History and enthusiasm

image001David Williams in the churchyard of St Anne’s Church in Soho, alongside a plaque for his namesake, the founder of The Royal Literary Fund

In the first of two articles by former local resident David Williams, the journalist-turned-tour guide and lecturer explains why he often returns to the area to give talks to local groups.

Whether I am talking to a genealogy group or local history enthusiasts, I know that at some stage there will be a discussion with someone who wants to tell me how far back they have traced their ancestors. The common factor here is their enthusiasm. I suppose we have to thank the TV programme Who Do You Think You Are? for encouraging family history research and I can only imagine how long people spend trawling through census forms, parochial documents, workhouse records and the Old Bailey online.

Without access to the mass of information available now on the internet we would all face hours travelling to libraries large and small, trying to decipher the handwriting of someone in the 19th century who was making notes and taking down details of what we all hope will lead us to that distant relative who finished up in Newgate Prison or made – and subsequently lost – a fortune.

I was chatting with an old school friend the other day and he was anxious to tell me more about his East End roots and, in particular, his Huguenot ancestry. But I had to remind him that although finding out more about the life and the world of his three times great-grandfather was a triumph of his tenacious research, he was unaware of the social background of his discovery. What was the story behind the census return or the death certificate? What did he know about working and living conditions of that period?

I am not a genealogist but my interest in social and oral history has intrigued me for the past 15 years. Trying to find something to occupy my time after retiring from a career in print journalism and the film and television industry, it soon became obvious that concentrating on reducing my golf handicap was not the solution. That was when a casual search on the City of London Corporation website revealed an item which seemed worth investigating. They were inviting applications from people who were prepared to consider becoming tour guides and lecturers.

I applied, was interviewed and offered a place on the year-long course. In 2005 I proudly received my badge and certification in the Egyptian Room of the Mansion House. It was the start of a late, late career as a historian – and leading walks and giving talks about the City of London. Since that day, this ex-Churchfields Primary School boy – who fluffed his educational opportunities in the 1950s – has never improved his golf handicap but can certainly appreciate the value of further education.

David will be giving a talk for the Woodford Historical Society about 19th-century London at Trinity High School, Woodford Green on 18 November from 7.45pm (visitors: £3; call 020 8504 6552).The talk will be repeated for the East of London Family History Society at Wanstead Library on 22 January from 7.30pm (visitors: £1.50; call 020 8554 8414).

High Art

Blue-irises-and-willow-pattern©Sally Medcalf

Sally Medcalf thanks her Wanstead High School art teachers for inspiring her creativity, which will be on show during the 10th Art Trail Wanstead next month

I was born and grew up in Wanstead, and was lucky to attend Wanstead High School, which has a fantastic art department. We had some great teachers – Phil Tootell, Don Campbell and Dave Hall – who were a big influence on me and gave me so much encouragement. They were very enthusiastic and inspired me to develop my art, experiment and push boundaries.

I did my foundation course at Sir John Cass School of Art, studied graphics and illustration at East Ham College of Technology, then worked in a graphic design studio. More recently, I have been attending a class at Wanstead House, which has given me a fresh perspective and has inspired me to challenge myself and experiment with different media and new ways of working to develop a more personal style. I will be showing some of my new work at Wanstead House as part of our group show.

Wanstead was a great place to grow up. I loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time in Wanstead Park and by the River Roding, which gave me an appreciation of nature. I seek to capture a sense of place. I love the landscapes of Essex, Suffolk and the North Norfolk coast, and I like to paint places that give a sense of peace and tranquillity, almost dream-like, in which time seems to stand still. I work in watercolour on board and I like the subtle colours of nature. I also like urban street scenes and like to paint and take photographs in Whitechapel and Spitalfields.

My biggest influence is Impressionist art, and contemporary artists I admire include John Tookey, Roger Dellar, Jan Munro and Mike Bernard. My work has been shown at The Association of Illustrators’ gallery, Leytonstone Arts Festival and Changing Room gallery, among others. And this year, I will be exhibiting at The Larder for Art Trail Wanstead.

