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A wander around Snaresbrook

As part of Local History Month, Lynn Haseldine Jones will be leading a walk around Snaresbrook to discover the history of this commuter suburb, starting with the Georgian period and then looking at later developments in Victorian and Edwardian times. Here, the local historian describes some of the sites that will be visited. Photo of Snaresbrook Crown Court by Geoff Wilkinson

We begin at Snaresbrook Station, where the railway first came in 1856. Changing the nature of the village from a predominantly Georgian settlement to a bustling Victorian suburb, there is still evidence of the Great Eastern Railway, hardly noticed by passengers on the busy Central Line.

Along Hollybush Hill are a few Victorian houses. Mornington Lodge has changed its name to Kingsley Grange, but Staffa and Iona are still there, though no longer Barnardo’s homes. The great feature of the Hill, though, is Snaresbrook Crown Court.

This fine building began as the Royal Infant Orphan Asylum, the foundation stone of which was laid by Prince Albert on 24 June 1841. The official opening was by the king of the Belgians on 27 June 1843. The building later became the Royal Wanstead School until 1971, before becoming the court building it is today in 1974.

Along Snaresbrook Road we can admire the court from the edge of the much-loved Eagle Pond, as pictured here. This appears on a map of 1735 but may be older.

Across from the pond is Willowholme, a Georgian house dating from the 1750s, with its own well. People living in less grand houses would have got their water from the Birch Well, which is still there, tucked into the forest by the court’s railings. Elegant White Lodge is further down the road. Also on Snaresbrook Road is the memorial garden, containing a lovely sundial, the scene of a service on 11 November every year.

As we turn the corner into Woodford Road, we pass the 18th-century Eagle pub (now beautifully refurbished); it was a stopping point for stage and mail coaches long before the railway arrived.

We will head towards The Drive to admire some of the large late-Victorian houses, and glance across the road to James Hilton House, thought to have been the home, in the 1930s, of James Hilton, the author of Lost Horizon and Goodbye, Mr Chips. Sadly, some of the big houses have long gone – Snaresbrook Hall was replaced by flats in the 1930s and Hermitage Court replaced two large mansions. Gowan Lea lasted longer, a school with a good reputation, but regrettably, now also replaced by flats.

And we end our tour at the gates of Snaresbrook House. Although the origins of the house go back much further, these are dated 1900 and marked with the initials of diamond merchant David Symons, who lived there from 1891 to 1905. After his wife died, he chose to move to South Africa, where his main business was located. But the area must have made a big impression on him as the home he had in Durban until his death in 1935 was called…Snaresbrook!

Lynn’s walk will depart from Snaresbrook Station at 2pm on 22 May (free; booking required). For more information and to book, visit swvg.co/snaresbrookwlk or call 020 8708 2417
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Lynn Haseldine Jones
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