Local voices

Sing it!

November 2013

Natural VoicesSinging has many positive benefits both physiologically and psychologically, so why do many of us restrict our voices to shower serenades?

Liz Renihan started the Natural Voices Choir, which meets in Walthamstow Village, three years ago and now Natural Voices even has a branch in the Isle of Mull.  “We sing a mixture of everything, modern music from Adele to country and western, pop, folk, jazz as well as chart stuff,” says Liz. “The Walthamstow choir are predominately mums in their thirties to fifties and we have about 55 members.”

For anyone who has been told they can’t sing, Liz is reassuring.  “You don’t have to be able to sing, we take absolute beginners, there is no sight reading and we use the natural voice method, when I sing to the choir and they sing it back.  We ease ourselves in with a warm up and then I take tiny little snippets of songs and then move on to a bigger song at the end of the session.  I just like everyone to feel relaxed and have a bit of fun.  If people are giggly and relaxed then they sing better.

Liz, who lives in Leyton, used to sing in West End shows and after leaving the business full time became interested in setting up a choir. “I was very attracted to the Vestry School of Music and Dance (next to the Spar) as the building had been there for the community since the 1930s. The building has now been bought by one of our members so we’re very happily continuing to hold our classes in there.”

The group does around three shows a year including one big charity show in the West End.  Last year’s beneficiary was Great Ormond Street Hopsital. They also put on a Christmas show at Orford House but as the group grows it is becoming increasingly difficult to fit everyone in.

Young people are also included, with a youth choir that rehearses at Orford House Social Club on a Sunday morning “so parents can drop their kids off for two hours and have a read of the paper,” says Liz.  Singers between six and twelve are accepted and the group currently numbers around 25.

A two hour session for the youth choir is £7.  The adult choir is £10 for drop-in or cheaper if you attend a course.  Times are on the website, http://www.naturalvoices.co.uk.

Liz’s new venture is a mixed choir, and she has thirty people on her waiting list already. “It’s going to be great to have guys in there as well, so we can do different vocal arrangements,” she says.

So why not make 2014 the year you sing out for E17 !


The Elephant in the Village

November 2012

Harold Jones lives in the Village, and came to Walthamstow at the age of 5, in 1935.  His father was the milkman for Hitchmans Dairies and served the Village for many years.  During the war, Harold’s mother, a dressmaker, worked at the bottom of Eden Road in a rope factory making string and cork fenders for ships and the family lived on Eden Road.

Cherry Close on Eden Road was formerly Abbots Yard, a collection of outbuildings.  Harold remembers something extremely special happening in Abbots Yard in the summer of 1938….

“There were suddenly animals.  We saw little white ponies, being kept in the yard.  And then, in one of the very tall buildings that were used to store steamrollers, an elephant appeared.”

The animals were performers in a show that was on for a week at the Palace Theatre, half way down the High Street (where Gregg’s is now).   “The elephant was called Felix, and his trainer, who we called Paddy, had his dinner with us.  My older brother had the job of leading the ponies down the streets to the Palace every evening, and Paddy led the elephant, Felix.  People lined the street to see Felix and threw him cabbages to eat.”

Sealions also featured in the show and were housed in a charabanc in Abbots Yard.  “You could hear them splashing around in the water in there, in a big tank, and honking away,” says Harold.

The Palace Theatre was a very important Walthamstow venue.  Variety shows, singers, comedians and vaudeville troupes visited and the programme changed weekly.  It was a penny to go and sit in the gods, which Harold describes as “being so high up you felt frightened of falling out of your seat.”

In those days the market in the High Street stayed open until past 11pm. The stalls would still trade at that time, lit by tilly lamps.  What a sight it must have been;  a bustling market, lamplit against the dark sky, and an elephant shambling home to the Village.


