HERITAGE - 16: A Walk In The Woods, 2. Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats

Wanstead - some of the park's seasonal features

A front view of the grotto, the folly by the lake - this featured in a later scene in the film 'The Big Sleep' with Robert Mitchum, James Stewart,  Eadward Fox, Sarah Miles etc
A front view of the grotto, the folly by the lake - this featured in a later scene in the film 'The Big Sleep' with Robert Mitchum, James Stewart, Eadward Fox, Sarah Miles etc | Source
Late in the year, 2015, the leaves on most trees in the park have only just turned. The late afternoon sun has caught this young tree in its rays as it sinks to the tree line on the south side of the Heronry Pond
Late in the year, 2015, the leaves on most trees in the park have only just turned. The late afternoon sun has caught this young tree in its rays as it sinks to the tree line on the south side of the Heronry Pond | Source

Wanstead Park is a Grade II Listed municipal park that covers around 140 acres (57 hectares).

The site at the southern edge of the London Borough of Redbridge is bordered on its northern side by the A12, on the east by the River Roding and the A406 North Circular road. To the south and west are the Aldersbrook Estate and Wanstead Golf Club's greens.

The park was a deer park owned by the Wanstead House estate, bought in 1880 by the City of London Corporation administered as part of Epping Forest. We need to look at the area's history to understand its present status.

Early Days

A Roman site, believed to have been a villa, was excavated on the land in 1985 and again in 2007, pointing to development between the 1st to 5th Centuries. [An article on the 2007 dig appeared in the LONDON ARCHAEOLOGIST the same year - Vol 11, No.9 see www.londonarchaeologist.org.uk].

The name 'Wanstead' is Saxon and suggests a continuity of settlement. The English Place-names Society accepts the name as being derived from 'wen', a hill or mound, and 'stead', or settlement. It could also derive from the Saxon god Wotan ('Wanstead', equiv. Anglian 'Woden' and Norse 'Odin').

In Christian Saxon days the abbot Aelfric granted the manor of Wanstead to the monks of the West Mynster abbey. This cannot be substantiated due to lack of documentary evidence.

Domesday - Demesde - of 1086 tells that Wanstead Manor was held from the Bishop of London by Ralph, son of the Breton Brian/Breon. The area around Wanstead was thickly wooded at this time, within the bounds of the Forest of Essex (originally Earl Harold's, then his younger brother Earl Leofwin's land), part of the bailiwick of Becontree, latterly of the Leyton Walk.


Around and about the beaten track... scenes by the Perch Pond

Close by the path that divides the Perch Pond from the seemingly impenetrable 'jungle' below. There is a track that joins this path with the next one at a lower level to the east
Close by the path that divides the Perch Pond from the seemingly impenetrable 'jungle' below. There is a track that joins this path with the next one at a lower level to the east | Source
Autumn's with us, most vegetation by the Perch Pond dies back, everything's in abeyance until the sap rises again in four month's time. Some growth thrives whatever time of the year, however
Autumn's with us, most vegetation by the Perch Pond dies back, everything's in abeyance until the sap rises again in four month's time. Some growth thrives whatever time of the year, however | Source
Pea soup? Close to the track that divides the Perch Pond from the Heronry Pond are a pair of islets occupied by water fowl, separated by channels and overgrown enough to pass for the Everglades - I expect to see alligators, but so far none have shown
Pea soup? Close to the track that divides the Perch Pond from the Heronry Pond are a pair of islets occupied by water fowl, separated by channels and overgrown enough to pass for the Everglades - I expect to see alligators, but so far none have shown | Source
Here's channel between the islets. Who knows what's at the bottom of it, I wouldn't want to try it out.
Here's channel between the islets. Who knows what's at the bottom of it, I wouldn't want to try it out. | Source
The side that faces the main pond is clear enough but for scum at its easternmost end near the riding stables
The side that faces the main pond is clear enough but for scum at its easternmost end near the riding stables | Source

