E7: Ere I saw Elba

E7 is Forest Gate, so called because it was literally the location of a gate into Epping Forest. The London Encyclopaedia says “The name Forest Gate, recorded in the West Ham parish registers in the second half of the 17th century, derives from the gate placed across the modern Woodford Road to prevent cattle straying from the lower forest (Wanstead Flats) onto the main Romford road. The gate was taken down in 1883.”

But there was also a hamlet called Upton which is where we start our walk.

We start our walk at Upton Lane Post Office, which is at 187 Upton Lane. And our first stop is almost across the road from the Post Office.

Stop 1: The former Spotted Dog pub

Architectural reference, Pevsner describes this as a “reminder of rural Upton and a surprising survival”.

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It is a 16th century timber framed weatherboarded house, much altered but still atmospheric, despite later additions at the back. Apparently there were pleasure grounds at the back in the 18th century and playing fields in the 19th century, But the gardens are gone replaced by what Pevsner describes as “a hideous early 20th century factory.”

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As Pevsner says: “The road is too busy and any memories of the quiet hamlet long forgotten.”

Wikipedia suggests it has been closed since June 2004, and in 2009, the London Fire Brigade posted a notice stating that it was a dangerous structure. Who knows what the future holds for this building. Hopefully it can be revived as a pub.

By the way Wikipedia suggests this pub may have been a hunting lodge for King Henry VIII  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spotted_Dog,_Forest_Gate

But interestingly Pevsner is silent on the matter.

Walk along Upton Lane as if you had turned left out of the Post Office

Stop 2: West Ham Park

We are now going alongside West Ham Park. The first we learn of this is this sign by a closed gateway.

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West Ham Park is unusual in that it is managed  not by the local authority here but by the City of London Corporation.

The City Corporation has a large nursery here to produce spring and summer bedding plants each year for the park, gardens and churchyards in the City of London and other Corporation Open Spaces. Plants grown here are also used at State occasions and banquets hosted by the City of London Corporation.

And walking on you can peek through the railings where you can see where they grow the bedding plants.

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Soon we reach a gate to get into the Park proper.

 

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The park dates from 1874 and had been the grounds of Ham House, owned by the Gurney family and demolished in 1872. The London Encyclopaedia says that the Gurney family made the park available for £25,000 on condition it remained an open space for the people. Prior to the Gurney’s ownership, the estate had been the property of Dr John Fothergill between 1762 and 1780. He was a Quaker philanthropist and botanist who established a botanical garden here.

It is a well kept park with a variety of areas with different themes.

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It is a very pleasant place for a wander. You can either retrace your steps and go back up Upton Lane now. Or else walk back across the park to Margery Gate.

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Turn right out of Margery Gate and you will soon find yourself back at Upton Lane. Turn left here and follow Upton Lane until just past the Post Office. Our next stop is at the corner of Upton Avenue.

Stop 3: Number 13 Upton Avenue

This apparently is the only surviving example of the many large houses which existed in Upton before the last decades of the 19th Century. Pevsner describes it as “a substantial neo-Jacobean villa known as the Red House”.

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Its present appearance dates from around 1865 when the house was remodelled for the Tuthill family whose crest is shown in armorial glass above the door. I noticed there was also a motto: Vincere Aut Mori” which translates as “Conquer or Die”. Unaccountably I failed to take of photo of this!

It seems this building became the St Antony’s Catholic Club in 1933, so the motto over the door does seems rather out of keeping.

Continue walking along Upton Lane, following it as it bends to the left. Our next stop is almost at the end on the right hand side.

Stop 4: The Hudson Bay pub

This uninspiring looking building is the local Wetherspoons. As so often is the case, Wetherspoons have chosen a name which has some local connection.