The Street of Blue Plaques

November 2012

Wingfield Road took part in the E17 Art Trail this year, with a series of photographs in front windows portraying something of the current occupants. They acknowledge being inspired by Danny Coope’s 2011 Art Trail installation on adjoining Grosvenor Park Road, the Street of Blue Plaques.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe project came about when Danny became fascinated in finding out who had lived in his house before him and went on to research previous occupants of his whole street using online census information taken over 100 years ago. He came up with a simple scheme to share what he found out, creating a series of English Heritage style blue plaques celebrating the ordinary folk who lived in pretty much every house on Grosvenor Park Road. He even made weatherproof plaques for addresses that no longer exist, largely destroyed by WW2 bombs.

Halifax born Ernest Hind, an apprentice pianoforte maker was a lodger in a house that stood where the playground is now, and Albert Day, an india rubber dealer, lived where Park Court now stands. Alongside the baker and the grocer many occupations were a wonderful mixture of the mysterious, the exotic, the tough and the quaint. Lift attendant, tobacconist’s windowdresser, mangler and railway ticket printer. Some were chosen to illustrate Walthamstow’s local industrial past, such as Elijah Polley, foreman at the East London Waterworks and Arthur Pearce,  a xylonite factory boy.

Some don’t seem so out of place nowadays. There was a female commercial artist called Florence Edwards in 1911, and Thomas Willats, a journalist lived on the road for over 30 years. Other examples show what a melting pot it was, even 100 years ago, with a goldsmith living on the same street as a sanitary inspector!

Other displays inspired by his idea have sprung up in Walthamstow recently, engaging even more passers-by in the real, humble history of their homes.

Take a look at www.streetofblueplaques.co.uk.


Snapshots from the past

Reproduced from a WVRA newsletter in 2007

On my daily commute to and from the station, I’ve often wondered what used to lay behind all the redundant shop fronts in Beulah Road. It was while I was recently researching the history of our house at the Vestry House Museum’s archives that I got side-tracked and became fascinated looking through Kelly’s Directories through the decades and noting the changing face of Beulah Road. I thought it might be interesting for readers to have a few snapshots over the past 100 years or so to compare the once thriving retail heart of the Village to the now quiet and almost all residential road.

As a starter, however, it’s interesting to note a few of the shops and businesses that are still in Beulah Road which have survived the shift in shopping trends.

In 1907, number 92* was occupied by Charles Blythe, Confectioner & Newsagents and which today is Beulah Road News so little change there.

Tenby & Penny, glass merchants, one of the oldest surviving outlets in the road was, in fact, a corn merchant in 1907 and prior to that had been part of a Ladies School run by Mrs. Mary Wood of Beulah Villa.

Nos. 18 & 20, now occupied by Deep Clean Laundrette, was Westcotts (Sweet Clean) Laundry in 1957 before later making the change to Forco’s self-service laundry listed in the 1970’s and 80’s.

The New Oriental take-away now occupies the corner spot at no. 70 and those who have lived in the area for a few years will remember this as the Beulah Fish Bar – a not unnatural progression from William Whitehead’s Fishmonger’s listed in 1957.

And, it will be no surprise to note that Fullers the Builders at no. 68 have occupied the same position since the 19th century.

In 1887, William Cassidy at no. 78, a ‘Whitesmith’ (a tin worker) enterprisingly ‘seized the day’ by becoming a Gas & Hot Water Fitter by 1907 thus reaping the benefits of a population demanding running hot water and mod cons.

In 1907, a total of 45 shops and businesses were listed in Beulah Road. They included two dairies, four tobacconists & confectioners, two butchers, three drapers (alas the milliner and fancy draper from 1887 were no longer there), two bakers, two grocers, one greengrocer, a fruiterer, a hairdresser, two builders, a chemist, an oilman, a fishmonger, a general store, a boot repairer and boot maker, a toy dealer, a jeweller, an upholsterer, a laundry, a plumber, a coachbuilder, a removals firm, a furniture director, a beer retailer, a stationer, a printer and a paperhanger. What a choice, right on the doorstep!

In 1957 there were still 32 outlets; in 1977 there were 27. By 1988 the number had dropped to 13. I counted eight visible outlets in 2007.