The park and where to find it

SE England - the darker green of Epping Forest Area, Wanstead Park is within the pink area to the north-east of the London conurbation
SE England - the darker green of Epping Forest Area, Wanstead Park is within the pink area to the north-east of the London conurbation
Until the mid-1800s part of the Tylney estate's lands, Wanstead Park lies between the Aldersbrook housing estate and Wanstead Golf Club's extensive greens that reach towards the A406 North Circular road.
Until the mid-1800s part of the Tylney estate's lands, Wanstead Park lies between the Aldersbrook housing estate and Wanstead Golf Club's extensive greens that reach towards the A406 North Circular road.
Heron Gate (what there is now), leading into the park from Wanstead Park Avenue, at the other end of which is Wanstead Flats, the southernmost extremity of the historic Forest of Essex, latterly Epping Forest
Heron Gate (what there is now), leading into the park from Wanstead Park Avenue, at the other end of which is Wanstead Flats, the southernmost extremity of the historic Forest of Essex, latterly Epping Forest | Source
The refreshment kiosk - between the  Heronry Pond and the Perch Pond was built in a style similar to the nearby 'Temple' to replace the old snack bar in the dilapidated boathouse.
The refreshment kiosk - between the Heronry Pond and the Perch Pond was built in a style similar to the nearby 'Temple' to replace the old snack bar in the dilapidated boathouse. | Source
The 'Temple', now a listed building that houses an information and exhibition centre  was designed as a feature for the formal  gardens. Classical and modern music concerts are also held here
The 'Temple', now a listed building that houses an information and exhibition centre was designed as a feature for the formal gardens. Classical and modern music concerts are also held here | Source
Autumn is well and truly in the air at around four in this Sunday afternoon shot. A conversation takes place on the lakeside bench ahead
Autumn is well and truly in the air at around four in this Sunday afternoon shot. A conversation takes place on the lakeside bench ahead | Source

Tudor era

Until the 14th Century the manor house remained insignificant, hardly different from those around the area. By 1499 it had been acquired by Henry VII and was by now big enough for use as a hunting lodge. The site became his country retreat, within easy reach of Greenwich Palace.

Henry, Duke of York - later King Henry VIII - lived here for a time. Lord Richard Rich, High Chancellor of England was keeper of the park in 1543; his son Robert sold the lordship of the manor to Robert Dudley, fated 1st Earl of Leicester, who bought the local manor of Stonhall at nearby Ilford around the same time. Successive owners kept the manor of Wanstead together with Stonhall.


Stuart - Georgian

In 1619 Sir Henry Mildmay held the manor but forfeited it to the crown, having fought for Parliament. In 1673 or 1674 the manor was sold yet again, this time to Josiah Child, made 1st Baronet Child of Wanstead in 1678, by this time Governor of the East India Company. His successor Sir Richard commissioned Scots' architect Colen Campbell to design a great mansion in the grand Palladian style. When built it occupied an area of 260 feet by 70 feet (79 X 70 metres). The facade was completed with a portico of six Corinthian columns, the earliest in England. The grounds were landscaped and planted with formal avenues of trees by George London, a leading garden designer of the era.

Child was made 1st Viscount Castlemaine in 1718, the house finished four years later. A succession of marriages raised the family through the Tylney and Long families. On the death of the 7th Baronet Tylney-Long the estate passed to his twelve-month old heir, Sir James Tylney-Long, who died aged 11 in 1805. The estate passed to his eldest sister Catherine Tylney-Long, the richest heiress in England.

A couple of shots of the bluebell wood...

One view looking across the wood from west to east and...
One view looking across the wood from west to east and... | Source
from near the Temple green looking north-west
from near the Temple green looking north-west | Source

Regency folly

Catherine Tylney-Long made the spectacular error of wedding William Pole-Wellesley, nephew of the Duke of Wellington.

William was a 'rake', a gambler and spendthrift who, although becoming an MP in 1812 developed a taste for the extravagant. He single-handedly ruined his wife's estate. To get away from his creditors he took the office of Usher to George IV, which made him immune from arrest for debt. He then fled abroad.

In June 1822 the trustees of the settlement auctioned off the contents to pay off the debts on the settled estate, protecting the son's future inheritance. In 1825, without a buyer for Wanstead House it was demolished by order of the trustees and the sale of building materials offset against the debt. The profits from selling the materials amounted to £16,000 - against the £360,000 paid for building just over a century before.

A copy of the Auction Brochure for the sale of the contents can be seen in the 'Temple', the architectural feature near the site of the house now a visitor centre.

