April 2020



IMG_0310Wanstead War Memorial ©Geoff Wilkinson

A talk about local war memorials was due to take place at the Woodford and District branch of the National Trust this month. As with many events, this is likely to be cancelled. So we invited Richard Speller to talk here about Wanstead’s own monument of remembrance. Photo of the Wanstead War Memorial by Geoff Wilkinson

Due to the appalling death toll suffered in the 1914–1918 Great War, virtually every family in the land would have known of someone who had lost their life. Thus, within a very short period, war memorials of every different type – stone pillars, statues, windows, plaques – were erected all over the country. These were, in the main, funded by local communities.

Of course, these memorials not only list those who died in the First World War but also the second (1939–1945) and beyond, and the Wanstead memorial commemorates Marine Tom Curry, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2007.

War memorials, as we know them, only really started appearing after the Crimean War in the 1850s. Prior to that, sadly, participants who had been killed were buried in mass graves without any identification at all.

The movement gathered pace following the Boer wars, primarily due to far greater and faster communication regarding the events and compassion within the population.

The Imperial War Museum considers there to be over 100,000 memorials in Great Britain, of which approximately 40,000 are listed.

Wanstead was part of this movement. The memorial on the High Street – on a small detached fragment of Epping Forest, known locally as Tarzy Wood – was unveiled on 30 April 1922 by local dignitary and businessman Sir James Roll, who had been Lord Mayor of London the year before.

The main feature of the Wanstead War Memorial is the winged figure of Victory or Peace, sculpted by Newbury Trent, who also produced the figure of the soldier on the Ilford War Memorial. There are 198 names listed, but local research shows the true figure of the losses in Wanstead was nearer 320. The memorial inscription reads: “Men of Wanstead, whom their neighbours hereby commemorate, here numbered among those who in the Great War at the call of king and country left all that was dear to them, endured hardship, faced danger and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their sacrifice was not in vain.”

War memorials in this country are the responsibility of the local authority, and the London Borough of Redbridge has an excellent website under the Redbridge Museum detailing and illustrating a very large number of these in the area. In addition, the charity War Memorials Trust does fine work in helping to identify and list memorials as well as provide expert help and grants to maintain them. It is worth remembering that most war memorials are approaching 100 years in age.

Should you wish to discover more, visit the War Memorials Trust website or come along to my talk this month.

Richard’s talk was scheduled to take place on 15 April from 2.30pm at All Saints’ Church hall in Woodford Green (visitors: £3; subject to change). Call 07774 164 407

For more information on the War Memorials Trust, visit warmemorials.org

For more information on Redbridge’s war memorials, visit wnstd.com/memorials


Wild Wanstead

6F2E0E62-14F9-44C0-A865-635660DFED07©Geoff Wilkinson

In the 21st of a series of articles charting the Wild Wanstead project, Iain Ambler considers the natural history of George Green and its future as a special site for wildlife in Wanstead. Photo by Geoff Wilkinson

George Green has an interesting environmental history that we can see many remnants of today. It appears to be a fragment of old acid grassland or heathland, probably in or at the margins of Epping Forest. In 1683, John Evelyn visited Wanstead and recorded the costly planting of avenues of trees by Sir Josiah Child around his recently acquired estate. The remaining massive sweet chestnut trees standing on the Green today (four in a line, three together, one towards the St Mary’s end of the green) formed part of one of these double avenues of trees radiating out for some distance from the focal point of the grand house, which was located on part of what is now Wanstead’s golf course.

With the break-up of the Wanstead Estate in the 19th century, the Green remained as a patch of poor quality pasture surrounded by buildings. It is owned by the City of London Corporation and protected by the Epping Forest Act of 1878. The day-to-day management of this urban amenity has been passed to the London Borough of Redbridge.

The tall plane trees you can see today along the western edge of George Green were likely planted under the supervision of Alexander Mackenzie, who was superintendent of Epping Forest from 1879 until his death in 1893. In the 1990s, it became an environmental battleground, focused on one of the chestnut trees on the site due for removal as part of the M11 link road construction, and probably the inspiration for environmental activists like Swampy later in the decade. And, of course, it’s named after the beloved pub.

These days, George Green is the site of a new environmental initiative. Last summer, you might have noticed the back part of the Green looking shaggier and more beautiful than usual. That’s because the park now includes a number of ‘Grow Zones’, areas where the grass is being left to grow long over summer to naturalise with wildflowers. The initiative is a collaboration between Vision RCL, Redbridge Council and Wild Wanstead, who are working together to create a network of Grow Zones across Wanstead. When we undertook a botanical survey of the area, it revealed more than 80 plant species, as well as insects that thrive in long grass habitats like the Essex Skipper Butterfly. In fact, meadowland supports eight times more biodiversity than regularly mown grass, and acid grassland is of particular importance, considered a nationally important habitat and priority for nurturing in London.