Fortunately, Orford Road is enjoying a revival these days with its mix of eateries and various outlets and with more of us working from home and the need to depend less on our cars, perhaps the tide may turn yet for Beulah Road over the next decades with some of the long lost shops reopening. It’s a nice thought.

In the meantime, I should like to thank David Pracy, the Local Studies Librarian at the Vestry House Archives for his invaluable help with my research who sadly is about to leave as a result of the cut to his hours. The Museum and its Archive are a wonderful local resource for Waltham Forest which I urge local residents to use and enjoy or else, like the shops on Beulah Road, may disappear forever.

Teresa Deacon

*Footnote: This article was written in 2007; since then 92 Beulah Road has been beautifully converted to residential use.


For Whom the Bells Toll

9th March 2013

Single BellFelicity and her husband David, of Rectory Road, have been ringing the bells at St Mary’s for the last two years as members of the Essex Association of Change Ringers, founded in 1897. “We were walking through the church yard one Wednesday evening and heard the bells ringing,” says Felicity.  “A neighbour of mine had said she was thinking of having a go at bell ringing so we went up the tower to see her in action, and I thought how interesting it looked.“

“There are many misconceptions about bell ringing”, says Felicity. “Like most people my biggest fear was that I’d get whizzed up into the bell tower dangling from the rope, like in the cartoons,” she says. “People also think you have to be very strong, and that’s not true. We have had ten year olds ringing for us.  Or people think you have to be very mathematical, and that’s not the case either.  It’s very good exercise – excellent for your back muscles and your co-ordination. “

Village dwellers seem enthusiastic about the bells, “apart from one lady who came up to ask us why we sounded as though we were tolling for a funeral,” says Felicity. “We haven’t stopped learning yet. To actually get the basics I would say probably takes about three months – that’s when you can ‘handle’ a bell, or control it. You’re not allowed to ring on a Sunday until you can ring competently otherwise you’d put everyone off coming to church.  When we ring on a Sunday morning we ring for a half hour without stopping and that’s physically hard work and you really have to concentrate.”

Bell ringersAs a novice, a more experienced ringer supervises you. “A lot of it is feel and timing.” says Felicity.  “Initially I had no idea and learned by watching what the other ringers were doing.  As you go on and learn more complicated things like call changes.”In each bell tower the bells are different weights and tones. The bells are all individually tuned, the tenor bell being the heaviest at 19 and half cwt, and they are all made of bronze. As a small group, the St Mary’s ringers are always looking for new members.

A peal of bells lasts around three hours, which is a gruelling session, with eight or ten people ringing. At St Mary’s, when a peal was rung, a peal board was created to indicate when that particular peal was rung and the reason. These plaques can be seen in the bell tower but again they are also in need of restoration.

The present system of ringing was invented about 1590, and St Mary’s had six bells during the 16th century. These six bells remained until 1778, when eight new bells were installed. Six of the 1778 bells are still being used. The other two had to be recast. Since 1896 St Mary’s has had ten bells.

The bells of St Mary’s, which were cast in Whitechapel Bell Foundry and installed through the louvred sections at the top of the bell tower, are extremely old and need restoring. If they do not receive the repairs they need the bells will not be in a condition to be rung.

The group needs £60,000 to ensure the bells can delight future generations, and a walk through the Village on a Wednesday evening or Sunday morning just would not be the same without this traditional, atmospheric accompaniment.

To make a donation to the Bell Restoration Fund, please contact Denis Hewitt on dennis.hewitt@ntlworld.com. If you are interested in having a go at bell ringing, you are most welcome to go to St Mary’s on the practice night, Wednesday evening, from 7.30pm until 9pm to try it out.  There is no charge for anyone being taught to ring the bells, but donations to the bell restoration fund are always welcome.