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So you may be wondering what connection Forest Gate has with Hudson Bay. According to Wetherspoons’ website:

“The name of this pub recalls Sir John Pelly, the governor of the Hudson Bay Company. Created First Baronet of Upton, by Queen Victoria, in 1840, Sir John was one of the leading landowners in the area during the late 18th and 19th century. The Hudson Bay Company originated in a royal charter, granted by Charles II, in 1670. The new company made great profits from importing, into Britain, furs and skins obtained by barter from North American Indians.”

Not sure the terminology “First Baronet of Upton” can be quite right! And is it not a shame that Wetherspoons is housed in what looks like an industrial shed, when it would have been nice if it could have been in a real pub building like the Spotted Dog or one of the other closed pubs which we shall see shortly.

Go to the end of the street and turn left. Our next stop is just a short distance along the main road on the left..

Stop 5: Two former cinemas

First note this dull looking block you pass at Number 302 Romford Road.

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For almost 30 years this was the site of a cinema. The Queen’s Cinema opened in July 1913 with seats all on a single floor. It was reconstructed in 1928 when a balcony was added. It was renamed the New Queen’s Cinema. Like many cinemas of this period it had facilities to stage variety shows, together with the film programmes.

In October 1929 it was taken over by Associated British Cinemas who continued to operate it as a cinema with stage shows as part of the programme.

On 21 April 1941 the building received a direct hit from a German bomb. This left the building beyond repair, although it seems the organ was salvaged and reinstalled in the Regal cinema, Halifax, Yorkshire.

After the war, the remains of the building were cleared and a retail unit with offices above was built on the site. The retail unit was a supermarket at one point but now seems to be three separate shops.

Go just a little further along Romford Road and soon on your left is another former cinema.

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Although it looks rather sad, it is recognisably an old cinema building – and it is still standing,

According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, it dates from 1937 and had a seating capacity of 1,806 with complete with stage facilities and two dressing rooms. It was hit in the same bombing in April 1941 that did for the nearby Queen’s. But the Odeon was able to reopen later that year. It continued as a cinema until November 1975 when it was converted into a bingo hall.

When that closed, it became semi derelict until the stalls areas were refurbished. A false ceiling erected and it reopened as a snooker club which lasted until 1994.

The building was converted into an Islamic centre in 2001. The new owners removed or covered the art deco detailing – possibly because the Greek god, Pan, was depicted. But you can see where the panels were because they have just been replaced by what looks like chipboard. But there were also some deco features lower down which do not seem to be there now.

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More info about this and other Forest Gate cinemas at: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2013/07/every-picturehouse-tells-story.html#sthash.DooaZglo.dpuf

Go back to the crossroads and our next stop is just over Romford Road and up Woodgrange Road.

However I have to mention the building on the corner as we pass.

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Today this is a weird combination of a Superdrug shop and a restaurant cum banqueting facility. The restaurant is called PalmTree ChumChums.

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Its website says:

“Here at PalmTree ChumChums we offer you the world on a plate. Enjoy exquisite Indian, Chinese, Thai and Continental food in luxurious surroundings.”

And there is a banqueting facility called Dhoom on the first floor.

But this building used to be the Princess Alice pub. The original pub was destroyed by German bombing and this is its 1951 replacement – looks like a little bit of a new town has been dropped on Forest Gate.

Go down Woodgrange Road away from Romford Road. Our next stop is just down a short dead end street on the left.

Stop 6: Number 13 Woodgrange Road

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This dead end street might not look much but once it led the way to a cinema which later became a music venue.

This was opened as the Forest Gate Public Hall in November 1902. By 1907 it was known as the Grand Theatre and in March 1908, it became The People’s Picture Palace. By 1910 it was once again known as The Public Hall, still showing films. In the 1930s it had a chequered history closing for a couple of periods and then reopening. It closed for good as a cinema around the outbreak of the Second World War.

Subsequently the building was used as a roller skating rink, a clothing factory and a music venue (The Upper Cut club, and then the Ace of Clubs) and finally an electrical store, until 2000.

