visible above ground. (fn. 16) The Eagle pond, Snaresbrook Road, was called Snares pond in 1746. (fn. 17) It is a prominent feature, favoured by anglers. About 1619 a mineral spring was discovered at Wanstead, which for a short period became a fashionable spa. The spring may have been at Bushwood. (fn. 18)
Until the 19th century Wanstead retained much woodland, part of Epping Forest, small patches of which still survive at Bushwood and Snaresbrook. Wanstead Flats form a wide expanse of ancient heath. North of them are Wanstead Park and Wanstead golf course, which together form a remnant of a larger park formerly attached to Wanstead House, demolished in the 19th century.
Roman remains found in and around Wanstead Park indicate a substantial settlement. (fn. 19) In the Middle Ages Wanstead was a small, sparsely populated rural parish on the southern fringe of Epping Forest. In 1086 the total recorded population of the two manors which later comprised the parish was only 18. (fn. 20) In 1327 there were 10 persons assessed for taxation in Wanstead and Little Ilford, taken together. (fn. 21) As late as 1670 there were no more than 40 houses in Wanstead. (fn. 22) In 1762, however, there were 112, and by 1796 some 150. (fn. 23) In 1801 the population was 918. (fn. 24) It rose slowly to 2,742 in 1861, and then faster to 5,119 in 1871. By 1891 the population of the parish was 26,292, but that of the local board district (excluding Cann Hall) was only 7,092. In 1931, the last census before the union with Woodford, Wanstead urban district numbered 19,183 inhabitants. In 1961 the four wards of the borough lying in Wanstead had a total population of some 28,000. (fn. 25)
Little is known of the medieval pattern of settlement and no buildings survive from that period. The original parish church of St. Mary was a few yards from the present building, which replaced it in 1790. In the Middle Ages Wanstead House, the manor-house, probably stood near the church, as it certainly did in later centuries. Before the 16th century it was of no great size. The manorial buildings of Cann Hall seem to have been even more modest. No other medieval buildings are known by name except Naked Hall, later Aldersbrook.
From the 16th century Wanstead House, under a succession of royal and titled owners, was greatly enlarged. In the 18th century it was rebuilt as a Palladian mansion dominating the parish. (fn. 26) By then, however, the village also was growing. Most of the houses lay north of the park, in the present High Street and in Wanstead (later George) Lane (now Eastern Avenue and Nutter Lane). There were some large houses at Snaresbrook, and cottages at Mobs Hole, a forest-side hamlet later called Nightingale Green. (fn. 27) Wanstead's communications with the outside world then depended mainly on the Leytonstone, Woodford, and Chigwell roads, which were controlled by the newly-formed Middlesex and Essex turnpike trust. (fn. 28) Leytonstone, leading to London, was approached by an unnamed avenue, now Cambridge Park. North of Leytonstone the main road (now Hollybush Hill and Woodford Road) led to Woodford and Epping, with a branch (now New Wanstead and Hermon Hill) to Chigwell and Ongar. Running south from Wanstead, across the park and the Lower Forest (Wanstead Flats), were several paths or tracks. Access to the east was by South (or Parsons, later Redbridge) Lane over Red Bridge to Ilford.
Red (formerly Hockley's) Bridge over the Roding existed in the 16th century and was probably older. (fn. 29) From the 17th century to the 19th its repair was the subject of disputes between the parishes of Wanstead and Barking and the riparian landowners. (fn. 30) It appears to have been rebuilt about 1642 and again in 1840–1. (fn. 31) The present bridge, which carries Eastern Avenue, was built by the Ministry of Transport in 1923–6. (fn. 32)
Many of the larger houses shown on 18th-century maps were probably new. Wanstead was beginning to attract wealthy residents, especially those with interests in London, (fn. 33) and in 1762 70 of the 112 houses in the parish were said to be 'mansions'. (fn. 34) After Wanstead House the largest residence in 1700 was probably that later called the Grove, or Wanstead Grove, which lay in spacious grounds east of High Street. It is said to have been built about 1690 by Sir Francis Dashwood, Bt., son of a Turkey merchant. (fn. 35) Matthew Wymondesold, owner in the mid 18th century, was a successful financier. (fn. 36) The estate was bought in 1759 by Humphrey Bowles, in whose family it remained for a century. (fn. 37) The house, at the junction of the Avenue and Grove Park, was rebuilt c. 1822 but demolished in 1889. (fn. 38) Two early-18th-century features from its grounds still survive behind small modern houses in the Avenue: a red-brick gazebo (at no. 20) and a 'temple' with an Ionic portico (at no. 14). Bleak (later Blake) Hall, a large house at the west end of South Lane, was built c. 1690, and evidently much extended later; it was demolished in 1909. (fn. 39) Smaller 17th-century houses included Grove Cottage, Nutter Lane, a timber-framed building demolished c. 1957. (fn. 40)
