scan0081The Fir Trees Pub, Hermon Hill, circa 1930s (now the Ark Fish Restaurant)

The latest novel by Peter Chegwidden is a tale of love and tragedy which draws on memories of growing up in Wanstead and South Woodford in the 1950s and 1960s. Here, the author shares some of those memories

Ah, memories. And childhood memories, often the best. I was born in Wanstead in 1949, living in Chestnut Drive before moving in infancy to Malford Grove in South Woodford. I started my education at Churchfields (Mr Williams was the Head) and after a day’s schooling, there was nothing better than a visit to Downey’s for sweets on the way home!

Dad made us a wooden toboggan for use when the Hollow Ponds were frozen and the land covered by snow – our sledge went much faster than the bought ones. Us means me and my beloved sister Kathleen, who later attended Gowan Lea. Both sister and school are now sadly long gone. 

Ah, memories. The cows from the nearby forest wandering up Malford Grove to graze uninvited in our front garden! Going shopping with Mum at the Home and Colonial Stores near South Woodford station. Hearing the eerie sound of the air-raid siren being tested at Gates Corner every morning. The council thinking it was a good idea to give Malford Grove pink concrete verges. Aargh! Standing on Pulteney Road bridge, watching the trains go by, occasionally seeing a shunting engine working in the coal yards there. Mum and Dad taking us to the Plaza cinema on George Lane to see a comedy film. Dad taking us to the green in front of The Drive to throw sticks at the trees in the hope of bringing some conkers down. Mum taking us on the 101 from Wanstead, past the park and across the Flats to feed the swans near the City of London Cemetery. Or letting us play on the swings in the park surrounding Christ Church. Even to a small child, it gave a village feel to Wanstead. 

Dear memories. For his business, Dad had several lock-up garages at De Gruchy’s (I think it was) on New Wanstead, a large complex I found fascinating. There was my first girlfriend, Nola, who took my illustrated love letters to school where the teacher held them up for the class to see. Blush. We were both 10. It didn’t last. Later, I went to school in Loughton, often travelling on the Green Line 720 coaches. 

Cherished memories. For worship Sunday morning, it was communion wine at Holy Trinity on Hermon Hill, then over the road to the Fir Trees for beer! The then vicar, Father Angwin, joined us there once. And I was now out of my teens. But there had been a ‘guiding star’ for my future in my childhood.

Near Snaresbrook Station was a road sign to ‘Maidstone A20’ (no doubt via the Woolwich ferry), and at 23, that was where I moved when my firm relocated. And I’ve been in Kent ever since. But my memories of Wanstead and South Woodford have never left.

Peter’s novel, The Valour of the Heart, is available from Amazon (Kindle: £2.99; paperback: £6.99). Visit


Stag search


Wren Wildlife Group member Sybil Ritten needs help surveying Wanstead’s stag beetle population this summer

Would a walk on a balmy summer’s evening in our local area appeal to anyone? It appears that Bushwood, Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park have never had a survey for stag beetles (Lucanus cervus), despite there being areas which are suitable habitats for their breeding and despite them being found both within these areas and on the surrounding streets.

So, I am planning to do a transect survey this summer in Bushwood and wondered if anyone else would be interested in doing the same in this or an adjoining area, including Wanstead, Aldersbrook or Leytonstone.

Stag beetles are part of the Saproxylic group of beetles, so are found in areas where there is a supply of dead and decaying wood. After around six years as larvae, they pupate and emerge as adults to find mates from late May to early August. The males searching for females tend to migrate to surfaces of warmth, hence often being found on pavements and roads.

Briefly, the transect survey will entail choosing a 500-metre patch where you walk and record what you see six times during June and July at sunset. If possible, you should walk from west to east and it needs to be above 12ºC, with little or no wind, and dry. There seems to be a dearth of surveys within woodland and wilder green spaces, but if it is more convenient, a transect on streets or a local park is also acceptable. The time, date, temperature, humidity and wind speed are recorded and the amount of live and dead wood habitat is estimated for each walk. If you are lucky enough to come across any stag beetles (alive or dead), you can take a photograph to confirm your identification. The adult male is distinctive (pictured here), but the female bears a resemblance to the lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus), which has a wider distribution but is matt black as opposed to a shinier, dark conker-brown colour.

