Off the beaten (dog)track

TRAILS OF THE UNEXEPECTED Far from going to the dogs, the last stop on the Victoria line is a repository of architectural gems.

October 1996 marks the centenary of the death of Walthamstow's most famous son, poet, artist, designer, socialist and much else besides, William Morris. No doubt the merited fanfares, publications and bumper exhibition to be held at the Victoria & Albert Museum will increase the number of visitors to Water House, Walthamstow, London E17, the delightful double-bow-fronted Georgian house where he lived for eight boyhood years.

Doubtless, too, visitors cursing the trek out to the end of the Victoria line will miss all the other charms that Walthamstow can lay claim to. In fact, if one were kind its profile would be described as "non existent". In one episode of Yes, Minister, an obstinate civil servant is threatened with exile to Walthamstow - clearly the departmental equivalent of Siberia. Devotees of the dogs know the excellent 'Stow racing track, but that is about it.

And yet Walthamstow Village remains one of London's most attractive spots, rewarding the visitor with more gems per square foot than anything Hampstead or Chelsea can offer.

Travel to the northern end of the Victoria line. Step out opposite the bus station and turn right towards Hoe Street. Cross at the lights and keep going up St Mary Road admiring the neat little streets of Victorian terraced houses, particularly the patterns above the doors and windows.

You soon reach a handful of delightful little cottages fringing Church Path. Walk through into Vestry Road, stop, look around, and admire this magically preserved village whose narrow one-way system discourages the motor car but encourages the walker.

On your right is Vestry House, built as a workhouse in 1730 before becoming a police station and then the town hall. A tablet over the main door firmly reminds readers of its original purpose: "If any would not work neither should he eat." Since 1931 Vestry House has been an imaginative local history museum and contains a police cell of the 1840s and the Bremer car - one of four claimants to being the first petrol-driven car.

Opposite is the old National School of 1819 that once accommodated 100 boys and 100 girls but is now occupied by the Spiritualist Church. Over to the left are the Squire's Almshouses, which were paid for by widow Squires and opened in 1795 for "Six Decayed Tradesmen's Widows of this Parish and no other".

Further on is one of London's best-kept secrets - a 15th-century "hall" house named the Ancient House. A timber-framed structure originally filled in with wattle and daub, this unique building was erected only a few years after Chaucer died and more than a century before Shakespeare was born. The Ancient House is now a private residence after a long and chequered career as business premises.

At this point, the visitor should snatch a moment or two of repose by wandering a few yards down Orford Road and popping into the excellent mid-Victorian Nag's Head pub. Village Antiques is opposite.

Return to the Ancient House and admire its Georgian neighbour at No 10 Church Lane and also the hexagonal Penfold postbox on the other side of the road. Only a few of these structures remain. Postmen complained that letters got wedged in the corners, so they were replaced at the end of the 1870s by our round postboxes.

Walk towards the church of St Mary's, the centre of the parish. Rebuilt many times because of an expanding population and then war damage, St Mary's exterior is a little undistinguished. The infant William Morris was christened inside.

Over to your left, across the churchyard, whose grand monuments show that this was once an affluent locality, is St Mary's Infants' School of 1828, which displays all the restraint of late-Georgian taste. On the other side of the church are the 16th-century Monoux Almshouses, founded by an Alderman of that name in 1527. Also the victim of German bombing in 1941, the almshouses have been discreetly repaired.

At this point the visitor probably thinks that Walthamstow cannot possibly have anything further to offer. Not so. Walk down Church Hill past the girls' school and Church of the Nazarene back towards Hoe Street. There, directly in front of you, is Europe's longest street market, stretching more than a mile down the High Street. On Fridays and Saturdays in particular the market is a heaving mass of humanity arguing, haggling, laughing and shouting - in fact displaying all the human animation that is conspicuously absent from our anodyne supermarkets.

Turn right down Hoe Street and walk through to the major traffic junction on Forest Road. In one corner is the famous Bell pub, rebuilt in 1900 to cater for Walthamstow's rapidly expanding population. If you turn right you will go past the inter-war Town Hall, praised by Pevsner, and eventually end up in Epping Forest, another of Britain's neglected delights.

Turn left, however, and Water House soon appears. Home of the William Morris Gallery, even non-Morrisonians will enjoy a visit because of the man's extraordinarily diverse interests. From carpets to fabrics, from textiles to furniture, from book design to painting - was there nothing Morris did not do well?

The Gallery was opened in 1950 by the local Labour MP and Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. Tony Blair also claims to be a Morris fan. Don't miss the private garden at the back of the Gallery which today is the public and well-kept Lloyd Park complete with lake, wildfowl and aviary.

Morris was actually born in March 1834 a few hundred yards further along Forest Road, the thoroughfare that his father (who was "something in the City") rode down on horseback on his way to work. Elm House was demolished nearly a century ago but a plaque on the fire station commemorates its existence.

Cross Forest Road and walk past the castle-like Salvation Army building and then up Jewel Road. This leads you back into Hoe Street. Turn right and stroll along to Walthamstow Central tube station.

Towards the end of his life Morris was pretty scathing about late-Victorian Walthamstow: "Once a pleasant place enough, but now terribly cockneyfied and choked up by the jerry-builder."

But, after all, this was the lofty opinion of a man sufficiently endowed with private means to live in Kelmscott House overlooking the Thames at Hammersmith, and his country retreat of Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire. More than that, I feel certain that Morris himself, like many of his enthusiasts, had not bothered to walk around Walthamstow Village. Do so, and help put Walthamstow on the map.

William Morris Gallery, Lloyd Park, Forest Road, London E17 4PP (0181- 527 3782). Open Tuesday-Saturday, and the first Sunday in each month, 10am to 1pm, 2-5pm. Admission free. Vestry House Museum, Vestry Road, London E17 9NH (0181-509 1917). Open Monday-Friday 10am to 1pm, 2-5.30pm; Saturday 10am-1pm, 2-5pm. Admission free.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum