November 2019


Religion and revolt

moseley-2Oswald Mosley addressing a large crowd on Wanstead Flats in July 1938

At next month’s meeting of the Wanstead Historical Society, Mark Gorman and Peter Williams will explain how Wanstead Flats was used as a venue to spread political and religious messages

Take a fascinating journey through the history of the flats showing how this semi-regulated space became the base for the free expression of ideas, whether religious or political, at the end of the 19th century.

Some notable local characters from Leytonstone stand out. Bushwood, it turns out, was our local Speakers’ Corner. The talk will also discuss how the conservators, the City of London Corporation, sought to exercise control and some of the court cases that ensued.

Political and religious groups have long seen Wanstead Flats as a natural meeting place, as ‘public property’ for the use of the people. However, since the passing of the Epping Forest Act in 1878, the City of London, as ‘conservators’ responsible for managing the Flats as part of the wider forest, have tried to control and restrict such uses. This is the story of the struggle between these two differing views of Wanstead Flats.

Up to the mid-20th century, the main means of communicating political or religious messages was through mass meetings and processions with bands and banners. Often unable to afford (or banned from) meeting rooms and halls, radical political and religious groups sought out large open spaces for their gatherings. Wanstead Flats, located within easy reach of the London of earlier times, and since the late Victorian era surrounded by housing, was seen as an ideal meeting place.

Radical politics in Victorian times were dominated by one great issue: the vote. Even after the reform of Parliament in 1832, working people still had no say in running the country, and the vote was a key demand from the time of the Chartists through to the end of the century and beyond. At the same time, many people were seeking alternatives to the mainstream Anglican Church in an era of great religious fervour.

Religion and politics were often interwoven, and open-air meetings were a prime means of passing on radical political and religious messages. The unfenced ‘public spaces’ of Wanstead Flats were an obvious venue for both.

At the same time, Wanstead Flats had for many years prior to 1878 been a temporary home to travelling communities, above all to Gipsies, who, despite local disapproval (and sometimes harassment), were a familiar part of the local scene. We shall see how some members of this community were to become involved with the wave of religious enthusiasm of the Victorian era.

Mark and Peter’s talk will take place at Wanstead Library on 2 December from 7.30pm (visitors: £3). For more information, call 07949 026 212

The old East End

DSCF4946©Geoff Wilkinson

In the first of a series of articles, local photographer Geoff Wilkinson discusses his new exhibition – entitled ‘Quick! Before it goes’ – depicting London’s East End, an area which resonates with many residents here.

Growing up in London’s East End was a fascinating experience for a young boy. In the 1950s, bomb damage from the war was still very much evident. Living mostly in Stratford, I remember the area just to the right of the old Angel Lane street market which had been completely flattened. No houses or buildings remained; it was just a playground or used for parking vans and cars, such as there were. Perhaps it is the memories of this loss of buildings and architecture that has made me so determined to photograph what is left of the old East End.

When I opened my Whitechapel exhibition last year at the gallery, it was interesting to see the various reactions of the visitors when they saw the photographs. Many of my generation were delighted to see pictures of streets where they had grown up and played or perhaps the buildings where their grandparents had lived. My daughter’s generation, mainly young professionals, reminisced about nights out at bars and restaurants and living in fashionable flats in Whitechapel or Hoxton. For many of these visitors now living in Wanstead, Woodford and the surrounding areas, the common theme, regardless of generation, was the sadness of the familiar places disappearing.

It was the memories shared with me and the emotions the photographs evoked in people that persuaded me to continue on this theme, to capture a wider area of the East End, including Hackney, Bethnal Green (as shown here), Mile End, Bow and much, much more.

Geoff’s exhibition of East End photographs opens on 24 November and runs until 1 March at Gallery 84, Nightingale Lane, Wanstead, E11 2EZ. For more information, call 020 8530 1244 or visit

Gardening guidance


At this time of year, many homeowners will be in their gardens pruning back hedges and trees. Just be sure you don’t chop off more than you can handle, says Ruhul Ameen, a partner at local solicitors Wiseman Lee

If you are planning to do more than a little light pruning and are considering more major changes in your garden, it’s worth making sure you are aware of your legal rights first – particularly if it affects neighbouring properties.

