E18 is Woodford – or more accurately South Woodford, because Woodford itself is actually in an IG postcode. It is quite a small postcode and one which seems completely devoid of blue plaques, though there is one famous connection with a non-blue plaque.
I am grateful to fellow guide and local resident Debbie for giving me the low down on South Woodford, which was great as I found precious little to go on.
I was also stumped as to what to call this walk until I found out that the motto of the former Wanstead and Woodford Urban District Council was “Consilio et Animo”. That translates as “By wisdom and courage”. With that in mind, let us venture into E18.
We start our walk at the Post Office at Number 139 George Lane. Go down Glebelands Avenue which is almost opposite the Post Office. At the end, cross over the High Road and into Bressey Grove.
At the junction of Byron Avenue, you will see an alley to the right. Go down there but just before you do look down Byron Avenue.
Debbie assures me that on a clear day you can see Canary Wharf! Sadly I did not see it when I was there.
Go down the alley way and ahead you will see a bridge with a sign saying Willow Path.
This is to lull you into a false sense of being in a bucolic country scene, when it fact you are about to cross over 10 lanes of roaring traffic.
This is the North Circular Road with the slip roads going up to Waterworks Corner.
Once over the bridge, turn right and go along Grove Road.
Stop 1: Church End Estate
The roads just here all have a connection.
Going north – south, we have: Peel Road; Walpole Road; Carnarvon Road; Stanley Road; Malmesbury Road and Buckingham Road.
And east – west, we have: Chelmsford Road and Derby Road
This is like that part of the Only Connect quiz where you have to make the connection between seemingly random clues. We have some prime ministers (Peel, Walpole, Derby); we have some earls (Derby, Malmesbury, Carnarvon) and we have some places (Carnarvon, Malmesbury, Buckingham, Chelmsford, Derby). But none of these link all the names.
Debbie gave me a clue when she said they were all 19th century cabinet Ministers. So I did a little research and as far as I can establish the only time these men (and they are all men) were in the Cabinet at the same time was between June 1866 and March 1867, as follows:
Earl of Derby (PM); Lord Chelmsford (Lord Chancellor); Duke of Buckingham (Lord President); Earl of Malmesbury (Lord Privy Seal); Spencer Walpole (Home Secretary); Earl of Carnarvon (SoS for the Colonies); Lord Stanley (Foreign Secretary) and General Jonathan Peel (SoS for War).
Note the Walpole and the Peel, are not the famous ones – Sir Robert Walpole who was Prime Minister in the 18th century or Sir Robert Peel who was Prime Minister in the 1830s and 1840s.
It is surprising that the estate agents haven’t christened the area something like “The Ministers” or the “Cabinet estate”. But interestingly this area does seem to have a name which is hinted at on a number of benches which are placed along Grove Road. Here you can sit and hear the drone of the North Circular Road.
Debbie uncovered an article on the internet which indicates that the A.C.E. in A.C.E. Residents Association stands for Action on Church End because this area is known as the Church End estate.
The article dating from 11 April 2013 suggests that the ACE Residents Association has folded up.
Go along Grove Road and turn left into Buckingham Road.
One other thing I noticed was that unusually for a London postcode area, the street signs do not include the postcode. Most look like this.
But I did find one that admitted we were in an E postcode area.
Looking closely I this may have been added unofficially. Perhaps the powers that be wanted to pretend this area was in Essex like Woodford just up the road (but like South Woodford, Woodford is also in the London Borough of Redbridge).
At the end of Buckingham Road turn right and go to the end where you will turn right again. this is the High Road and our next stop is almost immediately on the right.
Stop 2: Parish Church Memorial Hall
This quite nice building has the date 1902 on the front.
And there is a sweet little foundation stone to the left of the door.
But perhaps the most interesting thing is mentioned on another plaque at the front. This says that “William Morris lived at Woodford Hall 1840 – 1847. The House demolished in 1900 stood to the rear of this site.”. This seems to be the nearest South Woodford gets to having a blue plaque.
The artist, designer and social activist, William Morris lived here from age 6 until he was 13 or so. The family moved to a smaller house after his father died in 1847. That is the house in E17 which now the William Morris Gallery.