Your survey can then be uploaded to the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species (PTES), or if preferred, you can return forms to me so I may scan and upload them. It will be easier to retrieve the data as a group if we submit the collective data to one account, and I am willing to take on this role. The data is ultimately fed into the National Biodiversity Network and the European Stag Beetle Research Group. I hope to also encourage people to report any isolated findings through the PTES website. 

Apart from the PTES website, you may also find Maria Fremlin’s articles and papers a great resource. She has been studying the beetles for 20 years. Currently, she is looking at egg development in the stag beetle female, so would value it if anyone finds a dead female to dissect (open the abdominal sternites and take a photograph). Alternatively, if you can get them to me quickly, I am happy to perform the task!

To contact Sybil for more information, email

For more information on the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species, visit

To read Maria Fremlin’s articles, visit


Rolling back the Years

20230403_130012Club members in 1964

Ann Holmes reflects on 100 years of lawn bowling at Wanstead Bowling Club, and invites residents to have a go at this historic sport at this month’s open day event

What have the Romans ever done for us? Anyone who has watched Monty Python’s Life of Brian may recall the list. But we also have them to thank for refining the Egyptian practice of rolling stone balls towards targets into the modern game of bowls. It was adapted across Europe, spreading through the British Empire and The Commonwealth and is hugely popular in Australia.

Indeed, it was so beloved that a succession of laws was passed restricting play from the 13th century onwards. Far too much time was being taken away from archery practice, a skill integral to success in battles. The game was exclusively thereafter only played by royalty and the upper classes until Queen Victoria relaxed restrictions in 1845.

The invention of the lawnmower by Edwin Beard Budding in 1830 enabled the greens to be brought to a much higher standard and opened up the sport to the masses. The famous cricketer WG Grace founded the English Bowling Association in 1903 and went on to represent England in the first six Home International Series. 

Our club started out as an offshoot of Wanstead Cricket Club. In 1912, veterans of the ‘willow’, looking for a less strenuous sport, started playing bowls on the eastern side of the cricket ground. As the game became more popular, Wanstead Sports Ground Ltd arranged for a good Cumberland turf green to be laid in front of the golf clubhouse. A new club was born and formally opened on 30 June 1923.

For many years, the dress code was very formal. These days, women no longer have to play in skirts, nor men in long-sleeved collared shirts and ties. Many clubs now have patterned tops and play with a myriad of coloured bowls rather than just black. 

Club members in 2023

Our ethos is to be inclusive. We have members of all ages, with different physical challenges, and some no longer able to play competitively, who are just happy to have a friendly ‘roll up’ or sit and watch. We go on lovely day trips to play other clubs and have a busy social calendar, with quizzes, race nights, bingo and murder mystery evenings. 

Our special centenary open day is on 14 May, from 12 noon to 4pm, where there will be a plant stall, cream teas, ladies playing in vintage dress and much more. You can have a go, if you want, with fun events on the green. An added bonus is that we are in the unique and privileged position of being within the beautiful surroundings of Wanstead Golf Club – a little oasis in the East End!

Wanstead Bowling Club is located within Wanstead Golf Club on Overton Drive. For more information, visit


Fence offence

Acr2932146978304-2994710Some of the Wren members helping to erect the skylark enclosure

With the skylark protective fencing on Wanstead Flats being vandalised, Wren Wildlife Group members Bob Vaughan and James Heal are keen to educate the community on the need for this temporary measure

At certain points in history, Wanstead Flats has been at risk of enclosure and being developed. We should be forever grateful for the committed local citizens of East London and Essex who resisted those moves.