Here is a piece on the brief incarnation as a music venue which hosted some of the biggest names in pop in 1967/68, including the Who and the Small Faces.

http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2013/07/the-upper-cut-club-part-1-rise.html

Another fascinating connection (possibly): Jimi Hendrix is reputed to have written some of his famous song “Purple Haze” here in December 1966.

The building was demolished in 2005 and today a massive brick building stands on the site.

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This is a ventilation shaft for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link which runs in tunnel for most of the first part of its route from St Pancras to Dagenham. There is a little tell tale sign relating to the purpose of this site.

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CTRL of course stands for Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Return to Woodgrange Road and turn left. Our next stop is soon on the left.

Stop 7: Forest Gate railway station

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The station was opened in 1840 by the Eastern Counties Railway, later to become the Great Eastern Railway.

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It is currently served by stopping services from Liverpool Street to Shenfield, but as you can see it is going to part of Crossrail (now rechristened the Elizabeth Line, though they have not changed the signage). From 2019, you will be able to get direct trains to central London as well as beyond to Reading and Heathrow Airport.

This line was originally electrified in the late 1940s and there was some modest upgrading of the stations then. You can still see a little bit of the 1940s style tiling on the outside of the stairways.

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On the street outside the station there are a couple of unusual features. There is this strange round kiosk.

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And just north of the station of a traffic island is this unusual clock

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We are at what TfL call an “out of station” interchange – that is a place where there are two stations on different lines sufficiently close to each other to be considered an interchange. That is why there is a sign telling you that it is 320 metres to Wanstead Park station

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Continue walking along Woodgrange Road. Our next stop is on the right hand side of the road just before the railway bridge.

Stop 8: Former Eagle and Child pub

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Today this building is Woodgrange Pharmacy but it was built as a pub – the Eagle and Child. Pevsner says that a pub was recorded here in 1744 but this building dates from around 1896.

There are some jolly figures on the facade which are the only reminders of the buildings former use. Pevsner describes them as “Merrie England” subjects and suggests these dates from the 1920s when “Brewer’s Tudor” was in vogue.

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Not quite sure why these images of “Merrie England” are relevant to Eagle and Child. And a shame that this building has not survived as a pub either.

Our next stop is straight ahead.

Stop 9: Wanstead Park station

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Now this really should not be called Wanstead Park because it is nowhere near Wanstead Park. In fact confusingly the nearest green space is actually Wanstead Flats.

It is on the so-called GOBLIN – Gospel Oak to Barking line. Until TfL took over a few years back this was a bit forgotten. But now the stations have been spruced up, although most like here at Wanstead park, they have been denuded of their original buildings.

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In fact this was so neglected that it is only now getting electrified. But for now we have the unusual spectacle of little 2 car diesel trains in TfL Overground livery.

Now here is a curious thing. On the bridge is a sign showing the way to Forest Gate station. It says Forest Gate station is 275 metres.

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Strange that the sign at Forest Gate pointing the other way said 320 metres.

Go under the railway bridge and our next stop is the turning on the left at the traffic lights.

Stop 10: Dames Road and the Dame closes

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Dames Road is named after the Dames family who were local landowners.

And soon on the right are a couple of street named after two local dames. Clearly someone was having a bit of a joke when they named these streets.

First comes Dame Vera Lynn.

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A not very big or inspiring street!

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Next up is Dame Anna Neagle.

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Her street is a bit bigger (but not much!)

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We heard about Dame Vera in E6 with which she is more closely connected.

Star of stage and screen, Dame Anna Neagle (1904 – 1986) on the other hand was born in Forest Gate. At birth she was called Florence Marjorie Robertson – Neagle was her mother’s maiden name. Again not surprising she took a stage name – Florrie Robertson does not have the same ring for an aspiring actress, and maybe a little too close to the name of a near contemporary, Flora Robson.