In one case, a Dorset homeowner was prosecuted for cutting down 11 trees on his property. He had not realised they were subject to a Tree Preservation Order. This meant he needed to apply to his local authority for permission before either pruning or removing the trees. One of the consequences of removing the trees was that it increased the light and garden space of the property. In fact, when the case went to court, lawyers acting for the council argued that the tree removal had added an additional £137,500 to the value of his £1.4m home. Despite claiming he had not carried out the work to enhance the value of the property but had only removed the trees to protect his grandchildren from potential falling branches, the court was not convinced. The homeowner was handed a £170,000 fine plus court costs. A Proceeds of Crime Order was also made to recover the increase to the value of his home.

Another individual who ran into tree-related problems was a property developer from South Devon who was investigated by the Forestry Commission. Furious neighbours discovered an entire woodland area next to their homes had been felled without permission. The once picturesque green hillside had been cleared of its trees to make way for a proposed development of nine houses. It probably goes without saying the local council took an extremely dim view of the individual’s decision to prepare the groundwork before seeking planning permission and so refused his application.

However, too little cutting back can sometimes be just as bad as too much. Closer to home, one London homeowner was sued by her neighbours for £500,000 because of damage to their properties. They claimed the damage had been caused by the roots of four sycamore trees, which had extended under their properties and caused subsidence.

It is not only trees that lead to problems in the garden. Japanese knotweed is a well-known cause of neighbour disputes. However, a landmark Appeal Court ruling means homeowners who are blighted by Japanese knotweed growing on neighbouring land now have legal redress. Network Rail was taken to court by two Welsh homeowners who claimed the company had not taken sufficient steps to deal with the fast-growing plant, which had become so overgrown it had extended underneath their properties. The Appeal Court sided with the homeowners, agreeing the knotweed was an ‘actionable nuisance’. This decision means homeowners can now take legal action if a neighbour is not taking the appropriate steps to stop Japanese knotweed encroaching onto their land.

Wiseman Lee is located at 9–13 Cambridge Park, Wanstead, E11 2PU. For more information, call 020 8215 1000

Redbridge Foodbank: a volunteer’s story


Christine Clark will be talking about her experiences of volunteering at Redbridge Foodbank at an East London Soroptimists event this month

I volunteer at Redbridge Foodbank, one of the 1200 Trussell Trust foodbanks in UK. We provide a food and hygiene parcel for clients, designed to last around three days. The intention is to tide them over until their situation has improved. Most of the people who come to the foodbank are in financial difficulties due to low income or benefit changes or delays. However, we also have people who are sleeping rough on the streets, or who are having difficulties due to bereavement, health issues, redundancy, or who are asylum seekers. 

Last year Redbridge foodbank gave out over 6000 food and hygiene parcels, an increase of almost 2000 on the previous year.

The role I play at the foodbank is to meet and greet the clients, welcoming them in a warm and friendly manner. They arrive with a referral voucher and I go through our “shopping list” with them while they tell me what things they needs. They are then able to have a hot drink and biscuits while their parcel is prepared. While they wait, I also chat with them and find out if there is any other help they need. I can then signpost them to the relevant organisations to support them. I also offer a friendly ear for a chat. Many of them are lonely and are glad of someone to talk to. The parcels given out contain, not only food supplies but also household essentials, such as washing powder and washing up liquid, and personal hygiene items such as shampoo, shower gel, tooth brushes and paste, sanitary protection, as well as nappies and baby food. The foodbank cannot, however, give out baby milk due to a United Nations ruling. We do not forget pets, as we also have dog and cat food available if required.

I am a member of East London Soroptimists and in my capacity as a foodbank volunteer I am giving a talk on the work of the foodbank on Tuesday 19th November. The talk will be taking place a Woodford Memorial Hall at 7:30pm.  When I volunteer I do so as an independent person, not in my capacity as a Soroptimist.


