Walks past Wanstead

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Russell Kenny and Paul Hayes have devised a series of self-guided history walks around the Wanstead area which can be followed on a smartphone or from a printable guide. In the fourth of a series of articles championing these tours through time, we look at the history to be found on the edges of Wanstead Flats

Most of the buildings around the edges of Wanstead Flats date from the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. The rapid development in this era followed the coming of the railways. Forest Gate Station opened in 1840, Leytonstone Station in 1856 and Manor Park Station in 1873.  

The Georgian Manor House, which still stands in Manor Park, was built around 1810.  The Eastern Counties Railway bought land near the house for their planned new line to Norwich in 1837. The house was sold and later used as an Industrial School to train boys in practical skills. It is now divided into flats.

Manor Park Cemetery was opened in 1875 and has some interesting Victorian graves.  Some notable people buried there are Annie Chapman, the second of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Mary Orchard, the nanny of some of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren, including Alexandra who married Tsar Nicholas and was executed along with her family in the Russian revolution, and William Thomas Ecclestone who, when he died in 1905, was thought to be the second-heaviest man in the world. Two young heroes are buried there too. John Clinton was a 10-year-old-boy who in 1894 saved another boy from drowning in the Thames, but was then himself drowned. Jack Cornwell was buried here in 1916, aged 16, and was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery at the Battle of Jutland during World War One.

On the corner of the Flats nearest Forest Gate is an area that at the turn of the 20th century was a centre of local social life. The Monkey Parade for courting couples to promenade, a bandstand (since demolished), and the Angell Pond, named after the engineer who built it, are here. Further around the Flats in 1908, the Model Yacht Pond (now the Jubilee Pond) was built. This part of the Flats has a history of hosting circuses and fairgrounds, and before that, horse fairs.

After passing the sites of two World War Two prisoner of war camps, we reach the iconic John Walsh and Fred Wigg tower blocks, which look out over the Harrow Road Playing Fields. In Davies Lane, past the school attended by Jonathan Ross, we get to the Pastures, once a home for “Fallen Girls” and those “rescued from persons or houses of ill-fame”. It was founded in 1876 and run by Miss Agnes Cotton, a social reformer and philanthropist. Born locally into the wealthy philanthropic Cotton family, Miss Cotton was known as Sister Agnes because she often wore a veil and dressed in black.

At the top of Leytonstone High Road there are more interesting historical houses. Leytonstone House, now next to Tesco, was built around 1800 and was originally the home of Sir Edward North Buxton and his family. He was a partner in the London brewers Truman, Hanbury & Company, based in Brick Lane. In 1868, the house and its grounds became another Industrial School, set up to teach practical skills to boys who were orphaned or destitute, to enable them to make a living. It went on to become a children’s home, a hospital and is now offices.

Other interesting buildings in the area are the 19th-century cottages of Leytonstone Village, and further down the High Road, near The Birds pub, a row of beautiful, Grade II-listed Georgian Houses. Built in the mid-18th century, and originally surrounded by fields, they are now tucked away behind a row of shops and hemmed in by the Victorian houses that sprang up with the coming of the railways.

To view or print the walking guides and maps, visit wnstd.com/walkspast