Anna Neagle was a successful movie star in the 1930s and 1940s.  Almost all of her films were produced and directed by Herbert Wilcox, whom she married in 1943. After her film career waned in the 1950s she carried on in the theatre, mostly notably starring in the west end musical, Charlie Girl.

Go down Dame Anna Neagle Close. It becomes Brownlow Road. Ahead at the end is our next stop.

Stop 11: Wanstead Flats

Here we have the green open space known as Wanstead Flats. There is a sign with a City of London crest.

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But on closer inspection the sign does not say Wanstead Flats as I expected.

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It says: “Welcome to Epping Forest”. I guess this kind of reinforces the idea of this area being Forest Gate. And of course as we heard in E4, the City of London looks after Epping Forest.

Close by the corner is a Victorian water fountain.

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This has a dedication to Joseph Fry (1809 – 1896). He was one of the sons of prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780 – 1845). Her maiden name was Gurney, the family who would later sell some of their land to become West Ham Park.

She married Joseph Fry in 1800 and they lived locally in Plashet House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829 when they moved to Upton Lane in Forest Gate (not sure if that was the house whose grounds subsequently became West Ham Park)

Now retrace your steps to Dames Road and turn right. Our next stop is just at the next corner on the right.

Stop 12: Uncle Tom’s Garage

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The reason we are stopping here is because actor Idris Elba worked at Uncle Tom’s garage as a youngster (although he spent most of his youth growing up in Canning Town).

He revisited the garage in November 2013, on a trip back to his roots. More about Dames Road including Idris Elba’s visit can be found here. – See more at: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2016/04/the-street-where-you-live-4-dames-road.html#sthash.30IThClO.dpuf

But when I hear the name Idris Elba I always think of the phrase: “Able was I ere I saw Elba”. This is what is known as a palindrome – a phrase whose letters read the same both forwards and backwards.

This one has been attributed to the famous French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who was once exiled to the island of Elba. I always thought it odd that a Frenchman would have come up with such a neat English phrase and there is a fascinating article on the site Quote Investigation which explores the origin of this phrase.

http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/09/15/saw-elba/

So that brings us to the end of our E7 walk. you can return down Dames Road and Woodgrange Road to get to the stations for onward travel. But there is a little detour you can make to see one more thing of interest in E7.

It is in Katherine Road, and probably easiest if you get a 325 bus which runs along Upton Lane and then Romford Road. Take this in the direction of East Beckton and get off at Derby Road.

Postscript

Here in the middle of a mainly residential area is the old factory of Trebor Mints

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It all started in 1907 when four young men set up an enterprise to make sweets in Forest Gate from sugar bought from Henry Tate in nearby Canning Town.

It has often been said that Trebor stands for Robert backwards, after one of the founders, Robert Robertson. The company seems to have been quite happy to perpetuate this myth, But actually Trebor was named after the location of the premises they moved into. This was Trebor Terrace, named after the row’s builder, one Robert Cooper. So perhaps it is this Robert rather than Robert Robertson where the name originally came from.

Sweet production moved away in the early 1980s and today the building is apartments.

More detail on the Trebor story can be found at: http://www.e7-nowandthen.org/2014/04/the-trebor-story-forest-gates-sweet.html

Well that does bring us to the end of E7. We saw some glimpses of the lost world of a country hamlet and heard about some of the people who lived hereabouts before the area was swallowed up by London, plus some of the entertainment places that were here and finally a sweet connection.

For onward travel, probably best to get the 325 bus either on to East Ham or back to Forest Gate.

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6 thoughts on “E7: Ere I saw Elba

  1. I only came online for a quick look for up to date info on the Spotted Dog, and I found this site! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the information, that’s been added in a way that’s so easy to read and draws you in – almost as though we’re peaking round a corner to view what’s coming next! I’ve lived in West Ham (as was) all my life, and you’ve still come up with some snippets I didn’t know! Thank you so much!

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