Wild Wanstead


In the 18th of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project, green roof expert Chris Bridgman explains how to turn your extension roof into a wildlife-friendly garden in the sky

Living green roofs can be installed on most flat or gently inclining roofs. For an average residential extension, the green roof system is just loose laid directly on top of the roofing material as an extra layer. This can be done when building a new extension or retrofitted onto an existing roof.

The green roof system is made up of three main components:

A root barrier that stops the roots of the plants getting through and damaging your waterproof layer (most new roofing felts are already root-proof so this may not be needed).

A drainage layer, which stores water but also lets any rain seeping through the vegetation run off the roof and into the gutters in the usual way.

A lightweight growing medium for the plants – small particles of porous material and organic matter, which takes the place of soil.

Plants are grown on top with a small gravel border around the perimeter. For low-maintenance options, roofs are usually planted up with sedum, meadow wild flowers or a mix of both – but you could add other features like a log pile too. The green roof system for growing sedum is approximately 6cm deep, increasing to 12cm if you want wild flowers (and more if you want a turf roof). The roof will need a bit of attention twice a year – a feed for the sedum in spring and cutting or removing the dead wild flowers, plus checking for any weeds that have snuck in during autumn.

Because adding a green system is an extra layer over your regular roofing material, protecting it from the elements, it is thought that the life of your roof could be extended by as much as three times. The green roof has a cooling effect in hot weather (free air conditioning) and an insulating effect in winter, which can reduce bills. Other benefits of green roofs include restoring gardens lost to development, providing a great-looking design feature and ensuring upstairs rooms have a nice view, supporting biodiversity, mopping up carbon and other emissions, and preventing flooding (because the vegetation absorbs some of the rain).

If you’re interested in installing one, here are the typical steps:

  1. Touch base with the council about your plans. It is probably easiest to use the pre-application advice from Redbridge Planning Service, which costs £50 for a 30-minute meeting. Redbridge currently doesn’t have a standard policy on green roofs, but a request to install one has never been rejected.
  2. Pick a suitably qualified green roof installer. I recommend using one that installs the Optigreen system. Always look for a supplier that is a member of the Green Roof Organisation.
  3. Speak to the supplier. Describe what you want to do and discuss which of their roofing systems would best meet your needs. Find out the weight per square metre of the different options.
  4. Schedule a structural engineer to visit your property to assess your extension roof and confirm the weight it will be able to take. Pick someone who is familiar with green roofs – your supplier should be able to recommend someone. It will typically cost around £350 for the survey. If you’ve got the technical plans for your extension, that will help the engineer, but this isn’t essential.
  5. Based on feedback from the structural engineer, pick an appropriate green roof system and liaise with the supplier to book them to visit your property to discuss the roof and its installation. For a good quality system, expect to pay around £80 to £90 per square meter (plus VAT). This would cover all the materials and the cost of installation (based on a minimum of 10 square meters).
  6. One final thing you need to do before your green system is installed is ensure your roof is completely watertight. If you’re putting it on top of an existing roof, you could either get new felt laid on top to be sure or pay a roofing company to do an integrity test to check for any leaks.
  7. Once this is done, you’re ready to create your garden in the sky. For a typical single-storey extension, the roof will be accessed by ladder and materials brought to it in sacks.
  8. If your roof is installed during a dry period, you will need to water at first to help it establish.
  9. The supplier should provide you with all the information you need about maintaining your roof. If your roof is safe for you to access, you could do this yourself. If not, or you’d prefer to outsource the job, most companies offer a management service.

Chris is managing director of Bridgman & Bridgman Living Roof Services. For more information about their work, visit
For pre-application advice from Redbridge Council’s planning service, visit
To find companies that install the Optigreen system, visit
For more information on the Wild Wanstead project, visit

Natural History Museum meteorite expert to give talk in Wanstead


The Natural History Museum’s Curator of Meteorites will be giving a talk at Wanstead House this month.

