Who do we think we are?

Flats-and-shops-in-AldersbrookImage courtesy of The Wanstead Image Archive

The Friends of St Gabriel’s has invited local historian Jane Skelding to host an event exploring the history of the Aldersbrook and Lake House estates. Georgina Brewis finds out more. Photo looking across Alexandra Lake, Wanstead Flats (circa 1910) courtesy of The Wanstead Image Archive

How many servants lived on the Aldersbrook or Lake House estates in 1911? What sorts of ‘modern’ jobs were residents doing in 1921? Why were there so many teachers? And what on earth was the Aldersbrook Parliament? These questions, and many more, will be answered at an event entitled Who Do We Think We Are? 

Jane Skelding is an Aldersbrook resident whose long volunteer involvement with heritage organisations, including the East End Women’s Museum, Redbridge Heritage Centre and the National Trust, has now led to a PhD funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in collaboration with the genealogy website FindMyPast. Her research explores language use and marginalised histories in the census. For this event, Jane has been delving into local history, using the 1911 and newly-released 1921 censuses to discover who we were then. 

When were the Aldersbrook and Lake House estates built?
Houses in Aldersbrook were built on farmland on the edge of the former Wanstead House estate between 1899 and 1910. The school, parade of shops (pictured here, circa 1910), children’s home and two churches were developed over the same period, and by the outbreak of the First World War, the estate looked much as it does now. Controls on house design, such as a requirement for brick walls between front gardens, resulted in its unique character. The Lake House estate was developed between 1907 and 1916 with a slightly different feel.

What was the social make-up of Aldersbrook and Lake House?
The estates were mainly populated by a class of better-off tradesmen and business owners working in West Ham, Ilford or as far as the City. By 1921, more residents – both men and women – were clerks, but there was also a notable number of teachers. Reflecting the ‘modern’ world of the 1920s, people were taking jobs in cinema, motoring and even advertising. 

What strikes you about the estates in the 1920s compared with life today?
Many things are surprisingly the same, with the school and churches still the hubs of the community. Although we don’t seem to have the same mania for whist drives as they did in the 1920s, events from birthday parties to live music keep the halls booked up. The most striking change can be seen on the parade of shops, with its smart matching awnings housing a bakery-cafe, butcher, post office, bootmaker and draper. Back then, there was probably little need to travel into Wanstead at all, although the 101 bus was ever-present if you did.

Jane’s talk will also offer some top tips for researching your own house history and will be held at St Gabriel’s Church, designed in 1913 by Charles Spooner, an architect heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement. There will be stalls by local history groups, including the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society, alongside a display of archive materials, self-guided trails exploring architectural features of the church, and refreshments. 

All proceeds from the event (which has been kindly sponsored by The Stow Brothers) will go to the church hall refurbishment fund. Plus, there will be chances to win some great history-related prizes, including two hours of family history research and a subscription to Who Do You Think You Are? magazine.

The event will take place at St Gabriel’s Church, Aldersbrook on 9 November from 6pm (tickets: £5). Visit wnstd.com/weare