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14 January 2020

Tuesday Talk - Walthamstow by Helen Hollick

From 1953-1957, then from 1977-2012, the year of the London Olympics, I lived in Walthamstow, a North-East London suburb. I expect that some of you recall me mentioning it . . .

On January 17th 2013 we (that’s my family) left Walthamstow for the last time and headed for our new home – new life – here in Devon.
I’ve no regrets.

Walthamstow Town Hall (geograph 3019393).jpg
Walthamstow Town Hall,
where I worked for several years
Walthamstow does have its history, its High Street market, its share of famous people and celebs. But it doesn’t have the peace and fresh air of Devon. (Nor the sheep or the owls)

Yep that's a real sheep
walking along the top of
a real Devon Bank
beside a real Devon Lane.
Our lane in fact...
I hated it there – not because Walthamstow was/is a not particularly attractive place but because I hated town life. My soul belongs to the countryside. The one saving grace for Walthamstow was that it bordered Essex and Epping Forest where we kept the horses, where we could walk the dogs and where we could meet Nature up close . We had a nice back garden - but a downstairs maisonette and  unpleasant neighbours.

Our Walthamstow back garden
and Rum -
sadly no longer withus

Recorded in c.1075 as Wilcumstowe (The Place of Welcome) and in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Wilcumestou  the Earl of Essex, Harold Godwineson (later  King Harold II of 1066 fame) would have known the town - village. I suspect it wasn’t as crowded back then. (Population 1871:10,692. 1971: 108,845. Definitely no busy North Circular Road or close by ‘London Car Park’  of the M25! Although I expect the River Lee had its fair share of traffic – including more than a few marauding Vikings!

King John visited Shern Hall, Walthamstow in 1213. No idea why. Couldn’t have been for Walthamstow’s famous greyhound racing track – it didn’t exist back then. (Though he might have been in the area for the hunting in what was, then, the Royal Forest of Epping. Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I also hunted there.) (Oh and that's were highwayman Dick Turpin lived before his famous ride to York. His ghost apparently still haunts the woods.) 

The main Walthamstow road was (still is) Hoe Street, with Forest Road (called Clay Street back then) and High Street – then known as Marsh Street – for obvious reasons. Walthamstow Marshes still exist and are a recreational area for walkers, fishermen and footballers.  Shernhall Street and Wood Street are still there today.

In 1965 Walthamstow was merged with adjoining Chingford, Leyton and Leytonstone to become the London Borough of Waltham Forest. I remember it well. My Dad had been an independent Town Councillor for Chingford. He was due to serve as Town Mayor in 1965 – but didn’t get the chance because of the merger. He was dreadfully disappointed.

Walthamstow postcode is E17 – some of you may recall there was (for a brief while) a fairly good rock band called E17  . . .  one of them lived down my road!

You Tube video of Walthamstow Market
October 2012
Somewhat noisier than here in Devon

The market that is situated along the length of High Street opened in 1885 and has always been  believed to be one mile long (actually its 2/3 of a mile) but it is the longest street market in Europe, so I guess the inaccuracy is permissible.

Central Library
Of interest to readers, the Central Library is located in High Street, and was built with money given by Andrew Carnegie. Further down High Street there used to be the Junior Library – it was demolished some time in the early 60s and a Sainsburys supermarket stands there now.

This little library has a very special importance to me. I lived in Walthamstow from 1953, when I was born, until 1957 when, at the age of four, we moved to Chingford. I clearly remember coming out of the library very excited because I was clutching a book I hadn’t read. It was one of the Little Grey Rabbit books by Alison Uttley. I fell in love with the series, and thus began my relationship with books. 

We moved to Chingford in the summer when it was hot, to a house at the top of a hill. In the distance at the bottom of the road was one of the reservoirs sparkling blue in the sunshine. The water was low because a good bit of the white-coloured edge could be seen. I was four. I was short-sighted. I could see the water and what I thought was a beach beside it. I burst into tears because Mummy and Daddy wouldn't take me down to paddle in the sea.

Little Grey Rabbit Goes to Sea Hardcover

Apparently, Walthamstow is mentioned in a song "Old Siam, Sir" from the 1979 album Back to the Egg by Paul McCartney’s band, Wings. Not a lot of people know that. (No, I didn’t either – thank you Wikipedia!)

Remember the group The Barron Knights? "Long ago, outside a chip shop in Walthamstow" is the first line of a song Ann and Joe, The Cranberries had Waiting In Walthamstow, and Genesis (OK you might not have heard of the others but Genesis? Oh come on!) has a track title Battle of Epping Forest on one of their albums.

And the cover of Blur’s Parklife features Walthamstow Dog Stadium. 

Oh, and the Beatles played at the Granada Cinema/Theatre in Hoe Street. I remember that too! Couldn’t hear much singing though.

There are a few famous residents from the past (do I include myself?) 

Remember me mentioning Walthamstow Marshes? You might have heard of one of the, then, young lads who played football there. A certain David Beckham. (He went to the same Chingford school as me, although I was there quite a few years before him!) 

Walthamstow Marshes
Then there's writer, designer, poet, William Morris. Jazz musician Johnny Dankworth, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, Florence Nightingale’s father, singer Ian Drury, Sir George Edwards who designed Concorde,  footballer (Tottenham Hotspurs) Harry Kane, film director Ken Russell... all went to school or college in Walthamstow. (There’s a much longer list on Wikipedia and yes – I AM listed there – “Helen Hollick, writer, born in Walthamstow 1953” )

So all in all, that’s a potted account of Walthamstow.
Like I said, I don’t miss the place.

Call back Friday
for another
Novel Conversation


  1. Walthamstow was just a little bit off the beaten track from where I then lived in Friern Barnet, but I do remember going to the market. I also went to the Walthamstow Granada (not to see the Beatles - I saw them at Finsbury Park) to see the Rolling Stones and the Ronettes. Little did I realise what was going on backstage!!!.

    1. For the rest of Walthamstow, I don't think you missed much back then - apart from the pie and mash shop in High Street Market, Menzies!

  2. I remember Walthamstow when I live on the other side of Epping Forest in Theydon Bois. One of my Buxton ancestors was involved in the Epping Forest Act of 1878 which stipulated that, "at all times keep Epping Forest unenclosed and unbuilt on as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the people". I was also born in 1953 although destined fro fame on Wikipedia.

    1. I know Theydon Bois (for the benefit of readers pronounce it 'boys') very well. We stabled near there and a favourite aunt still lives there.


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