Sweet history

truffles-246-48 High Street, Wanstead

When Darrell Toakley resurrected the name of ‘Truffles’ to add to his travel agency in the High Street – which now sells chocolates as well as holidays – he asked Dr Colin Runeckles to look into the building’s history

Wanstead residents will remember the demolition and reconstruction of the building that comprises 46-48 High Street a decade ago (The Closet and Truffles). The original building can be seen on the tithe map of 1841, where the index shows the owner to be Thomas Barker but the occupant as Miss Ann Slater.

We can be certain about who ran the shop and what trade they were in between 1900 and 1955 from Kelly’s Directories – successively watchmaker, china and glass dealer (1900), watchmaker (1903–12), plumber (1914–15) and finally, tailor (1923–1955 and possibly later). Edward Perry had the shop the longest, from 1923 to at least 1955, although a different tailor is listed in the 1939 register – a sign Perry served in the forces during World War Two perhaps?

The contextual position of the shops is important in understanding them. Before the expansion of the High Street further towards Snaresbrook from the 1860s onwards, the village was concentrated around the area from The George with the 18th-century manor houses to the north and across the road towards Woodbine Place. Numbers 46-48 High Street had an alleyway on either side leading to Woodbine Place – the one on the south side next to 48 was Slater’s Alley, the one to the north next to 46 was Dark Alley. Slater’s Alley disappeared with the building of flats that make up 50 High Street.

But what was at the rear of these shops was, if anything, more interesting than the shops themselves. Going by an 1860s Ordnance Survey map, there were originally 12 small cottages behind the shops in a terrace that went to Woodbine Place. Census returns of the 1800s record some being in Slater’s Alley (the ones closest to the High Street shops), while the remainder are in Dark Alley – although this is sometimes Long Alley or Brooks Alley. From this difference in location, I’m left wondering whether some had their front doors facing one way towards the south and Slater’s Alley, and others to the north and Dark Alley. Over a period of time, the numbers of cottages behind the shops gradually reduced down to five in Slater’s Alley in the 1950s. There was a sixth, but this was opposite the long terrace on the south side of Slater’s Alley.

The people who lived in these were, like those in Wanstead’s cottages, mainly labourers, gardeners, stockmen, carpenters – in short, the working-class men and women of Wanstead. But look in the tithe index of 1841 at those living in the cottages nearest Woodbine Place and you’ll find not occupants’ names but instead “Paupers etc”, probably in receipt of relief under English Poor Laws.

I don’t know when the cottages in Slater’s Alley were finally demolished. Do any readers remember them being there?

Truffles Travel Trinkets By Darrell James is located at 46 High Street, Wanstead.
Follow Colin on Twitter @ColinRuneckles