I love reading about history and finding out about days gone by, this statement would no doubt come as a shock to my old history teacher as I was pretty terrible at history in school. I think it was my gran that first sparked my interest in the subject, she grew up on a farm in Derbyshire and would spend hours telling me about her childhood. We used to sit on the wall of the church yard looking down on the farm where she once lived and she would tell me stories of her early life. Tales about delivering milk, picking crops and epic bike rides to Blackpool on rare days off. I would hang on her every word as she told me about her friends who worked in service at the big houses, I would listen to her and marvel at how much change she had witnessed. I found history at school a bit stuffy and static, but my gran would bring her past and that of my long gone relatives to life. Growing up listening to her special brand of oral history I suppose it’s really no surprise that local history interests me.
I particularly like when buildings in Walthamstow reveal a little bit of their past. Some buildings like the old Truman building on Edward road with its beautiful exterior are easy to spot. But other indications of a buildings past life are a little more hidden, sometime just a few old tiles are visible, sometimes a little more.. Next time you are on the St James Street end of the market, take a look at the bottom of the frame around the door that leads to the snooker club above Oxfam. Beyond the dust and cigarette butts is a dedication stone laid by Stanley Burton the year it was built as a Burtons Store. Wander further down St James Street and on the side of another snooker club you’ll find a plaque indicating that this building was once a bakery and part of Everett’s Stores.
Ghostsigns are also numerous around Walthamstow, I went out one afternoon to see how many I could find and photographed them . Some of them have flaked and faded more since I wrote about them but they are still there if you look out for them. Many detailing local businesses that have long since vanished but would have played a vital role in the life of past Walthamstow residents. I always keep my eyes open when I’m wandering around E17 to see if I can spot something new and one of my favorite, if slightly nerdy things to spot is old shop fronts.
These particular reminders of Walthamstow past don’t tend to stick around for long, they are usually ripped out, painted over or hidden behind a new sign. The first one I saw was on Markhouse Road, a road that is perhaps more associated with chicken shops and taxi offices these days. The sign that was briefly revealed shows that this road was home to very different kinds of businesses in the past, the old shop front read Evans & Sons Surgical Instrument Makers. The next two were on Queens Road, the first was half a sign that simply read ‘S Stores, perhaps part of The Everett’s Stores empire? Recently a sign that read The Queens Chocolate Box was also revealed on Queens Road but that has now disappeared behind a chemist’s sign. If I didn’t think it would end in arrest for criminal damage, I would love to crow bar off some of the new shop fronts in E17 to see what lurks beneath. Why am I so fascinated by these often faded and crumbling relics? because not only do they show what Walthamstow was like but they also show how much E17 has changed and continues to change. And if nothing else, I’m sure my gran would have approved of my slightly odd hobby.