To view more of Sally’s work, visit Art Trail Wanstead will take place from 7 to 22 September. Visit

Eco-friendly trail

Screenshot 2019-07-22 12.08.18

The popular Wanstead Fringe Jumble Trail returns next month and this year it will be doing its modest part to help protect our planet. Mark Herring reports

As usual, the Fringe will unleash a full and varied programme of theatre, comedy, music and art on the people of Wanstead, with new venues and plenty of old favourites.

That includes the one and only Wanstead Jumble Trail, which offers a brilliant opportunity to clear out your wardrobe and free up some space in the toy cupboard – assuming you dare to open it.

The trail also provides a great excuse to get out there and meet your neighbours, steal ideas for your garden or just have a wander around the area. Who knows who you might meet – or what you might find? And this year, the trail aims to be more eco-friendly than ever.

Without wanting to sound too right on, man, there’s a real sense of environmental awareness in the community. This year’s Wanstead Fringe hopes to reflect that by bringing a greater purpose to the jumble trail, a purpose even greater than following the kids around as they hunt for plastic toys to fill the space you’ve made by getting rid of their old ones. Yes, the trail encourages everyone to reuse household items and keep them in use for longer. This year, however, it will also introduce new opportunities to repair and recycle too.

An expert team of seamstresses will have their needles at the ready to treat split seams, care for wonky buttons and reinvigorate worn elbow patches – if you’re sure you really want to wear elbow patches. If there are any Cubs, Scouts, Brownies or Guides in your household, you may also be interested in their badge sewing-on amnesty. Life doesn’t get much more Wanstead than that!

The Fringe is going green in other ways too. Look out for the plant clinic hosted by the Wanstead Community Gardeners. They will answer any questions you have about your indoor or outdoor plants and also hold a succulent planting workshop for under-10s. As you probably know, botanists consider the succulent a kind of cactus, while those who grow the plant as a hobby often disagree. If you’re not quite sure which side of the debate you’re on, why not take home a succulent of your own? Simply turn up with a household item to be recycled and a (non-) cactus-style plant is yours for the asking.

You’ll find this year’s main Fringe central hub behind the Corner House on Wanstead High Street, where you’ll be able to pick up a jumble trail map. You will also find a variety of jumble stalls.

If that’s not enough, a fully qualified bike doctor will be on hand (and knee) to help you out with any repairs. What more fitting way to follow the trail?

The Wanstead Fringe Jumble Trail will take place on 14 September from 12 noon to 4pm. For more information and to register to take part, visit

WWII memories


To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, the East of London Family History Society is inviting its members to share their wartime memories. Janet Seward reports

In August, the Newham and Redbridge branch of the East of London Family History Society will hold a members’ evening, but guests are still welcome. These evenings are an opportunity for members to share family stories or the trials and tribulations of detecting their ancestors.

We don’t usually have a theme to these evenings, but as September brings the 80th anniversary of the start of the World War II, we have decided to devote the session to memories of that time. So far, we have three confirmed speakers. Michael Potter and I will co-ordinate the evening.

One of the first significant events of the war for many was the evacuation of civilians, especially children, from areas most likely to be bombed. Most of us have family experiences of evacuation either first-hand or passed down to us. My parents and their brothers and sisters were evacuated, but a combination of home sickness and the Phoney War saw them return to London by Christmas 1939. There were, however, two heart-warming exceptions. My mother’s youngest sister and brother, aged four and six, were evacuated with a 10-year-old sister. The elder sister was given strict instructions by my grandmother that “the little ones” had to stay together, which she achieved. The two small children were placed in the loving care of a middle-aged couple who managed a smallholding in Uxbridge. The little ones kept in touch with ‘Mum and Dad 2’, as they called their evacuee parents, and still meet their grandson, who they knew as a baby as he was born while they were evacuated.          

Michael will start the event with an introduction and some first-hand memories of his wartime childhood and evacuation.

Dennis Galvin will then give a talk on his memories of being evacuated from London. Dennis summarises his experience by saying: “It all started appropriately enough with Land of Hope and Glory, Pomp and Circumstance (all men must be free) and Rose of England, and then with no buckets and spades or ice cream cornets, we seemed to go for our first-ever holiday to a very beautiful part of England.”

The advent of war meant men were called up to fight, and former soldiers and sailors, many veterans from the First World War, were required to train the new recruits. Many ex-servicemen had joined the police force when they retired from the military and, of course, the police was full of fit young men who were needed for active military service. The result was police numbers suffered just at the time a resilient full strength force was required.  David Swinden will give us a short talk on the Metropolitan Police during the war. It will include how the force managed their activities by recruiting 27,000 auxiliary police officers.