Lucy Freeman


Impartiality – Walthamstow Style

11th Feb 2013

One of the great pleasures of living in Walthamstow is knowing that the local authority’s planners always consider carefully, and fairly, the needs of the borough’s residents. The issues they have to decide can often be contentious but they aim always for a correct and impartial outcome, as instanced by the council’s planning committee’s unanimous approval of a religious educational centre at the corner of East Avenue and St Mary Road (above).

This proposal (2012/1284) from the East Avenue-based International Muslim Movement was an update from a 2008 agreement for a new second floor at the centre. This envisaged the new floor being set back from the existing walls of the building so that the completed structure would not have an overbearing impact on the area.

Mosque extensionWork at the site was stopped at the beginning of last year for breaches of planning permission, including the digging out of a new basement, the stanchions embracing the proposed second floor being closer to the existing walls than permitted and with the roof they supported more than four feet higher than that agreed.

Effectively, this enlarged building would dominate totally the East Avenue/St Mary Road entrance to the borough’s premier conservation area, Walthamstow Village, a mere 60 yards away.

Normally, when such breaches occur, it is common for a local authority to require the work in breach of planning permission be demolished and work on the site be redone according to plan – although there is an escape clause available, i.e. whether the changes can be considered neither “material” nor “significant.”

When work was stopped on the site the reason given by planners was that the already built second floor was “significantly” larger than that approved in 2008.

Then they changed their minds: instead this larger second floor, extending almost to the boundaries of the building’s existing walls and with a far higher roof line, was not sufficiently material or significant to require rectification.

The International Muslim Movement was asked to put forward a new application for the site, which when submitted in September last year effectively legitimised the breaches of the 2008 approval.

When this new application was put before the planning committee only cursory reference was made to the planning breaches which had led to the stop on work, namely “…the structure was higher than the approved scheme, a new basement was constructed and there were a number of other changes.”

No reference was made to the fact that the stanchions as positioned significantly enlarged the earlier permitted size of the proposed second floor and created a roof line that towered over the whole corner.

A further point raised by the officers left the committee with little choice on their decision: “However, should Members determine to refuse permission, such a decision in this case will have a disproportionately adverse impact on a protected characteristic, that being the local Muslim community of this part of the Borough.”

This comment, arising from the borough’s Public Sector Equality Duty remit, conferred little room for debate. The balance to be struck, said the officers, was between a “negative impact” of a refusal on the local Muslim community against such an impact on the community as a whole.

Interestingly, when considering a later application at the same meeting, again providing a community centre to serve the local Muslim population in the Higham Hill area, the officers contended under the Public Sector Equality Duty remit that if the application was refused (as it was) the “disproportionately negative impact” could be justified “…because of the negative amenity impacts of the proposals on the community as a whole.”

Which brings us to the Walthamstow Village Residents’ Association’s objection to the International Muslim Movement’s proposals. The association has never had any objection to the long overdue restoration of the existing centre. It is a semi-derelict building and has been an eyesore at this corner for many years.

The 2008 proposal for a new second floor caused no problem; nor indeed the majority of the proposals in the 2012 application. The association’s objection was to the legitimising of the current second floor with its increase in size and height to a level where the centre would dominate entirely the entrance to the Village Conservation Area.

In this it felt that the rights of those who live on a daily basis in the immediate vicinity of this new centre are as entitled to a fair hearing as any other section of the community, the majority of whom do not even live in the area. That this is not so became obvious when the association made its submission to the committee members – none of whom, of course, live locally.

Ray Swingler

One Response to Local voices

  1. Barry Lee says:

    The New Oriental take-away now occupies the corner spot at no. 70 and those who have lived in the area for a few years will remember this as the Beulah Fish Bar – a not unnatural progression from William Whitehead’s Fishmonger’s listed in 1957.

    My Grandfather was a Whitehead (Cecil) who lived in Walthamstow – Warners Road. Son of Fismongers Charles Whitehead. I have a rather nice photo of the Whitehead & Son Fishmongers at 17 Maxted Road SE15 from early in 20th century. I wonder if William above is related.

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