Heritage - 16: A Walk in the Woods, 2. Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats
Wanstead - some of the park's seasonal features
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.
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
The park and where to find it
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...
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. Come with me to the vista
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 now 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. Let Bridget Cherry and Charles O'Brien take you through the history of the estate and premises
Take a wander through the woods to finish at the Heronry Pond
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:
Wildlife and Flora Link
- Welcome to Wanstead's Wildlife
Wanstead Wildlife - wildlife in the south of Epping Forest
Wanstead Park, situated between the A114 and A406 North Circular
Friends of Wanstead Parklands
- The Friends of Wanstead Parklands
The Friends of Wanstead Parklands are raising awareness of the history of Wanstead Park and aim to halt its decline.
Before leaving the park behind to cross Wanstead Flats, a last look back...
Wanstead Flats and WWII
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, on 15th July 2018 a grass fire broke out near the junction of three roads across the open area (near where the Italian prisoners-of-war were held in WWII). Two hundred firefighters from around the area were called in to control the blaze, which was shown far and wide on TV - my younger daughter Suzy saw it where she studied in Vienna - and affected a large area. Wind-blown vegetation spread the flames westward to the extent that police and the fire brigade considered evacuating a housing estate close to the north of the fire. It is still not known what sparked the fire on grass that had been scorched from a dry spell that had lasted several weeks, and would last at least another week or so before rain fell on the district. One area.of the open ground, a children's playground, was within yards of the fire as it 'headed' for the junction of Dames' Road and Cann Hall Road towards Leytonstone. Luckily it was controlled and doused by firefighters. Here are a few images taken by newspaper photographers and a BBC cameraman. About a fortnight later I took some photographs to show how the area was recovering (bottom). .
© 2014 Alan R Lancaster