“Dr Natasha Almeida will be discussing meteorites, the far-flung remnants of the solar system that come crashing down to Earth,” said Steve Karpel of the North East London Astronomical Society, which is hosting the 17 November event (3pm; first visit free).

Dr Almeida’s research focuses on the use of micro-computed tomography in the study of extraterrestrial material, including meteorites and NASA Apollo samples.

Call 020 8995 9853


Royal tour artist to give painting demonstration at Wanstead House

737260_blue-sky-turquoise-waters-seven-mile-beach-grand-cayman©David Sawyer

Artist David Sawyer – who travelled with the Prince of Wales to the Caribbean as an official tour artist earlier this year – will be demonstrating landscape painting in oils at Wanstead House this month.

“One of the many tips David will be giving at the demonstration is to paint or sketch en plein air, because you will learn what to leave out of the painting and what to leave in,” said a spokesperson for Essex Art Club, which is hosting the event on 24 November from 2.30pm to 4.30pm (visitors: £5).



History and enthusiasm

image001David Williams in the churchyard of St Anne’s Church in Soho, alongside a plaque for his namesake, the founder of The Royal Literary Fund

In the first of two articles by former local resident David Williams, the journalist-turned-tour guide and lecturer explains why he often returns to the area to give talks to local groups.

Whether I am talking to a genealogy group or local history enthusiasts, I know that at some stage there will be a discussion with someone who wants to tell me how far back they have traced their ancestors. The common factor here is their enthusiasm. I suppose we have to thank the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? for encouraging family history research and I can only imagine how long people spend trawling through census forms, parochial documents, workhouse records and the Old Bailey online.

Without access to the mass of information available now on the internet we would all face hours travelling to libraries large and small, trying to decipher the handwriting of someone in the 19th century who was making notes and taking down details of what we all hope will lead us to that distant relative who finished up in Newgate Prison or made – and subsequently lost – a fortune.

I was chatting with an old school friend the other day and he was anxious to tell me more about his East End roots and, in particular, his Huguenot ancestry. But I had to remind him that although finding out more about the life and the world of his three times great-grandfather was a triumph of his tenacious research, he was unaware of the social background of his discovery. What was the story behind the census return or the death certificate? What did he know about working and living conditions of that period?

I am not a genealogist but my interest in social and oral history has intrigued me for the past 15 years. Trying to find something to occupy my time after retiring from a career in print journalism and the film and television industry, it soon became obvious that concentrating on reducing my golf handicap was not the solution. That was when a casual search on the City of London Corporation website revealed an item which seemed worth investigating. They were inviting applications from people who were prepared to consider becoming tour guides and lecturers.

I applied, was interviewed and offered a place on the year-long course. In 2005 I proudly received my badge and certification in the Egyptian Room of the Mansion House. It was the start of a late, late career as a historian – and leading walks and giving talks about the City of London. Since that day, this ex-Churchfields Primary School boy – who fluffed his educational opportunities in the 1950s – has never improved his golf handicap but can certainly appreciate the value of further education.

David will be giving a talk for the Woodford Historical Society about 19th-century London at Trinity High School, Woodford Green on 18 November from 7.45pm (visitors: £3; call 020 8504 6552).The talk will be repeated for the East of London Family History Society at Wanstead Library on 22 January from 7.30pm (visitors: £1.50; call 020 8554 8414).

Highams Players mark end of 80th anniversary year with Life and Beth

Psarty-Piece-2011The Highams Players perform comedies, thrillers and dramas two or three times a year at Wanstead House

Amateur dramatics group the Highams Players are celebrating their 80th anniversary with a production of the Alan Ayckbourn comedy Life and Beth at Wanstead House on 21, 22 and 23 November.

The group was founded in 1939, performing at Highams House before moving to the Memorial Hall in South Woodford and then to Wanstead House in 1973.

“We are a friendly, close-knit group who delight in rehearsing in each other’s homes, and are always keen to welcome new members,” said Susan Walters.

