Vestry House, a two storey building of brown stock brick, was constructed in 1730 by order of the Vestry, to be used as a workhouse. At that time the Church Common covered 27 acres to the south of Church End. The Vestry purchased an acre of this land close to the village for £6 on which to build their workhouse. A simple eight roomed symmetrical house was initially built on the site at a cost of £343, 12s, 3d. The ground floor room to the left of the front door was to be used for Vestry meetings, and the rest of the building was to be occupied by the paupers. The inscribed stone plaque erected above the entrance to mark the completion of the building still remains in position and declares: "if any would not work neither should he eat" (a sentiment still held by many). From 1882 until 1892 the oldest part of the building was used as the headquarters of the Walthamstow Literary and Scientific Institute, after which it became a private house, occupied by the Maynard family until 1912, and then, for the next eighteen years,by Miss Constance Demain Saunders, JP. In 1930 Miss Demain Saunders offered the remainder of her lease of Vestry House to the Walthamstow Borough Council (the successor to the Local Board), and it was decided to use this historic building to house a museum, the aim of which was to be an educative and popular introduction to the social and economic history of the town and district. One of our star exhibits is the Bremer car. Built locally by engineer Frederick Bremer in 1892, it is one of the claimants to being the oldest British-built petrol driven car. It must have been a curious sight on the streets of Walthamstow. A speed limit of just four miles per hour was imposed by a man walking in front of the vehicle at all times carrying a red flag.
One of the rooms at the museum has been set up to reconstruct a typical local parlour from about 1890. As Vestry House once housed a police station the museum has made use of this in its exhibitions. One of the cells still exists with its original bench and toilet and in this area they have recreated a scene from April 1861. On this evening, Sgt. Charles Carpenter was on duty whilst James Wright, a local labourer, had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. During a visit you may be "lucky" enough to experience the fate of James Wright by being locked in the cell. The Domestic Life gallery looks at utensils used for washing, ironing, cooking and for serving food during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. You can also discover some of the toys that were being played with or manufactured in Waltham Forest during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The costume gallery contains examples of clothing from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries including a Georgian dress, a Victorian wedding dress and a Second World War wedding dress. Within the gallery there is also a display about making and repairing clothing. The workhouse gardens are an oasis in the hubbub of the city. The beautiful planting is inspired by the garden's history as an eighteenth-century workhouse garden, with an emphasis on useful plants including vegetables, herbs and dye plants. There is also a wild meadow area and a bed designed to attract butterflies. The ground floor of the museum and gardens are fully accessible to individuals with wheelchairs.
Location : Vestry House Museum, Vestry Road, Walthamstow, E17 9NH
Transport: Walthamstow Central (Victoria Line, National Rail). London Buses routes 20, 34, 48, 69, 97, 212, 215, 230, 257, 275, 357, 675, W12, W15 and W19 stop at Walthamstow Central.
Opening Times: Wednesday to Sunday 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Free.
Tel: 020 8496 4391