Among early-18th-century houses was an impressive group of five in the Mall (the east side of High Street). (fn. 41) Of those the Manor House (West Essex Conservative Club) survives, as a red-brick building of seven bays with an original shell-hood to the doorway. (fn. 42) The adjoining Sheridan House is of slightly later date. The other three houses had by 1971 been wholly or partly demolished, and shops had been built over their front gardens. West of High Street was Spratt Hall, which existed by 1746 but was demolished in the later 19th century. (fn. 43) Reydon Hall and Elm Hall, which stand together in Eastern Avenue, are large early-18th-century houses, similar in style to those in the Mall, but much altered. (fn. 44) In 1971 they were occupied as flats. Near them, in Nutter Lane, is the Applegarth, which is said by a plaque on the front to have been built c. 1710, but has later features. For many years, up to 1926, it was the home of the Nutter family, benefactors to the parish. (fn. 45) Several late-18th-century buildings also survive at Snaresbrook. Nos. 23 and 25 Woodford Road are an attached pair of tall brown-brick houses with Doric doorcases. Snaresbrook House, in the same road, is a large stucco building, probably of c. 1800, with later additions. Willow Holme, Snaresbrook Road, is a three-storey house, originally one of a pair. In 1971 it was being extended in matching style. The Eagle hotel, Woodford Road, is Wanstead's oldest inn. As the Spread Eagle it is said to have existed in the 17th century, (fn. 46) but the present building dates from the 18th century. The George (formerly George and Dragon), High Street, is recorded from 1716, but was rebuilt c. 1902. (fn. 47) It bears a tablet, dated 1752, with a cryptic inscription commemorating a cherry pie. (fn. 48) The Thatched House inn, Leytonstone High Road, mentioned in 1791, was rebuilt about 1875 100 yd. farther south. (fn. 49) The growth and wealth of the parish in the 18th century was also reflected in its public buildings. The church, extended in 1709–10, was replaced in 1790 by a much larger building. The first parish school, which still survives, was built in High Street in 1796. The Assembly rooms, built c. 1725, have disappeared, and their site is unknown. (fn. 50)
Nearly all the new building in the 19th century was in the centre and north of the parish. The demolition of Wanstead House (1823–4) did not immediately stimulate growth. The manorial demesne could not be broken up, (fn. 51) and this restricted development in the south of the parish where most of the demesne lay. It did not, however, prevent the inclosure by the manor court of the woodland and waste in and north of the old village. In the 1830s the court began to make frequent 'voluntary grants' of small pieces of waste for building purposes. (fn. 52) Some were in Voluntary Place, which may have been named from them. The pace of inclosure quickened after 1840. (fn. 53)
During the earlier 19th century cottages, some of them built on new inclosures, increased in number, in spite of opposition from the vestry, which feared that such building would attract poor to the parish. (fn. 54) By 1841 more than half Wanstead's dwellings were cottages. (fn. 55) One or two of the cottages built c. 1800–50 still survived in 1971 on the west side of High Street. Many of the larger houses built during that period, as before, were at Snaresbrook. (fn. 56) The most notable new building was the Royal Wanstead school, Hollybush Hill (1843). The Merchant Seamen's orphan asylum, Hermon Hill, now Wanstead Hospital, was erected in 1861. (fn. 57) The Weavers' alms-houses, New Wanstead, were built in 1859. (fn. 58)
Wanstead was still a village in 1856, when the railway arrived. During the next twenty-five years there was building near Snaresbrook station: in Hermon Hill (fn. 59) and the new roads east of it, and at New Wanstead, a name now used only for the road, but originally applied to the whole area between that road and Cambridge Park. (fn. 60) Between c. 1880 and 1900 building went on steadily on old and new sites. The rapid development of Cann Hall is described under Leyton. (fn. 61) The Spratt Hall estate was cut up for building in 1885–7. (fn. 62) Part of the Oak Hall estate, in Redbridge Lane West, was cut up at the same time, and the remainder about 1892. (fn. 63) The Grove estate was gradually developed after 1889, with houses in Grove Park and the Avenue. (fn. 64) The Drive estate at Snaresbrook was laid out in 1895–6. (fn. 65) Between 1900 and 1914 new building took place mainly in the south of the parish. The large Aldersbrook estate (c. 1900–10) formed a distinct and isolated township in the triangle between the park, the flats, and the City of London cemetery. (fn. 66) The Lake House estate (c. 1908–14) lay west of Blake Hall Road, between Bushwood and Lake House Road. (fn. 67) The Blake Hall estate, south of Cambridge Park, was cut up c. 1909. (fn. 68)
Most building since 1914 has been on the eastern side of the parish. The opening of Eastern Avenue in the 1920s was followed by development north and south of it. In north-east Wanstead Nightingale farm was sold for building shortly before 1939. (fn. 69) By then there was little building-land left, and later building has consisted mainly of in-filling. During the Second World War most of Wanstead's houses were damaged and several hundred were destroyed. The Lake House estate suffered most. (fn. 70)
The houses built in Wanstead between 1860 and 1918 were larger on average than those in neighbouring suburbs, (fn. 71) and included a large proportion of detached and semi-detached types. Since 1918 the shortage of land and increasing urbanization have restricted house sizes, and have stimulated the building of flats, including a tall block at the corner of New Wanstead and High Street, and others in Eastern Avenue. In 1971 High Street was in process of redevelopment as the main shopping centre of Wanstead. The older buildings, many of them damaged by bombing, were gradually being replaced by modern blocks.
