A walk through Walthamstow Village
This lockdown walk started on Essex Road Leyton, checking in at Knotts Green on the way to Walthamstow Village. Knotts Green was likely a later medieval settlement created in a forest clearing as Leyton expanded. The wonderfully named Wild Street, ‘ran along the north side of Knotts Green’. I turned off Leyton High Road into Shernhall Street via an area that had been mentioned in 1537 as Diggons Cross. Shernhall Street itself is believed to be one of the oldest thoroughfares in Walthamstow.
Despite only being 6.5 miles from the City of London, much of Walthamstow was covered by forest until 1770s. I imagined that some of the fine old trees along the side of the road were survivors of this transition. Church End is believed to be the site of one of the Saxon villages established on the higher ground in the forest, linked to an earlier settlement by the River Lea by a trackway that followed the line of Church Hill. St. Mary’s Church, first recorded in 1145, replaced an older wooden Saxon church. The wonderful 15th Century Ancient House facing the church helps summon up the spirit of these earlier times.
There was a wonderful feeling of sanctuary in the churchyard, people laid around in the long grass between the headstones. Groups sat on the tables outside the Nags Head drinking their own booze, access to the Nags Head’s 16th Century wine cellar being denied by the lockdown. Drinkers also loitered around the gravel square on Orford Road as others queued for the Spar.
I passed the essential Vestry House Museum. Built in 1730 as a workhouse it now also accomodates the Waltham Forest Local Studies Archive. The Monoux Almhouses took me into Vinegar Alley, which I learnt from the comments on this video, was the site of a plague pit.
Locally, Walthamstow Village gets it bit of stick for being the generator of unwanted gentrification that has priced many locals and businesses out of the area (including some of the original gentrifiers). But this discussion obscures the ancient wonders contained within this clearing in the forest. A Walthamstow history that will still be there after the sourdough bread has all gone stale.