The East of London Family History Society will meet at Wanstead Library on 28 August from 7.30pm (visitors: £1.50). For more information, call 020 8554 8414

Trouble above


London City Airport’s Master Plan, released on 28 June, proposes to double the number of flights each year. Steve Wilks looks at the effects of the new proposals on Wanstead and its environs

With an increasingly global and networked world, travelling in our jobs is becoming more commonplace. At London City Airport, in the last five years, its passenger numbers have grown by 40%, hitting 4.8 million in 2018. It expects demand to rise to 11 million by 2035, but its current capacity is limited to 6.5 million passengers, according to the London Borough of Newham.

London City CEO Robert Sinclair has stated the airport does not plan to build a new runway, extend the length of it or expand beyond its current site boundary. The airport wants to emphasise that it will focus on sustainability while expanding and using fuel-efficient aircraft and making its grounds operations carbon neutral.

The airport has tabled a Draft Master Plan 2020–2035 – it proposes to double the number of flights from 75k to 151k by 2035. It is also looking to relax a restriction that sees it close between 1pm on Saturdays and 12.30pm on Sundays, as well as an eight-hour overnight curfew and greater flexibility in its operations in the first and last 30 minutes of weekdays, meaning more early morning and late evening flights. A feedback form has been released for public comment until 20 September.

With this in mind, the plans are likely to face some opposition from environmental groups and neighbouring residents in the outer boroughs. John Stewart, chair of campaign group Hacan East, has warned that “flight numbers could almost double from today’s total.” Local communities will be concerned about the huge increase in the number of planes proposed and in the early hours of the morning and late at night when many people find aircraft most intrusive. Even the safeguards the airport will put in place to reduce noise will have only a marginal effect by 2035. There are also the increased environmental effects – a 2010 MIT study suggests you are more likely to die from exposure to toxic sulphur dioxide pollutants from plane exhausts than in a plane crash.

There is also very limited consultation by the airport – no consultation events are being held in some of the most heavily overflown boroughs, like Redbridge. This risks ignoring a significant proportion of residents who will be most affected by the proposals and this does not bode well for transparency in its dealings with key stakeholders.

While we have to accept the commercial realities of business, and the fact people need to travel, it is essential trips are only made if they are necessary. Technology now allows us to have conference calls online, thus enabling people from different locations around the world to connect. This surely must be cheaper for companies to invest in and less disruptive to employees and their lifestyles.

A public meeting on the proposed changes will take place at Buxton School, Cann Hall Road on 30 July from 7.30pm.

To take part in the consultation, visit or call 020 3858 9911


Prickly pals

aaaaaheog© Rachel Nellist

Ahead of a family learning workshop about hedgehogs at Wanstead Library this month, Anna MacLaughlin, a nature conservation ranger for Vision RCL, explains how you can help these spiny mammals.

The humble hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) is one of our most beloved mammals, but sadly, we’re seeing worrying declines across the nation.

Evidence shows that over the past 15 years populations have declined by nearly a third in the suburbs and cities and by over half in the countryside, with estimates suggesting there are less than one million hedgehogs left in the UK. Whilst hedgehogs are legally protected from trapping or intentional harm, the legislation does not directly deal with the key drivers of decline.

Hedgehogs face a multitude of threats across both urban and rural landscapes. They are faring poorly in the countryside due to an increasing loss of hedgerows and high levels of pesticide use in the agricultural landscape, reducing the invertebrate prey available for them to feed on. Likewise, our towns and cities present a range of challenges to hedgehogs; impermeable boundaries that restrict their movement, over-management of green spaces and gardens, entanglement in litter, fencing and netting and the increased density of road networks. It’s currently estimated that every year between 167,000 and 335,000 hedgehogs are killed on UK roads.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom! Despite making up only 6% of our land, urban landscapes are proving increasingly important for wildlife. Recent analyses from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species suggest that declines of hedgehogs in urban areas may be slowing down thanks to the concerted efforts of communities. Sympathetic green space management by local authorities, businesses, schools, cemeteries and individuals mean metropolitan environments are acting as a refuge, boosting hedgehog populations.

