diamond geezer

 Friday, July 24, 2020

Postcards from Stratford/Maryland/Forest Gate/Leytonstone/Leyton

I've been out for a walk and seen things again, this time on the Newham/Waltham Forest fringe.

Although I've walked round the Stratford one-way (now two-way) system on numerous occasions, I'd never previously registered this old sign attached to the railings on Great Eastern Road. I know where the Theatre is, but wasn't previously aware that Stratford had had a Civic Centre. More disconcerting is mention of a 'Museum' because Stratford definitely doesn't have one of those, indeed Newham is one of London's 14 boroughs without a council-funded museum. But it turns out there used to be one, a major institution, and it nearly lasted a century.

The Passmore Edwards Museum opened on Romford Road in 1900, half-funded by the Victorian philanthropist John Passmore Edwards (who's perhaps better known for funding 24 libraries). It was founded to serve as a local museum covering the geographical County of Essex, in which Stratford lay at the time, and initially showcased the Natural History collection of the Essex Field Club. Its permanent displays focused on biology and geology, plus (from 1970) archaeology, galleried off a central space with a top-lit dome. In 1978 the museum supported 18 staff, mostly in educational roles.

The Passmore Edwards Museum closed in 1994. Its building was needed as a student union for the Stratford Campus of the University of East London, previously the Polytechnic of East London, originally West Ham Technical Institute, which lay nextdoor. Much of the collection is now under the care of Newham Heritage Services, stashed outside the borough, and certain artefacts can be seen (by appointment) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Perhaps it's no surprise that a borough which ditched its museum more than 25 years ago, before ditching museums was in vogue, has also forgotten to update a sign pointing towards it.

The Railway Tavern on Angel Lane has been serving pints since the 19th century, initially to workers at Great Eastern's locomotive-building works across the road. In 2011 it started offering overnight accommodation in nine upstairs rooms, and now the plan is to add hundreds more. The pub's been purchased for redevelopment along with a considerable vacant site nextdoor, and planning permission was submitted last month for "a 432 room hotel in a building up to 3, 6 and 14 storeys with ancillary bar and dining facilities". The developers already have consent for a 298 room hotel, so this is them getting greedy by building six storeys higher. [20/01004/FUL]

The Railway Tavern is destined to survive but would become the hotel's bar, attached via "structural glass link" to a reception area and ground floor restaurant. Bolted on alongside would be the usual stack of big-windowed brick cuboids with rooms available at £100+ a night. Immediately across the road is the site where the huge MSG Sphere concert venue is intended to be built, a testicular aberration with illuminated adverts across its surface. The old pub looks very out of place in the artist's impressions, adrift on its street corner, as modern highrise Stratford inexorably eats into its residential surrounds.

They're digging up the road outside Maryland station again, again, this time for "Crossrail complementary measures, public realm and interchange improvements". When they're finished yet another pseudo-roundabout will have been replaced by a T junction, with the Time Spiral artwork no longer adrift in the centre but embedded in a swoosh of modern cobbles.

A row of modern houses in Well Street, Maryland, features one of London's dullest plaques. Dairy Crest is a post-1981 company, so to be told that this was The Site Of The Former DairyCrest Depot (on a brown background) sparks no heritage joy whatsoever.

Vera Lynn was born in East Ham, so I was scratching my head trying to work out why Newham council have commemorated her with a street name two miles away in Forest Gate. Then I noticed that the cul-de-sac nextdoor was Anna Neagle Close, and she at least grew up locally. Then I noticed that both cul-de-sacs lead off of Dames Road, and then I applauded.

Another unusual name can be found in Cathall Road, Leytonstone, where the local community centre has been called The Epicentre. It was opened in 1996 and resembles a suburban ASDA. It does not look like anywhere that would incite an earthquake, social or otherwise.

Coronation Gardens in Leyton has its own hedge maze, which I thought I'd whizz round while it was unoccupied. The box hedges are a little worse for wear these days, with numerous gaps where people have stepped across to take a shortcut, but the paved surface continues to show where the true paths are. I was chuffed to get all the way to the centre without once heading up one of the eight dead ends, especially because I hadn't sneaked a look at the solution displayed on the information board near the entrance. I managed to get out just in time before a small child in a superhero costume arrived for his turn, and then his gran turned up wondering where he'd run off to, and I left before the labyrinth became a minefield.

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