The Auction was held on Monday, 10th June, 1822 for thirty-one days, the sale conducted by a Mr Robins each day from 11am (Saturdays and Sundays excepted). The contents were available for inspection from Wednesday, 22nd May until the auction period.

Catherine died in 1825 shortly after the demolition of Wanstead House . Sir Josiah Child's heritage was further destroyed by Pole-Wellesley in selling off much the timber from the estate, the vistas and avenues. The rake died in humble lodgings in 1845 after continuing his Parliamentary career.

What was left of the estate was kept in trust by his son William for Pole-Wellesley's cousin Henry Wellesley, 1st Earl Cowley, who sold 184 acres (0.74 km 2)of Wanstead Park to the Corporation of London to be kept as part of Epping Forest. The land was opened to the public as a park in 1882. The earl's family sold more land to Wanstead Sports Grounds Ltd in 1920.

The Palladian mansion stood 275 yards east of the ornamental lake known as 'The Basin' near the golf course club house, a remnant of the 18th Century stable yard. The cricket ground is on what would have been the front lawn, the nearby St Mary's church its private chapel. The entrance to the Overton estate was where Blake Hall Road (A1008) passes the western end of Overton Drive. A pair of capped pillars with Sir Richard Child's cipher visible)

Come on, let's take a look around - to the vista

Another view of that grotto, this time from the front with more of the willow herb that flourishes on ruins and waste ground
Another view of that grotto, this time from the front with more of the willow herb that flourishes on ruins and waste ground | Source
This is the grotto seen along the lakeside from near the vista
This is the grotto seen along the lakeside from near the vista | Source
Looking along one side of the vista from the lake to where Child's Palladian mansion would have stood in early Georgian times
Looking along one side of the vista from the lake to where Child's Palladian mansion would have stood in early Georgian times | Source
Interesting pine tree, leaning over the lake - anybody know the genus?
Interesting pine tree, leaning over the lake - anybody know the genus? | Source
Josiah Child's Wanstead house as completed, 1722 - a few minor alterations were made to the original design by Colen Campbell
Josiah Child's Wanstead house as completed, 1722 - a few minor alterations were made to the original design by Colen Campbell | Source
A Hogarth painting of an assembly at Wanstead House in the mid-18th Century, the immediate family is spread across the forefront of historical figures
A Hogarth painting of an assembly at Wanstead House in the mid-18th Century, the immediate family is spread across the forefront of historical figures | Source

Pevsner's guide to Britain's architectural gems takes you to the east side of London, England, including Josiah Child's ill-fated Wanstead Park House. Nothing remains of the house, although the folly still stands as a museum - staffed by Friends of Wanstead Park volunteers - to chart the history of the estate from Saxon times. The cover picture on the book is of Child's family chapel on Overton Drive, Wanstead. Stable buildings to the east of the chapel belong to Wanstead Golf Club along with much of the estate to the south of Overton Drive. A housing estate occupies the land between here and the A12 (Colchester road) as far as the Redbridge roundabout.

Take a wander through the woods

A narrow bridge over a deep drainage channel that takes the overflow from the Perch Pond to the great lake to the east of here through what has become a jungle
A narrow bridge over a deep drainage channel that takes the overflow from the Perch Pond to the great lake to the east of here through what has become a jungle | Source
with a bit of physical dexterity I managed to get down from the bridge side to the 'jungle' for this shot of interesting graffiti - did they hang upside down from the parapet?
with a bit of physical dexterity I managed to get down from the bridge side to the 'jungle' for this shot of interesting graffiti - did they hang upside down from the parapet? | Source
A rich green growth has spread around much of the Perch Pond - seen here. Whether it will survive a cold snap remains to be seen
A rich green growth has spread around much of the Perch Pond - seen here. Whether it will survive a cold snap remains to be seen | Source
Looking back at the refreshment kiosk across the open ground beside the Heronry Pond
Looking back at the refreshment kiosk across the open ground beside the Heronry Pond | Source
A double line of trees either side of this avenue leads to the Temple recreates a scene from the early days of the estate
A double line of trees either side of this avenue leads to the Temple recreates a scene from the early days of the estate | Source
Near where a barrier stood between gateposts, a City of London Corporation board lists bylaws and instructions, mostly ignored. There are hardly ever any constables seen here to enforce by bylaws or police the park
Near where a barrier stood between gateposts, a City of London Corporation board lists bylaws and instructions, mostly ignored. There are hardly ever any constables seen here to enforce by bylaws or police the park | Source
Cycle track signpost erected before 2012 London Olympics points one way to Wanstead, the other to Stratford via Aldersbrook
Cycle track signpost erected before 2012 London Olympics points one way to Wanstead, the other to Stratford via Aldersbrook | Source
One of three eyots in the Heronry Pond provides sanctuary for swans, herons, moorhens and other birdlife
One of three eyots in the Heronry Pond provides sanctuary for swans, herons, moorhens and other birdlife | Source
Looking back the length of the Heronry Pond at the refreshment kiosk between one of the eyots and the shore
Looking back the length of the Heronry Pond at the refreshment kiosk between one of the eyots and the shore | Source