Call 020 8924 6987


Restoring Wanstead Park

35486439262_0a90b00137_o©Christian Moss

In the sixth of a series of articles looking at the developing plans for restoring Wanstead Park, John Sharpe from the Friends of Wanstead Parklands takes a look at the recently published Parkland Plan. Photo of Perch Pond by Christian Moss

In the October edition of the Wanstead Village Directory, in his article on the lakes of Wanstead Park, Friends of Wanstead Parklands member Richard Arnopp referenced the development of the Parkland Plan, which sets out in detail the vision for future restoration and management of the park.

The latest version has now been published and sets out how the work aspires to improve the park environment and the user and visitor experience.

The intention of this article – and the next instalment planned for the December edition – is to summarise these planned developments, which aim to regenerate Wanstead Park (which since 2009 has been on Historic England’s ‘Heritage at Risk’ register) and put it on the map as the main ‘Southern Gateway’ to the wider Epping Forest landscape.

The Friends of Wanstead Parklands have worked with the other major stakeholders to best represent park users within the developing framework. However, it is the main landowners – the City of London, Wanstead Sports Grounds Limited, Wanstead Parish and the London Borough of Redbridge – who will have the responsibility of delivering the project. Part of the strategy will be to improve co-ordinated management by these independent parties, with support from the Friends.

In order to deliver this long-term vision, the conceptual options are varied and range from one-off major capital expenditures, such as restoring the lakes to stabilise water levels, to relatively simple actions, such as re-focusing on-going maintenance in the various parts of the park. The large size of Wanstead Park and the potential need for significant funding means the plan and its delivery is a long-term commitment with some actions more readily achieved than others.

The key objectives of the Parkland Plan are:

Addressing visitor needs to provide an accessible and legible historic landscape. This will include clearing and restoring selected historic features and improving entrances and paths. As well as heritage, the park’s natural aspects would benefit from better management to promote biodiversity and nature conservation.

Improving visitor facilities around the park, including developing the surroundings of the Temple as a visitor hub with improved access, an enhanced catering offering, flexible space for events and a new children’s play area. It is hoped this will also bring future activity and income generation benefits, which will ensure financial sustainability.

Improving water management and ensuring the major package of works to the lakes (designated as ‘High Risk’ in 2018) both respect and benefit the historic significance of the waterscape and surrounding landscape.

Conserving the boathouse Grotto. A Conservation Management Plan has just been completed, which is intended to guide the future care of this unique building.

Promoting research into Wanstead Park, its history, management and biodiversity.

The Parkland Plan also supports increased community and volunteer involvement in the park.

Although the ‘shopping list’ for Wanstead Park’s future is largely settled, some questions over funding and timescales still need to be resolved. Plans and priorities for phasing, including those that can be covered by existing staff and budgets, will first need to be approved. This will enable both capital and corresponding revenue costs to be broadly agreed, prior to the submission of a bid of up to £5m to the National Heritage Lottery Fund (NHLF). The NHLF have only recently revised their funding criteria for projects between 2019 and 2024. Competition for funding is strong, and it is not yet clear how or when this element will be integrated.

Agreement and adoption of the Parkland Plan will then need to be endorsed by the Steering Group, and formally by the Wanstead Park landowners.

The most recent costing for all the planned work is around £14.5m, and it is currently unclear as to which parts of the plan will be fulfilled if, for some reason, there is a shortfall in funding.

A further frustration for the Friends is that the latest starting point for major works to be carried out is further down the road than anticipated. This is said to be due to the requirements of the City of London’s required internal processes for planning and funding major projects, with work on the capital projects now due to commence as late as 2024.

In advance of this, the Friends will continue liaising and working with the City of London and other project partners to establish what work can take place to improve the visitor experience and the overall state of the park and its lakes while plan development is in progress.

If you wish to be involved in the ongoing development of the Parkland Plan, and actively contribute to the thinking behind it and the local community, please consider joining the Friends of Wanstead Parklands.