Our next stop is right next door.
Stop 3: St Mary’s Church
This is an odd looking church.
It looks very unlike a Church of England parish church, more like a non conformist place of worship.
Architectural guru, Pevsner says the entrance dates from 1888 but was rebuilt after a fire in 1969, But what is even odder is that this entrance is at the east end of the building.
The church itself is a strange mix of ancient and modern.
But there is an interesting tower at the western end, which Pevsner describes as “a sturdy brick tower, 1708, with broad corner buttresses rising to stumpy polygonal pinnacles. (these and the parapet rebuilt 1899).”
Behind the church to the right is a marble column which was put up in memory of a man called Peter Godfrey who died in 1769.
And by the wall is a grand tomb, the Raikes Mausoleum, first used from the burial of Martha Raikes who died in 1797.
Now Pevsner suggests that Sir John Soane came here in 1800 and sketched this tomb. He later used a similar shape for his own family mausoleum in St Pancras’ Old Churchyard. And this in turn was said to be the inspiration for Giles Gilbert Scott’s design for the iconic red telephone box of the 1930s.
Returning to the front have a look at the rather prominent tomb on the green.
This turns out to be the tomb of none other than William Morris’ parents – William and Emma.
Walk along the High Road crossing over. Our next stop is just outside the modern library.
Stop 4: Some odd artwork
Here we have a seat with lots of little panels with snippets of the history of Woodford.
One of the panels explains that “This bench has been created to celebrate the history of Woodford with photographs … London Borough of Redbridge commissioned artist Tim Ward of Circling the Square to design this bench which was installed in 2012.
It is a nice idea but I do not think it really works. If you sit on it, you have to twist around to see anything. It is particularly hard to see many of the pictures, especially the ones inside the ring of the seat. So whilst it looks nice enough what was the point of going to all this trouble of researching and reproducing all these pictures when no one is likely to appreciate them..
Stop 5: Elmhurst
Keep walking along the High Road and our next stop is soon on the left. It is one of several 18th mansions which have survived along the High Road.
It was converted to be a hostel for Queen Mary College in 1926 and subsequently the land behind was developed for student accommodation. This has since been redeveloped as we shall see, but the house remains, as a commercial building with a branch of the pizza chain Prezzo tucks in at the right hand end.
Now look ahead and over the road for our next stop.
Stop 6: Some more odd artwork
According to Redbridge Council’s website: http://www2.redbridge.gov.uk/cms/leisure_and_libraries/leisure_and_culture/arts_culture_theatre/arts_events_and_activities/public_art/south_woodford_public_art.aspx#sthash.6VHPwW0O.dpuf
“Lucien Simon was commissioned to produce three sculptures for the bridge over the A406 in South Woodford which were installed in February 2012. The programme also included benches and decorative paving by artist Tim Ward and the addition of new planters with silver birch trees.
The three sculptures were designed to bring a contemporary take on the natural world into a predominantly urban landscape and to reflect the historical context of South Woodford as a rural and semi-wooded area and the proximity of Epping Forest, a still magnificent area of ancient woodland and London’s largest open space.
The structures are just over 7 metres high, and fabricated from stainless steel with leaf shapes laser cut into the fabric and lighting within the columns and at a stacked glass section between the column and the leaves at the top of the sculpture. The columns are of a sinuous, natural shape to emphasise the organic inspiration behind the installation. Local school students worked with the artist to come up with the leaf shapes so that there was strong community involvement in the project.
The project was funded by Telford homes as a condition for the nearby Queen Mary’s Gate development, meaning that the money could only be spent on public art and related works within the area.”
I guess the circular bench we saw earlier was also part of this commission
It is an attempt to brighten up an otherwise dull street scene. But really who is going to linger here given you are sitting atop 10 lanes of roaring traffic. (By the way the Queen Mary’s gate development is the one you can see from the bridge looking back towards Elmhurst. This is the redevelopment of the site used by Queen Mary College)
You will see as you pass over the bridge, there is a Waitrose supermarket to the left. go down here.
