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WALTHAMSTOW  Victoria Line 

The longest street market in Europe and a workhouse museum. Also the William Morris Gallery – in other words, something for everyone. From the Tube, with its sub-Morris orange tiles, take the left-hand exit (Selborne Road), walk past the bus station and cross the road into a grassy area. Now turn right into an avenue of limes which leads to the street market which you might wish to explore.  Afterwards, return to the east end of the High Street where you will come to the handsome public library. It's worth popping in for the grand wooden staircase etc. Continue along the High Street and cross over the major road (Hoe Street)  to Church Hill. Note the plasterwork at No. 12. Right at West Avenue Road and soon left at St Mary Road. Near the end of this quiet residential street is a mosque. Just after this you will find yourself in Church Path, where a row of cottages leads to the centre of what was once Walthamstow Village. Squires Almshouses for ‘six decayed tradesmen’s widows’, (1795) are on the left, and the simple doors of the old fire station can be seen across Church Lane. Next to this is the National Schools building (now a Spiritualist Church). 

Opposite (to your right) is the Vestry House Museum itself.
This was built in 1730 as a workhouse and was in use as such for over a hundred years, being enlarged in the 1830’s. The name comes from the fact that it was used for church meetings. The place then saw several changes in use, being in turn a police station, an armoury and a builders’ yard before becoming a museum in 1931. It is more welcoming now than at some periods in its history, so do spend some time there. Its small rooms, some panelled, are filled with all sorts of bygones, plus local history exhibits. Children will enjoy the mock-up of the Police cell and the special room set aside for them which includes a display of old toys.

At the back of the rambling premises is a garden with herbs and vegetables grown in raised beds, as well as flowers. There are also garden ornaments brought from various old houses, though none are so imposing as the Ionic capital that came from the demolished old Post Office opposite St. Paul’s cathedral. This magnificent carved stone now graces the entrance to the Museum in somewhat random fashion, having no local connection other than the fact that its donor was a Walthamstow stonemason.

When you have finished exploring the Museum go right down Church Lane and over the railway bridge into Vestry Road. At the bend was the Post Office Sorting Depot of 1903 with a finely detailed terracotta frieze. Only the facade has been preserved, the main fabric having been redeveloped. Turn left down East Avenue and left again into Orford Road which is full of pleasant Victorian shop fronts. I like the one at the corner of Eden Road, which (though now offices) retains a glass fascia proclaiming that it supplies ‘brooms, brushes, etc’. Almost opposite is the old St Mary’s National School (1866), now an Islamic centre, with an unusual circular window. Just before the bend at Beulah Road stands the former Town Hall (1876) with Doric columns.  (Orford Road was the administrative centre of Walthamstow). 

Beulah Road was built up with 'model' cottages in 1862 and is charmingly varied, but after a quick look you should follow Orford Road, which now becomes more domestic, with detached Victorian villas facing low-rise modern housing).  At the end of the road you will see the Ancient House and beyond that the Church - you have returned to the Vestry House area. The Ancient House is a remarkable survivor of a fifteenth century hall house, with amazing curved timbers. The west end was rebuilt in the sixteenth century.

Don’t miss the hexagonal Penfold letterbox opposite, its tiny mouth -  adequate for victorian letters -  now sealed up.  A design with a wider opening was not introduced until 1887.

It has to be said that St. Mary’s Church is less beautiful than some. A twelfth century foundation, it has been considerably altered, bombed, extended and rendered in cement. The churchyard has a number of sizeable memorials. For an example, walk along the path with the iron railings to discover the Solly family tomb, a Georgian monument topped with a chest with claw feet and lion heads. No disrespect, but the feet are rather comical.  The building to the west (1828) was the pioneering St. Mary's Infant School. Behind the Church in Vinegar Alley are the Monoux Almhouses, founded in 1527 by George Monoux , a local worthy who became Lord Mayor of London. He also founded Monoux School, now a sixth form college. The east range of the almshouses was rebuilt in 1730 and the west end was reconstructed in 1955 after bomb damage in WW2. Vinegar Alley got its name from the fact that in time of plague, vinegar was poured into channels on either side of the path - there are two unmarked  plague pits in the churchyard, one from the Black Death and the other from the Great Plague of 1665.
Make your way back to the Church and walk through iron gates at the west end to get to Church Hill. Go left until you meet up again with Hoe Street. Here you can either return to the Tube station, or walk (about ten minutes) to the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park. For this,  turn right up Hoe Street. Soon there is an old cinema, with delicate Moorish-style windows. Further up on the right Ye Olde Rose and Crown has an attractive fruit frieze. Round the corner in Richards Place is more decorative plasterwork.  After Jewel Road and Ruby Road turn down Gaywood Road.

At the end of this,  cross Forest Road to the grand Georgian mansion that houses the William Morris Gallery. Although William Morris was a craftsman, socialist and writer as well as designer, today he is most widely known for his intricate wallpapers and fabrics, his renowned designs still being a popular choice for up-market décor. He was born in Walthamstow in 1834 and lived in the eighteenth-century Water House, as it was then called, from 1848 to 1856. In the gallery are displays of fabrics, wallpapers, tiles, etc. by a host of artists who worked with him , such as Edward Burne-Jones, Philip Webb, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown. All these were part of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement, dedicated to the renewal of the idealism of medieval craftsmanship in the face of what was perceived as the soul-destroying mechanization and mass-production of the Victorian age.

Also in the gallery are displays of work by members of the Arts and Crafts Movement, including William de Morgan and C.A. Voysey. Unmissable for anyone interested in period interior decorating.

To return to the Tube Station it is probably best to catch a bus. On leaving the gallery turn left and cross over to another cheerful Victorian pub, The Bell.The bus stop is to the left of this.

Click on any photo  to enlarge it

Walthamstow is just one walk from the many to be found at London Tube Rambles. There are architectural gems, beautiful country views, historic places and quirky buildings even in the most unpromising areas covered by the outer London Underground stations. Usually the discoveries are within a mile of the Tube - often only five minutes walk away. If you reached this as an individual page via a search engine, you might like to click on the link above to see the other destinations explored. It's amazing what's out there!

© DR