Wanstead Flats has, however, been enclosed and utilised a number of times, albeit on a temporary basis: a prisoner of war camp in World War II, a police muster station during the 2012 Olympics and a temporary mortuary (that was thankfully not really used) during the pandemic. Another enclosure of sorts is the temporary fencing put up around sections of the broom fields on Wanstead Flats where our local skylarks breed. Nobody wants to see Wanstead Flats enclosed, but, as with all things in life, there are times for compromise, and it seems to me that temporarily not being able to walk or take dogs into a relatively small section of grassland to give our ground-nesting birds the best chance of survival seems like a price worth paying. 

Skylarks can be heard singing on Wanstead Flats every spring, the closest colony to central London. However, this small brown bird is now a red-list species of conservation concern.

Over the years, the Wren Wildlife and Conservation Group have been monitoring the numbers of singing male skylarks on Wanstead Flats and have noticed a rapid decline from double figures in 2010 to just three or four in the last few years. As it is a ground-nesting bird, the skylark is prone to disturbance, and with the increase in footfall on the Flats, we are concerned that skylarks might soon be lost as a breeding species locally. A further complication is that skylarks will not nest near tree cover; they prefer open spaces.

So, in 2021, the City of London agreed to put up fencing during the breeding season (March to August) over a couple of small areas in the middle of the Flats. This experiment has worked well and, although it is difficult to be precise, with no breeding recorded in 2020, it is believed at least one pair bred successfully in the last two years.

However, this year, someone has been cutting down the fence. We are not sure why this is happening. We want everyone to support this initiative, which is now being adopted elsewhere to ensure the skylark’s song will remain a delight throughout the UK. The Wren Group has been involved in helping the community – especially dog walkers – understand the need for this temporary fencing. The public has been very supportive and appreciative of the lovely lilting song as they walk through the Flats on the main paths. Unfortunately, a small number of individuals seem keen to break the rules and ruin things for the majority.

Community. Neighbourliness. Dialogue. Understanding. Progress. These all seem like pertinent words at the moment.

For more information on the Wren Wildlife Group, visit


Showtime in Wanstead Park: open-air theatre returns this summer

DSC_1786©City of London Corporation/ Yvette Woodhouse

Four open-air evening performances will take place in Wanstead Park this summer.

Award-winning theatre company Illyria will begin the season on 30 May with Robin Hood, followed by performances of Twelfth Night (29 June) and Pride and Prejudice (28 July).

All-male theatre group The Lord Chamberlain’s Men will conclude the programme with a production of Romeo and Juliet on 27 August.

All shows take place in the Temple enclosure from 7pm, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own seating and a picnic.



Mid-April warm spell brings bluebells – and visitors – to Wanstead Park


Wanstead Park’s bluebells have emerged and should remain on show into early May.

“The warmer weather in mid-April encouraged the bluebells to open, and the sunshine brought out their sweet scent. The main show will be at the end of April, hopefully with the flowers on display into May. The park has been very busy with visitors taking photos and children cycling and balancing on the logs. Happily, we’ve seen no sign of destructive trampling so far. The new signage seems to have helped a lot,” said Gill James of the Wren Wildlife Group.


Out of the blue

IMG_5451© Ruth Perry, © Katherine Poluck and © Yvette Rawson

Visit the bluebells in Wanstead Park this month, then enjoy them in art form at St Gabriel’s Church, says Art Group Wanstead founder Donna Mizzi

The bluebell wood in Wanstead Park attracts more publicity and draws in a greater number of visitors with each passing year. But this month, you will be able to enjoy the local English bluebells more than ever before. 

A Bluebell and Spring art display and event is being organised by Art Group Wanstead to celebrate the annual appearance of these enchanting flowers. And it will be held at St Gabriel’s Church on Park Road, Aldersbrook, just a short walk away from Wanstead Park’s bluebell wood, giving the opportunity to combine both attractions.

A wide range of art – including painting, drawing, photography, collage, mixed media and mosaic – will be on show from local artists (professional and amateur). Work by young artists from Make Me An Art Star art club and Wanstead Park Preschool group will also be displayed. The event is being supported by The Stow Brothers estate agents.