Today, the grounds of Wanstead House as a public park

The park still keeps some of the original layout of the grounds of Wanstead House. Aside from the lake system the obvious heritage is marked by the Temple, an architectural feature for the gardens. Another 'folly' the grotto, built 1760 just to the right of the vista - the long view from the house - is a listed structure like the Temple. At the Temple in summer you might found yourself listening to music - all kinds, but mostly classical - in summer. There is a three mile (5 km) charity run around the park in September that starts from here

Less obvious are the 'fortifications', an ampitheatre, an ornamental canal and some re-planted avenues (one of which can be seen in front of the Temple and runs for a couple of hundred yards). The 'fortifications' were islands in the long ornamental lake created by diverting water from the River Roding. These were arranged in a circular formation around a large island where duck shooting guns were kept. The connecting bridges have long gone, the islands overgrown and are now bird sanctuaries.

The park can be entered from Wanstead by way of Warren Road between the two parts of the golf course. On the eastern - Ilford - side are a few entrances over the River Roding. Along Northumberland Avenue are entrances at Park Road, Wanstead Park Avenue and at the end of Clavering Road is a steel gated pedestrian entrance. Northumberland Avenue winds around to the east, where there is another way in for the more adventurous at the back of a housing estate. There is another entrance at the narrow wedge-shaped end of the park, opposite the tennis courts of the Lake House Estate on Blake Hall Road. The path from here passes the Shoulder of Mutton Pond on its way to the Heronry Pond, alongside the western end of the golf course and sports ground.

A couple of websites that might get your appetite up for a walk through the park:


Wanstead Park, situated between the A114 and A406 North Circular

Wanstead Flats and WWII

Looking across Wanstead flats from beside the Aldersbrook Road towards Forest Gate (with Canary Wharf in the distance)
Looking across Wanstead flats from beside the Aldersbrook Road towards Forest Gate (with Canary Wharf in the distance) | Source
WWII Barrage balloon anchoring post on the middle of Wanstead Flats
WWII Barrage balloon anchoring post on the middle of Wanstead Flats | Source
Close by in midwinter, bereft of foliage, this strip of woodland seen against the low afternoon sun separates two sets of football pitches
Close by in midwinter, bereft of foliage, this strip of woodland seen against the low afternoon sun separates two sets of football pitches | Source
Overgrown wartime (WWII) foundations in Long Wood near the western end of Aldersbrook Road
Overgrown wartime (WWII) foundations in Long Wood near the western end of Aldersbrook Road | Source
Anti-aircraft battery on Wanstead Flats - there were two, one each sited near either end
Anti-aircraft battery on Wanstead Flats - there were two, one each sited near either end | Source
Prefabs along Capel road near the Golden Fleece p/h - after WWII housing was at a premium, temporary measures were needed and pre-fabricated housing as well as...
Prefabs along Capel road near the Golden Fleece p/h - after WWII housing was at a premium, temporary measures were needed and pre-fabricated housing as well as... | Source
As well as former POW accommodation - there was a camp for Italians used subsequently to house those bombed out families in need of housing after Italy left the Axis powers in 1943
As well as former POW accommodation - there was a camp for Italians used subsequently to house those bombed out families in need of housing after Italy left the Axis powers in 1943 | Source
More recently, after the 2012 London Olympics, protest was launched against the proposed blocking-off of public land
More recently, after the 2012 London Olympics, protest was launched against the proposed blocking-off of public land | Source
Looking east to west along Wanstead Flats - there are goal posts all the way along the open ground between August and May for local league football matches
Looking east to west along Wanstead Flats - there are goal posts all the way along the open ground between August and May for local league football matches | Source

Buses and trains

Close to Wanstead Flats, near its southern perimeter is the oddly-named Wanstead Park London Overground station that links northern Forest Gate with Barking in the east and Gospel Oak near Hampstead in NW London.

