Hidden London : Historic Village of Walthamstow

Vinegar Alley

The first time I heard about Walthamstow was when the Mayor of London declared it as The Borough of Culture 2019. Being new to London I had no idea what it was. Of course I had to google it to check it out. We had planned to visit it during the opening event, but, being January, we chickened out.

William Morris Gallery

Then, my women’s group offered a walking tour of the village. I signed up for it immediately. I followed the guide around the historic village of Walthamstow with some 20 other women. We ended our tour at William Morris Gallery. I enjoyed the walk but couldn’t take that many pictures. I also realized that the walk did not include God’s Own Junkyard. That place was on my list of things to do in London. I came home that day with stories of what I saw and told my husband that I want to write a blog on it and need to get pictures. He is always game for a walk through a pretty village. We decided to go there over a weekend.

Finally this last weekend, we walked around the village of Walthamstow, particularly the Walthamstow Village Conservation Area. Luckily, the weather was perfect. We took the Victoria Line to its final stop in North East London. Since I had already been there, I knew what I wanted to see again and where I needed to go, husband in tow making sure that I, in my excitement to take pictures, don’t walk into things I shouldn’t.

Orford Road

We crossed the street from the station to reach St Mary’s Road. It being Saturday and the weather gods cooperating, there were lots of people around. We saw mainly young couples or people pushing babies in strollers. The last time I was here, there was hardly anyone on this street. I gave running commentary to my husband about the area. I went on about how this area was in the process of being gentrified. Its proximity to London has made it place to live for many young people. The property prices have gone up significantly.

Now back to our walk. I like Church Path that meets St Mary’s Road. A little path edged by charming picket fenced small Victorian Cottages on one side. Each is fronted with a different color main door and patch of garden. As you go further on the path, on your left you see a plaque that tells you the story of these homes. Do read the interesting plaque on the following picture. Church Path takes you to Vestry Road and the small Vestry Museum. We briefly strolled through the Museum and admired the secret garden in the back.

Walthamstow used to be a town of rich traders. But over time the town fell out of favor and became neglected. The once lovely manor homes fell into disrepair. You still do see buildings around the town who are witness to their rich past.

We walked further on to what was the town center in the earlier times. Now it is a charming Orford street fronted with pubs, cafes, restaurants, and specialty shops. We decided to grab some lunch before moving further. I had a sweet potato pakora and hummus sandwich, a special of the day. Surprisingly, it was very good. 

We sat outside, lazily had our lunch while watching the young parents strolling with their children. The whole street had the vibe of a small village where people knew each other. Our tummies satisfied and feeling energized we walked up the street in search of Summit Road. I loved this historic area with the old City Hall, village square, and building of a Victorian era school. We peeped into a small grocery store serving the community. It seemed like a gathering place of young urban couples.

We reached Summit Road. I was very excited at the thought of seeing God’s Own Junkyard. It is located at the end of Summit Road in a warehouse in Ravenswood Industrial compound. You enter the nondescript building and are surrounded by neon lights, banners, billboards, and signs with funny messages. We became children in this colorful lighted world of neon.

The Rolling Stone Cafe

Both of us pulled out our phones and went crazy clicking away. There is a cafe called The Rolling Stone Cafe inside. It’s decorated in the same eclectic way. This is the brain child of artist Chris Bracey. It’s a treasure trove of new, old, repurposed signs. We chatted with the gentleman behind the cashier’s desk. We wanted to take one of the signs back home with us. But alas, none of them are for sale. They are available for rent for movies, shoots etc.

One more note for beer and gin enthusiasts, locally brewed beer and gin are made in the same industrial estate of Ravenswood. Check out Wildcard brewery and Mother’s Ruin gin place. We saw lot of people enjoying the freshly brewed beer in the afternoon sun.

We moved on from this artificially illuminated world into the sunshine towards St Mary’s Church. On the way we stopped at the Ancient House to take pictures. It is a timber clad house built in 15th century and has seen many uses over the centuries. The guide had mentioned that it is now divided into apartments. 

The Ancient House

We entered St Mary’s Churchyard. Surrounding the Church is a cemetery. The original Church was bombed during the Second World War. Only the Tower is from the 15th and 16th centuries. So the Church we see today was mostly rebuilt after the War. We peeked into the church. But it seemed like there was an intimate group prayer session going on so we moved on. 

St Mary’s Church

The next was Vinegar Alley. There is an interesting story why it is so called. This area was sterilized with vinegar after a plague dug was found. There were almshouses built here in the sixteenth century. It is private property so couldn’t go inside the wrought iron fence. But I love the charm of this red brick building.

Almshouses

This was basically the end of the Walthamstow Village Conservation Area. We decided to head home. I just wanted to make one final stop at the outdoor street market on High Street. On my last trip, I had seen fruit and vegetable vendors. So I wanted to get some pictures and of course do some shopping. Who can resist fresh fruits and vegetables?

PS. I did visit William Morris Gallery on my earlier trip. William Morris is a famous son of this town who taught Victorians how to decorate their homes more simply. Please do visit it if you do visit the Walthamstow Village Conservation Area.
The Old City Hall, Orford Street

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