The event runs from Monday 17 April until Sunday 23 April. The biggest day will be Saturday 22 April, when there will also be fascinating workshops and art demos for adults and children, stalls, a bead shop, teas and scrumptious cakes. There will be no admission charges, but donations for St Gabriel’s Tin in a Bin will be greatly welcomed – either in the form of tinned food or cash contributions for the food bank.

On all open days, there will also be an art and craft Give, Take ’n’ Donate table with the money going to the food bank. This is your opportunity to spring clean your art cupboards. Good quality art and craft items of all sorts will be appreciated by visitors and artists, including art books, paper, picture frames and materials for adults and children.

Art Group Wanstead plans to have some refreshments available each day for local residents and walkers who want to pop in to enjoy the art. Perhaps it will encourage visitors to start some bluebell artwork of their own. 

It is estimated that the UK has up to half of the world’s total bluebell population. But don’t confuse our delicate, drooping bluebells with the Spanish version, which grows upright with flowers all around the stem. The hybrid, a mix of the British and Spanish, may gradually threaten the native bluebells’ existence. In our part of the UK, the most intense bluebell blooming time tends to be from mid-April up to early May. But keep your eye on local reports.

When viewing the flowers in the park, always stick to the log-lined paths: it can take years for crushed bluebells to regenerate in a trampled spot. A few minutes of thoughtless behaviour could easily impact this stunning wildflower spectacle.

Bluebell and Spring event times at St Gabriel’s Church, Park Road, E12 5HH:

Monday 17 April: 12 noon–3pm
Tuesday 18 April: 12 noon–3pm
Wednesday 19 April: show closed
Thursday 20 April: 2.30pm–4.30pm
Friday 21 April: 12 noon–3pm
Saturday 22 April: 11am–4pm
Sunday 23 April: 11.15am–1.30pm

For more information on Art Group Wanstead, visit


Park life

P2054714©Diane Dalli

In the third of a series of articles featuring the images of local photographers who document the wildlife of Wanstead Park and the surrounding area, Diane Dalli presents her shot of a female ring-necked parakeet

I have been visiting Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats to photograph the wildlife there for the past three years. It is a haven for a variety of birds and there is always something to spot, from birds of prey like little owls and kestrels to smaller species like stonechats and white throats.

The swifts and swallows that arrive in late spring are challenging to photograph and I will be attempting to get a sharp picture of them flying this year. They fly at up to 70mph, so they live up to their name!

Skylarks have been given their own territory on the Flats, fenced off to prevent disturbance during the nesting season, and can often be seen soaring over the flats, singing sweetly. Another challenging photo opportunity.

And then there is the large flock of ring-necked parakeets, which are present all year round and are very active, squawking as they fly by. The female parakeet pictured here was with her mate, checking out the hole in the tree as a possible nesting spot, so I will be returning later in the year to see if I can see any fledglings. While this colourful bird is named the ring-necked parakeet, only the males develop the telltale ring.

In the summer months, I also enjoy photographing the many varieties of colourful butterflies in Wanstead, some quite rare, like the green hairstreak and the clouded yellow. 

There are many different habitats around here, including several lakes and ponds with a large variety of waterbirds. Dragonflies can also be seen, skimming across the water on a hot summer’s day. The ponds suffered last summer in the drought but are now looking ready to support this year’s breeding pairs of swans, egrets, ducks and grebes.

Wanstead Park is a peaceful place to spend a few hours away from city life and I will keep coming back with my camera.

To view more of Diane’s wildlife photos, visit


Fencing returns to Wanstead Flats amidst concern over local skylarks

IMG_4962©Mary Holden

Temporary fencing returned to Wanstead Flats last month to protect ground-nesting skylarks during the breeding season (April to August).

“The skylark is now on the Red List for species of conservation concern. We have been monitoring the numbers of singing males on the Flats and have noticed a rapid decline from double figures in 2010 to just three or four in the last few years. With increased footfall on the Flats, we are concerned skylarks may soon be lost as a breeding species locally,” said a Wren Wildlife Group spokesperson.