Southward down Woodford Road, on the corner of Forest Lane and Woodgrange Road is Forest Gate Station with trains to Stratford and London Liverpool Street, as well as ilford and out to the east to Romford and Shenfield.

On the north side of the Flats are the W19 and 101 bus services to Leytonstone and Wanstead; the 308 service buses run along the western edge to Wanstead; more buses link Forest Gate with Walthamstow (58), Canning Town and Plaistow (330), and Stratford/Central London or Ilford and Romford (25 and 86).

Trains to Stratford link with the Central Line or Jubilee Line (Central London)



The last 70+ Years on Wanstead Flats

World War II saw new activity on Wanstead Flats. Near Centre Road temporary accommodation was erected to house Italian prisoners of war (pow's) - the Germans were held separately for political reasons, and to stave off bombing of the Carpenters Road industrial estate a few miles away in Stratford (near the present Olympic Park).

Anti-aircraft batteries and searchlights were installed near both ends of the open area, and barrage balloons were anchored in the centre. Buildings were put up for British military personnel (the foundations for some can be seen amongst the trees).

To house some bombed-out families pre-fabricated housing ('prefabs') were erected along the southern edge by Capel Road. After the Italians left the Axis powers in 1943 the p.o.w. camp accommodated other bombed-out families. In 1944 a new wave of German attacks was instigated through Wernher von Braun, the V1 rocket bombs, followed soon after by the V2, which destroyed large areas of housing nearby. Unlike the V1, which could be shot down or 'diverted', the V2 was deadlier, undetectable until it hit (being the first rockets to be considered 'space craft'), unseen or heard and too fast for radar developed at the time.

More recently, in 2012 an issue of access was raised when the Metropolitan Police proposed to close off part of the area to the west of Centre Road (the fairground site). The whole area remains open to public access.

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10 comments

lions44 profile image

lions44 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

These "walking tour" articles are fantastic. Great job. I've learned so much. Voted up and shared.


Fullerman5000 profile image

Fullerman5000 2 years ago from Louisiana, USA

Very beautiful and very informative. I really enjoyed this hub. I like the photos you decided to use. It almost makes it feel like I took this walk. Great work.


RachaelOhalloran profile image

RachaelOhalloran 2 years ago from United States

Beautiful, just beautiful.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Lions44, Fullerman, Rachael - thanks all round. Nice to know the effort is appreciated. Have you seen Part 1 (Epping Forest)? They both go together, as this part is the southern end of Epping Forest.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Alan, what a lovely tour, with excellent historical facts as a bonus. You, sir, can be my guide if I ever get across The Pond. Thank you for broadening my knowledge. :)


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Will duly oblige, my good man.

Have you read the previous one on a walk through Epping Forest? There's a short history and lots of images that accompany HERITAGE - 15: A Walk In The Woods - takes you by way of High Beech and back into Loughton (access to Central London by the Central Line - what else?)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles

Hello Alan,

I've thoroughly enjoyed this historical overview and photographs- great information! I wonder how different things would be today if Pole-Wellesley hadn't frittered away his wife's inheritance. Thank you for a delightful tour.

All the best,

Cat :)


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 2 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

Hello Cat. There's another 'what if...' that'd keep us awake no matter how many sheep jumped over the gate.

We mightn't be able to walk through their back garden, that's a cert.

Glad you enjoyed the wander - I say that to all the girls.

Have a wander through Epping Forest proper in 'HERITAGE - 15: A Walk In The Woods'.


Rene 17 months ago

I remember a Chinese Pagoda. I also remember it burning down. Are there any photos of this pagoda? I seem to remember it was used as a refreshment kiosk.


alancaster149 profile image

alancaster149 17 months ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) Author

I don't know about a pagoda, Rene. There was a boathouse by the Perch Pond that was used as a refreshment kiosk by Jean and her husband. A new kiosk was built by the City Corporation close by a couple of decades ago to replace the dilapidated boathouse.

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