Stop 7: Waitrose, South Woodford
Now if you look to the right end of the supermarket you will see there is an old building, on to which the new supermarket appears to have been grafted.
This is Grove Lodge, an 1835 gothic style villa. Pevsner comments: “It deserves a better setting”. Maybe but at least it is still here, serving in part as Waitrose’s cafe.
Continue along the High Road. our next stop is at the corner of George Lane on your left.
Stop 8: Electric Parade
This parade of shops dates from 1925 and when built must have been a very visible indicator of the creeping urbanisation here. Debbie says the name denoted the arrival of electricity to the area.
Our next stop is on the opposite corner of George Lane.
Stop 9: The George
This rather lovely pub is probably early 18th century in origin with some later additions. The name therefore makes sense as this was the time of the Hanoverian kings who were called George.
It is in fact slightly overshadowed by our next stop which is just next door.
Stop 10: Odeon Cinema
This working cinema opened as the Majestic Theatre in November 1934. According to the wonderful Cinema Treasures site, it was the last to be built of a small independent chain of five Majestic Theatres built in the outer London suburbs and the South East of England.
The opening was presided over by Winston Churchill who at that time was the local Member of Parliament.
The Majestic Theatre was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in August 1935. It became the ABC and was later split into three cinemas. In 1986 it was renamed Cannon and later Odeon. Further screens have been added so it now has seven.
It is nice to see an old cinema still in use. But the outside is looking a little sad and I doubt there is much of the 1930s interior left inside.
You will see a little alley just beyond the Odeon. Go down this and it will take you to our next stop.
Stop 11: Sainsbury’s South Woodford
This is a none too special supermarket today.
But it was actually built on the site of South Woodford’s other cinema. the Plaza. According to the Cinema Treasures site, the first cinema in this site was called the South Woodford Cinema in 1913 with a seating capacity for 601. It was closed in 1934, to be enlarged and modified in an Art Deco style. It reopened as the 1,600 seat Plaza Cinema in September 1934. In other words just before the Majestic opened.
It always seems to have been independently owned and operated. It finally closed in May 1977. The building was demolished and a Sainsburys supermarket was built on the site.
But they did at least put some reminders of old South Woodford here on some panels, including one about the Plaza.
Interesting the dates on the sign (opening 1932 and closing 1978) are different from the usually reliable Cinema Treasures site.
But really Sainsbury’s. Did you have to put the trolley shelter in front of these panels. Typical insensitivity of a major retail chain.
There is some other interesting stuff about the locality including a mention of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst, even she was mainly connected with Woodford proper. (She is also mentioned on the bench on the bridge).
If you keep going down the side of the supermarket you will end up on George Lane. turn right and this will take you to South Woodford station
Stop 12: South Woodford Station
There has been a station here since 1856.
And originally there was a level crossing by the station. This was replaced by an overbridge a little up the track when the line was rebuilt to become part of the Central Line in the late 1940s.
But today the buildings of the station are later. There is an 1880s building on the London bound platform and the ticket hall building on the Epping bound side dates from 1910. There are some further additions from the late 1940s. It looks like the canopies over the platforms were extended at this period.
On the far side of the tracks is an odd survival of a sign on the wall of a building
This is for the Railway Coffee House, no doubt this was meant to tempt people away from the Railway Bell pub over the road. Sadly today there is no sign of the Coffee Tavern on the road side of this building now – not even a modern day Coffee shop.
And finally there is one little quirk to the station and that is its name.
It has “George Lane” in brackets after South Woodford. As far as I can determine there was only ever one station at South Woodford so there was no chance of confusion. The name change actually happened in 1937 before the Underground took over, but the full name was taken forward when the Central Line was opened.
But why? The Central Line eastern extension had a station at Bethnal Green where there was a nearby station of the same name but no attempt to differentiate the two. Indeed for many years there were two quite separate station with the name Shepherds Bush, one of which was on the Central Line. So it really is a mystery why it was felt necessary to have George Lane in the station name here.
Well that brings us to the end of our E18 walk. Thanks to Debbie for showing me round and helping to ferret out some interesting stuff about this relatively quiet edge of East London.