Stick to the paths and help protect Wanstead Park’s rare bluebells

SR3_7606©Stefan Rousseau

Visitors are being asked not to pick or trample on Epping Forest’s native English bluebells, including those growing in Chalet Wood in Wanstead Park.

“The past few years have been hugely damaging to our rare bluebell population. Sadly, a growing number of visitors seem to care more about getting a social media moment than the lasting damage they leave behind,” said Ben Murphy, Chairman of the Epping Forest and Commons Committee.

Bluebells serve an important purpose in the park’s ecosystem, feeding bees and other early pollinators. Even when not visible above ground, the bulbs can be damaged by heavy footfall, and when the plants are trampled on, it can take them four to seven years to re-establish and grow again.

“To avoid us having to close off areas of Epping Forest, we hope by explaining why these sites are so important, alongside new pathways and signage, visitors will work with us to protect these wonderful bluebells for years to come.”


Take part in the Wanstead Community Coronation Festival


A Wanstead Community Coronation Festival will take place on Christ Church Green on 7 May in aid of the Mayor of Redbridge Appeal and supporting Tin in a Bin.

“This will be a fabulous opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the King’s Coronation. There will be music, entertainment, fairground rides, stalls, food and refreshments,” said Suzi Harnett, who is helping to organise the event. Volunteers, performers and stallholders are invited to take part.

If you would like to have a stall at this event,
Melissa: or call 07714 947 210 

If you would like to perform or get involved and volunteer on the day,
contact Suzi: or call 07917 670 664


Stand up, Speak up


Stand-up comedian Stephen Catling will be performing in Wanstead this April as part of the Laugh-Able Comedy Night to mark Autism Awareness Month. He believes people with autism need to speak up 

I am autistic and came from the North to live in London in 2016. I have been a comedian performing regularly on the London and general UK circuit since 2017. I am known for being an alternative act, who uses clowning and inventiveness on stage on the mainstream circuit. I’ve achieved several accolades including at the Stand-up for Cider comedy competition (finalist, 2023) and from both the South Coast Comedy Awards and the Student Comedy Awards (semi-finalist, 2022).

My earliest pathway into comedy was through watching Monty Python in high school, where friends and I wrote our own Pythonesque parodies of biblical stories, such as Noah’s Tardis. But I didn’t start performing solo until I joined the Lancaster University Comedy Institute during my studies in biomedical science and psychology. There I discovered a particular aptitude for surrealism. When I started performing in London, I began to hone my craft by incorporating other forms of comedy, such as clowning. I am now taking my solo show Beehavioural Problems: Something Something Autism to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I will be headlining the award-winning Laugh-Able Comedy Night at Wanstead Library this month, where the wonderful Mark Nicholas (promoter, comic, host and fellow autistic) has curated a line-up of comedians with autism spectrum disorder as part of Autism Awareness Month. Mark has hosted many amazing comedians at Laugh-Able over the years, some being very established on the scene, such Joe Wells, Andrew O’Neil and even Rosie Jones. While the commonality of the comedians is having a disability or being neurodivergent, the comics who perform are quite an eclectic mix.

How has autism made my life harder? As a child, I was bullied a lot for being weird and sensitive, but even as an adult I have found many employers (or would-be employers) make mistakes, usually out of blatant ignorance, but the result is the same and many have caused a great deal of harm (even when they’ve tried to do right). One research company did send a particularly problematic manager on an autism training course, but this was an exception in my career.

Many people get information about autism from inaccurate stereotypes in the media. Even today, Rain Man is people’s go-to idea of autism, but Dustin Hoffman’s character in the 1988 film had savant syndrome, which is very specific and very rare. And there are also issues with characters like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, who perpetuate the common stereotypes. So, my advice for other autistic people is to speak up and tell people more about our condition. The more diverse they see it, the less they treat us with misunderstanding and ignorance.

Stephen will perform at Wanstead Library on 5 April from 7.30pm (tickets: £3). Visit