Don’t tell anyone, but before I discovered the Peoples Republic of Walthamstow, I used to live in South East London. It was during this time, when I lived over the other side of the river, in dragon country, that I first heard the term Ex Warner. I was looking to move East, and would sit in my small studio flat in Lee Green, pawing through Estate Agent brochures, trying to find somewhere I could afford to live. Those two words, Ex Warner, popped up over and over again, I would get excited when I saw them. I decided that I should probably go and look at anything that was Ex Warner, but to be honest, I had absolutely no clue what Ex Warner meant, not the foggiest. Although I didn’t know what Ex Warner was, they all looked like pretty big flats, so like Dorothy venturing up the yellow brick road, I navigated east to see if I could find a home in the emerald city (also known as Leyton).
My first exposure to an Ex Warner flat was on Bloxhall Road in E10, just over the road from the old B&Q. It was a one bed first floor flat with loads of space, it also had a colony of pigeons in the loft, but that seemed like a price worth paying to get so much space. I’ve lived in two more Warner properties since then, one on the High Street above the international supermarket, and one on Coppermill Lane. Although I am now an ex, Ex Warner resident, I am still fascinated by how this estate has shaped Walthamstow, how the building of the estate effectively changed Walthamstow from Essex village to a low-rise London suburb. There is another history to the Warner Estate though, and that’s the history of those people who lived, and still live behind the arched red brick doorways. This history is bought to life at the WE: Ex Warner Estate in Waltham Forest exhibition, which is currently running at the Vestry House.
Viewing the exhibition is like having a peek behind someones net curtains, like peering in through a sash window and seeing a snap shop of someone else’s life. Yes it has things that you might expect, like floor plans and artefacts from the estate, but it has so much more. There are excerpts from residents diary’s, and photographs of everyday life on the estate. Thees are photos that were taken for a family photo album, not posed, not forced, just a record of that second on the Warner Estate. There are also various listening points (for want of a better term), you can pop on headphones and listen to interviews with residents about their life on the estate. This combination of first hand oral history, first hand accounts of life lived on the estate, and personal photos, make this exhibition feel just that, personal.
Immersive, I think that’s how I would describe the exhibition. It’s not one of those things where you go along, find out a couple of interesting facts, and then go home again. This exhibition draws you in, wraps you in the stories of past and current residents. One minute you are listening to Maureen from Carr Road talking about her shared garden and her neighbours, the next you are at a street party or reading a letter or Pats diary. It is the ordinary nature of the items included in the exhibition, that make it feel so extraordinary. The Warner Estate changed Walthamstow forever, set it on the path to the E17 we know today. But it is much more than a physical presence, it is embedded in our social history, and it shaped our community. The exhibition gives a very personal insight in to that community, and tells the story of its history in the voices and photos of those who lived in it. Running until February, this is an exhibition not to be missed. For more info click here.