Modern development has preserved the lines of most of the old roads, though some of their names have been changed. During the early 19th century Long-Wellesley, the lord of the manor, made several attempts to close public paths across his park, but he was only partly successful. (fn. 72) An Act of 1816 authorized the construction of Blake Hall Road in place of a former track, and gave protection to certain paths in the park, including three which later became Overton Drive, St. Mary's Avenue, and Langley Drive. (fn. 73) The most important modern road is Eastern Avenue (1925), the arterial road to Southend and Colchester. (fn. 74) Its western end, at Wanstead, was formed by widening George Lane as far as Elm Hall and building an extension down to Red Bridge. Eastern Avenue, and its feeder Cambridge Park, cuts through the centre of Wanstead, and its heavy traffic has changed the character of the town.
In 1681 Wanstead was served by a daily coach from Aldgate. (fn. 75) There were five daily services in 1791: three from Aldgate and two from White-chapel. (fn. 76) In the early 19th century services to the village did not improve much, but Snaresbrook was served by frequent coaches along the Woodford Road, and others running to London via Walthamstow. (fn. 77) Early in the present century there was a horse bus service between Wanstead and Leytonstone and another between Wanstead and Forest Gate. (fn. 78) By 1911 the motor bus route from Elephant and Castle ended at Wanstead. (fn. 79)
The Loughton branch of the Eastern Counties railway, opened in 1856, ran through Wanstead, and Snaresbrook station was built in High Street. (fn. 80) The branch was electrified in 1947 when it was taken over by London Transport as part of the Central (underground) line. (fn. 81) The Central line extension from Leytonstone to Newbury Park, opened at the same time, included Wanstead station, Eastern Avenue, built in 1937–8 to the design of Charles Holden. (fn. 82)
From 1692 Wanstead was within the London penny post area, with a daily collection and delivery. (fn. 83) There was a receiving house there in 1794. (fn. 84) When the London postal area was divided in 1856 Wanstead became a sub-office of Leytonstone in the north-eastern (later in the eastern) district. (fn. 85) At the reorganization of 1917 it was placed along with Leytonstone in the E. 11 sub-district. (fn. 86) A branch office was opened in Hermon Hill in 1948, replacing a previous sub-office in High Street. (fn. 87) The telegraph was available at Wanstead from 1871. (fn. 88) The National Telephone Co. had a call office in High Street by 1893. (fn. 89) The company's exchange, opened in Wellesley Road by 1902, had passed to the G.P.O. by 1912. (fn. 90)
Gas was first supplied to Wanstead by the West Ham Gas Co. in 1864. (fn. 91) Electricity was supplied to the Aldersbrook area by East Ham borough council from c. 1914. (fn. 92) The rest of Wanstead was first supplied in 1926 by the County of London Electricity Supply Co. (fn. 93) Before the 19th century water supply came from wells and pumps. A common well on the heath (presumably Wanstead Flats) existed c. 1532. (fn. 94) In 1713 the parish vestry resolved to set up a street pump for the poor. (fn. 95) The East London Waterworks Co. extended its mains to Wanstead in 1857, but as late as 1874 its supply there was very inadequate. (fn. 96) Wanstead sewage works originated in1883–5, when the local board bought a site beside the Roding in the south-eastern corner of the parish. (fn. 97)
A fire-engine, given to the parish vestry by Daniel Waldo in 1729, (fn. 98) remained in service at least until 1778. (fn. 99) A later engine, bought in 1874, was housed at the George and then at the local board offices in Church Path. (fn. 100) A new fire station was opened in Wanstead Place in 1913, and in 1919 the first motor fire-engine went into service. The fire station was closed in 1957. (fn. 101) An isolation hospital was built by the local board in Empress Avenue, Aldersbrook, in 1893. (fn. 102) It was bombed and closed in the Second World War. (fn. 103) Wanstead hospital, Hermon Hill, was opened by Essex county council in 1938, in the former Merchant Seamen's orphan asylum. (fn. 104) Spratt Hall (later Christ Church) Green, High Street, was bought by the local board as a public park about 1860. (fn. 105) Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats, Bushwood, and several smaller public open spaces are administered by the corporation of London as conservators of Epping Forest. (fn. 106)
