Voices from the Past

We are very grateful to the Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop who have very kindly agreed to let us reproduce an interview with John and Florence King, recorded in 1987 when the couple were living on Maynard Road.

Ancient House mistMr King lived in the Ancient House in 1910. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives contained within this Village landmark. John King’s father was an accountant with WD and HO Wills, the tobacco and cigarette firm.

As a result of the 1930s depression and consequent high unemployment levels Mr King became a bricklayer. “My father came from Bermondsey and my mother was a village girl,” said Mr King.

“My father was an educated man, an accountant, and moved into the Ancient House which had a shop front. Being an educated man he had quite a quantity of books which he put in the window for somewhere to put them.

People started coming in the shop and asking to buy them. He started to accumulate books and became a bookseller, and also maintained his job as an accountant for WD & HO Wills.

“My father sold new and second-hand books, all educational . They were in great demand. Novels too, and he had quite a trade in French language books. He could speak French very well. One of his friends was a journalist from the Bookman.

When my father bought books sometimes he would get books with prints in. Some of these prints were of value. I always remember my father saying this friend cheated him because the friend took these prints to be valued and sold them for £20 and then told my father that he’d sold them for £5. That was because of my father’s lack of knowledge. I still look for those prints now.

“As I remember I was quite a little devil and I used to explore this old house, not only the one I lived in but the rest of them. There was a row of them. The one next door was a cafe and next door to that was a cycle makers. It was quite a little place.

“I managed to open a door and inside this was a cupboard with a ladder which led to the upstairs, which was one large room. In later years when I went to put a gas fire in for my parents they were using that room as a bedroom and I found this old Adam fireplace, well knocked about, not worth anything to anybody as an antique.

“It was very interesting because all the woodwork in the roof of the old house was all pitted, the timbers were hacked about and it was full of woodworm but they were enormous bits of timber. All solid oak, every bit of it.

“The house had a side entrance and apparently someone had lived there before and stabled their horses as there was a manger.

“The shop shut 18 years ago. We had a last look around when it was empty and there was only one book left. It was called “The Death of the Bookseller.”

Copyright Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop. Used with Permission

Lucy Freeman


If you are interested in oral or local history you can get involved in Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop in several ways:

  • Best of all you can join us (it’s free) and play a full part in the group at our monthly meetings in Leytonstone or Walthamstow
  • You can interview people with a story to tell
  • You can digitise some of our tape archive at home on your PC (we’ll explain how)
  • You can transcribe some of our recordings


For more information Call Nick on 0845 838 5121 (office hours), email oh@wforalhistory.org.uk, or write to WF Oral History Workshop c/o
Vestry House Museum, Vestry Road, E17 9NH.

One Response to Voices from the Past

  1. Graham Harris says:

    My Great Uncle Thomas Harris, I believe his mother (My Great Grandmother, Agnes Harris died in a local “Workhouse” probably the local Hospital of the day 1911) lived and worked in Walthamstow about 100 years ago he was a Plumber, he had two sons that I know of, one Lionel was born locally the elder one Thomas W(William) Harris moved there as a small child or even as a baby.
    Trying to find out anything about these people, my family. Any help appreciated.
    I do have somme information of the family that might be of interest to any surviving family.

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