Take a wander to the bottom of Walthamstow Market and you will find St James Street, with the train station at its centre this slightly shabby road is lined with shops, kebab houses, cafes and restaurants. Suffering from under investment this area of Walthamstow has been gently crumbling away for years. Since I moved to Walthamstow I have always lived around St James Street, first above the International Supermarket, then five years on Coppermill Lane and now near the Lighthouse. In all my time here I have generally overlooked St James Street, I always thought of it as just that bit between Blackhorse and Markhouse Road. That changed a couple of months ago when I walked past a shop opposite Tesco, some of the shop front had fallen off to reveal a small section of the original tiled frontage. This got me thinking, what else had survived from the St James Street of the past.
Some of its history I already knew about, Abbey Dental Practice for example is a former cinema. Today it looks a little bland with its white front and blue sign that’s missing the letter N. The St James electric, as it was called, started showing silent films but struggled with talkies as the noise from the trains was so loud. I’ve read that the Electric became a bit of a flea pit and eventually closed. I harbour secret fantasies about buying it and turning it in to a bar, and entertainment venue. Short of winning the lottery though that’s unlikely to happen.
Just behind the old cinema is Brunner Road, populated by garages, a factory outlet shop and a derelict pub, there isn’t much to see now but this is the site of one of the biggest losses to St James Street, and the one that I wish was still there. The Essex Brewery stood on this site until at least the early 70’s. Considering how much we E17ers like our real ale and visiting locals, I’m sure the brewery would have been very popular had it survived. A friend who was born in Walthamstow sent me this picture of the brewery building. The health centre on the left of the shot occupies the site of the old St James Street Church.
If you know the area you will know doubt know that the site of the brewery building is now occupied by the blue Bremadent dental company, a metal eyesore that once won an award as one of Britain’s ugliest buildings. Very little survives today, the pillars on either side of the clothes shop, and two manhole covers that conceal the brewer’s wells are the only reminder of what once stood here. There is one other survivor from our brewing past, but, like the cinema, it is also used for a different purpose than it was intended. At the junction of Markhouse Road and St James Street stands the former Essex Brewery Tap. It now has a gym on the ground floor and flats above, but this was once the Tap, the shop front for the Essex Brewery. Its days as pub are long gone but at least the building still survives.
Next door to the brewery tap stands a less than attractive windowless building that’s currently being used as a pool hall. Closer inspection reveals that this was once Everett’s bakery built in 1896. A pub, bakery and brewery all within walking distance of each other, that sounds like my kind of street.
Around the corner past the long closed Coach & Horses pub you will find Frederic street. A former slum and at one time one of the poorest streets in London. Frederic street now has some modern flats standing on it but at its junction with St James Street a painted advert and shop front of the London cooperative still survive. I wonder if the Tesco store front across the road will survive as long?
Considering how small the St James Street area is, it’s pretty incredible that so much industry and activity was packed into it. It is sad to see how much has been lost, but at least there are still reminders, echos of what used to be. There are still some great finds on St James including Urfa, the Ylidirim bakery and the Mill community centre on Coppermill Lane.
The good news is things may at last be looking up for St James Street, it has been awarded a £1 million pound grant from the big lottery fund. This money will be spread over ten years and local people can get involved with the project and help decide what happens to the money. We aren’t going to get the cinema back or rebuild a brewery, but if the money is used wisely the decay could be stopped and perhaps St James Street could become more of a hub than it is now. More info can be found here, why not get involved and help stop St James Street crumbling any further.