Many threats to hedgehogs can be reduced through simple changes. Hedgehogs travel two to three kilometres per night, so need to move freely through a well-connected mosaic of habitats. You can help link areas by creating small ground-level boundary holes in fencing or walls, to allow them to find food, mates and safe areas to nest. Avoid chemicals where possible; pesticides often impact non-target species. Hedgehogs are the natural predator of many invertebrates, particularly slugs and snails, so encouraging them will actually assist with removing critters from your garden. Hedgehogs use different nests for daytime resting, breeding and hibernation, all of which are vulnerable to the human urge of ‘tidying-up’ our outdoor spaces. Let some areas grow wild, with a mixture of bramble patches, long grass, leaf piles and dead wood, and check an area over thoroughly before strimming, mowing or lighting bonfires.

Remember, what’s good for hedgehogs will have the knock-on effect of being beneficial for much of our other wildlife too.

The Hoggy Habits workshop will take place at Wanstead Library on 31 July from 11am to 12.30pm (free; booking required). Call 020 8708 7400

Colour experiment

IMG_0385©James Knight

James Knight has been experimenting with colour and abstract paintings since his childhood, experiments which have helped prepare him to take part in the 10th Art Trail Wanstead this September.

My early years were spent in Shoreditch, and I always had an interest in drawing, painting and colour. My family were printers and worked with colour and form. I remember helping my mother spread ink onto a letterpress printing plate during my childhood. The form of the spread ink was one of my earlier experiments with colour.

When I entered secondary school, my two main influences were art teachers Mr Wesley and Mr Swindon. Mr Swindon was a great portrait and caricature artist, whilst Mr Wesley was wonderful with colour and pattern. Both encouraged me to feel free artistically and to experiment.

Upon leaving school, I worked for Panoramic Pictures taking photos of entire schools. Anybody who has had their school photograph taken will know the school is formed into a half-circle, with a camera in the middle on a swivel tripod. The great sport was for boys to have their photo taken at one end and then run round the back of the half circle and have their photograph taken at the other end, appearing in the same photograph twice.

From there, I continued to paint for my own pleasure in between a variety of jobs, which involved interior planning, photography and carpet and fabric design. All of which enabled me to indulge my love of colour. I also worked with the renowned interior designer Jon Bannenberg, who was a master of interiors and colour. He would join ceilings with walls using pattern to make a room flow and create abstract form by stippling feature walls.

The time open to me for painting dwindled as work got in the way, but I was always considering various ideas for when I had the time to put paint to canvas. I have always been more interested in abstract and surrealist art. I greatly admire Edward Burra and Salvador Dali. Burra, in particular, for his interpretation of the human form and Dali for his surrealist approach to the living world that surrounds us. Although, I think every artist must be admired for the amount of thought and work that goes into creating a painting.

Art Trail Wanstead will take place from 7 to 22 September. For more information, visit

Consultation launched on extension plans for WA and WB parking zones

Screenshot 2019-06-26 13.47.10

Redbridge Council is consulting residents over the possible extension of the WA and WB permit parking zones.

“Parking in some residential roads in Wanstead is becoming increasingly difficult as a result of commuter parking and displacement from adjacent controlled areas. A number of requests, together with signed petitions, have been submitted… asking for us to work with local residents to develop suitable solutions,” said a spokesperson. The consultation closes on 19 July.



Would you like to be part of the 10th Art Trail Wanstead? Answers on a postcard

IMG_20180907_135458Eugene Coyle with postcards from last year’s exhibition

Wanstead residents and those from further afield are invited to take part in this year’s Art Trail Wanstead postcard exhibition.

“After the success of last year’s show, I am running the postcard art exhibition again, celebrating the trail’s 10th anniversary. There was such a fantastic mix of entries last year (around 150 cards) and we managed to sell many for charity. This year, I am issuing a call out to submit your entries based on the theme of ‘time’,” said exhibition organiser Eugene Coyle. Entries received before the 31 August deadline will be displayed at The Stow Brothers or Wanstead Library, and all forms of postcard-sized art are welcome, from paintings to poems, photos, textiles and collage.

Submissions can be left in the art trail letterbox at The Stow Brothers or posted to 117A High Street, Wanstead, E11 2RL.