Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition later this year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the sixth of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show
One notable transformation visitors will see when Redbridge Museum reopens later this year will be in the section we call ‘From Village to Suburb’. This part of the museum looks at the period between the end of the 19th century and the 1930s, when the borough saw a rapid growth in population. The new displays will showcase more objects from our collection, exploring the changes that took place as Wanstead became a suburb.
The railway came to Wanstead in the mid-19th century, with Snaresbrook station opening in 1856. This was a key catalyst for the transformation of the area over the next 80 years. With a direct link into the city, professionals working in London began to move into places like Wanstead and surrounding areas that offered the peace and fresh air of the countryside, with the possibility of a quick and convenient commute to work.
Following the creation of the Wanstead Urban District Council in 1894, local services improved with the building of new roads, sewage pipes and electric street lights. New schools and churches were also established to serve the growing community.
Between the two World Wars, Wanstead experienced rapid growth, which brought further changes. Many people were attracted to the new housing built here in the 1930s, which were fitted with gas, electricity and the latest household appliances. It was at this time construction began on a new Underground station at Wanstead, although this did not open until 1947 due to the onset of war.
Much like today, the people of Wanstead enjoyed a buzzing community life. There was plenty to do, like watching movies at the Wanstead Empire (later Kinema), or visiting Wanstead Park, which had opened in 1881, to take tea, feed the swans and even ice skate on the frozen pond in the winter. Wanstead High Street soon became a popular shopping destination too. In 1939, the High Street was used by local estate agents Cheke & Co to encourage retailers to open hairdressers, butchers and fishmongers on the new ‘shopping parade’.
In 1934, Wanstead merged with Woodford to form a new urban district, which became a municipal borough three years later. By the end of the 1930s, Wanstead had transformed into a fashionable suburb while retaining its quiet village feel – a lasting quirk that continues to attract new residents today.
The new displays at Redbridge Museum will feature a variety of objects from our collection, like the pair of 1930s girls’ ice skates shown in the photo above, to illustrate life in Wanstead as it transformed from village into suburb.