As well as the Grow Zones on George Green, there are others on Christ Church Green, Nutter Lane Field and Elmcroft Avenue Recreational Ground, as well as a number of road verges. Hopefully, as the grass and flowers grow, so too will the populations of insects, birds and other creatures that rely on them for food and shelter, helping nature to thrive on our doorsteps.

For more information on the Wild Wanstead project and how you can create a mini grow zone in your garden, visit wnstd.com/growzone

Secrets of the Temple

IMG_1974The Temple in Wanstead Park. ©Richard Arnopp

Richard Arnopp was one of several participants in last month’s Museum of London Archaeology workshop exploring the history and secrets of Wanstead Park’s Temple

Anything to do with the history of Wanstead Park is almost guaranteed an audience and, with that in mind, Epping Forest hosted two free archaeology workshops in the park last month as part of Layers of London, an interactive online mapping project. The events – led by Paul McGarrity of Museum of London Archaeology – took place in the Temple, a building dating from about 1760, originally constructed to house a menagerie.

Paul explained that archaeology isn’t just about digging – archaeologists record buildings which are still standing too. He said that the analysis of buildings is based on the same principles as other archaeological fieldwork. In excavations, archaeologists use the sequence of buried layers to reconstruct the history of a site, while the development of buildings is phased using the relationship between 3D structures.

Paul began by saying protection for archaeology had increased since 1990 with measures which had greatly increased the level of recording. In the case of a standing building, this would depend on its nature and the purpose for which the record was intended. Standing building records typically addressed location, form, function, materials, setting, context, phasing, history and significance. They ranged from Level I (a basic visual record) to Level IV (a comprehensive analytical record appropriate for buildings of special importance).

After explaining the principles involved, Paul took the group on a tour of the Temple, which is Grade II listed, commenting on a variety of visual clues to its development. The Temple has a complicated history, both of construction and use. It is possible only the central part, behind the portico, had originally been planned, but two symmetrical wings had been added early, possibly while construction was in progress. It was also possible the entire back of the building had been reconstructed when the plans changed. A small extension to the south had been added subsequently using a similar style and materials, and then a rather larger extension in the 19th century using London stock bricks. Paul pointed out the vertical sequences of cut ‘closer’ bricks, which disclosed the locations of successive end walls, as well as repairs from a bombing raid in 1917, changes to the windows and clues from old paintwork to alterations to the mound at the front. Participants also got access to the cellar space under the porch, which now serves as a plant room and is normally closed.

Following the tour, the group undertook an exercise in describing a single wall of the room they were in. Nobody managed to record all the features they should have done, which included temporary notices! All participants were very enthusiastic about the workshop and found it informative and enjoyable.

The Temple is open on the first full weekend of every month from 10am to 3pm (free entry). Visit wnstd.com/temple

Making a difference

jw2-1John with a fellow volunteer in Walthamstow

There’s a team of dedicated Wanstead folk working on a daily basis to help local rough sleepers and those less fortunate than many of us. Could you help them? Samantha Earl reports

John Wagstaff of Petty Son and Prestwich is one of these dedicated folk who can often be found sorting, organising and distributing various donations to different shelters and food banks. And until recently, John was helping out Wanstead charity worker Frank Charles and T-Space’s Jason Harris every Friday by giving out clothes, sleeping bags and other much-needed items at the Stratford Centre.

Every week, John, Frank and Jason would arrive at the Stratford Centre at 6am – early because those sleeping rough are moved on by security. But out of sight shouldn’t ever be out of mind, so the team arrived with a large estate SUV full to the brim with bags of donations, generously provided by the amazing Wanstead community. Frank brought a huge bag of food to hand out, while John and Jason set up a large table of the clothes.

The team encountered 20 to 40 rough sleepers each week, and one in 10 were female. In the team’s experience, these people were often timid but always grateful, only taking as much as was essential, often commenting that “someone else might need it more.”

Seeing faces light up momentarily when handed a warm hoodie and something to eat drives this team to keep doing what they do. But once fed and briefly warmed up, these people then have to move on as there is nowhere for them to go in Newham, certainly not in Stratford. There are no washing facilities for those whose home is the Stratford Centre, no public toilets and very few shelters that open during the day. It’s a dire, desperate situation, and whilst it was once worse with rows and rows of tents lined up under the flyover (Tent City), which have thankfully now gone, there is still a long way to go.

Frank, John and Jason look out for those who literally have nothing. Frank knows the streets, and his experience and knowledge can point these desperate people towards the very few places available.

As Frank continues with his breakfast trips to Stratford, John has more recently started helping Waltham Forest Feet on the Streets. ”This takes place on Thursday evenings alongside the Christian Kitchen in Mission Grove car park, Walthamstow. We accompany Mags Drummond and her volunteers, who bring coffee and tea, with our large selection of clothes. Mags is extremely active within the homeless community and sees those without a home as an extended family. She is incredibly inspirational,” said John.

And while food and warm clothes go a long way, a little humour, kindness and time goes even further. A handshake, an exchange of names and a friendly chat can leave them with the one thing that could make a difference: hope. Hope that could help them through another week.

For more information, call 020 8989 2091