There was a circulating library in Wanstead in 1845. (fn. 107) A parish library for the poor, opened about 1873, offered a selection of 400 volumes on payment of a penny a year; it still existed in 1893. (fn. 108) Essex county council opened a small branch library in High Street in 1944 and another in Park Road, Aldersbrook, in 1950. (fn. 109) The former was in 1969 transferred to a new building in Spratt Hall Road, erected by Redbridge borough council. (fn. 110)
The Becontree assembly rooms and archery ground, Bushwood, are said to have originated in the 1850s. (fn. 111) The premises became a Quaker meeting-house in 1870. (fn. 112) A cricket match in Wanstead Park was recorded in 1834. (fn. 113) The present Wanstead cricket club was founded c. 1880, but traces its descent from an earlier club at Woodford. (fn. 114) It has supplied several first-class players, including J. W. H. T. Douglas (1882–1930), captain of Essex and England. Wanstead golf club, founded 1893, claims to be the second oldest in Essex. (fn. 115) Its club house was once part of the out-buildings of Wanstead House. The cricket ground and the golf course adjoin Wanstead Park. They belong to Wanstead Sports Ground Ltd., which was formed in 1920 to buy them from the Cowley estate, and to protect the site from building. The Linkside lawn tennis club, founded 1913, was an offshoot of the cricket club. (fn. 116) Cultural societies have included the Wanstead industrial and art association, founded c. 1894, and surviving in 1913, (fn. 117) and the Aldersbrook local parliament (fl. 1913). (fn. 118) The Wanstead young men's association, founded in 1877, merged in 1935 with the Wanstead literary society to form the Wanstead literary and debating society (1935–60). (fn. 119)
Among notable residents of Wanstead was James Bradley (1693–1762), astronomer royal, who was trained at Wanstead by his uncle James Pound (rector 1707–24), himself a distinguished astronomer and friend of Sir Isaac Newton. In 1717 Pound and Bradley set up in Wanstead Park one of the largest telescopes in Europe, mounted on a maypole taken from the Strand. (fn. 120) William Penn (1644–1718), Quaker leader and founder of Pennsylvania, was brought up at Wanstead. (fn. 121) Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751–1816), dramatist and parliamentary orator, lived there c. 1795, probably in the house in High Street later called Sheridan House. (fn. 122) Thomas Hood (1799–1845), poet, lived at Lake House c. 1832–5. (fn. 123) Among several lord mayors of London living at Wanstead were Sir William Plomer (d. 1801) (fn. 124) and Sir William Curtis, Bt. (1752–1829). (fn. 125) Wanstead House had several eminent residents, including the earl of Leicester in the 16th century and Sir Josiah Child in the 17th, and many distinguished visitors. (fn. 126)
Three orphanages were established in Wanstead in the mid 19th century. The Royal Wanstead school was founded at Hackney in 1827 as the Infant Orphan asylum, and was transferred to new buildings, south of the Eagle pond at Snaresbrook, in 1843. (fn. 127) The charity, maintained by public subscription, and conducted on Anglican lines, was originally intended for children from respectable families under the age of 8, but in 1852 it was decided to keep boys up to 14 and girls up to 15. (fn. 128) The number of children was about 500–600 during the later 19th century, after which it declined. (fn. 129) It was closed in 1971. The school buildings form an impressive range, especially when seen across the pond from Snaresbrook Road. (fn. 130) They were designed by (Sir) George Gilbert Scott in Jacobean style, of grey stone with buff stone dressings. (fn. 131)
The Commercial Travellers' school originated in 1845, when Robert Cuffley, himself a traveller, took the lead in raising funds to provide a school for the children of deceased or necessitous commercial travellers. (fn. 132) A house was bought in George Lane and the school opened there in 1847. By 1854 there were 135 children, and in 1855 the school was moved to Pinner (Mdx.), where it survived until 1967.
The Merchant Seamen's orphan asylum, established in 1827 at St. George's in the East (Lond.), was transferred in 1862 to a new building in Hermon Hill, Wanstead, which provided places for 300 orphans of British merchant seamen. (fn. 133) The building was taken over in 1921 by the convent of the Good Shepherd, as a refuge for women and girls, (fn. 134) and later became Wanstead hospital. (fn. 135) It stands in a commanding position on high ground, and was designed by G. C. Clarke as a fine example of the 'Venetian Gothic' style. (fn. 136)