History comes home

DSC_8514grey© Geoff Wilkinson

Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition early next year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the fifth of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show

As part of the Redbridge Museum development, we’ve been busy creating some new displays about the history of the borough, in addition to refreshing and expanding some of our existing displays. This month, I’m looking at a brand new exhibit in the works about the First World War, an important historic event that’s been commemorated by the museum in a major temporary exhibition, website and even a book, but with only one aspect – the war dead – currently covered in the permanent exhibition.

The new display will, of course, expand on the subject of the borough’s fallen soldiers, as well as explore the wider impact of the war on Wanstead, Woodford and Ilford. About 1,500 men from Redbridge were killed during the First World War. There are 29 memorials dotted across Woodford featuring names of local soldiers killed in action, with 73 on the Woodford War Memorial (pictured above), which was unveiled in front of St Mary’s Church in 1920. The aftermath of the war was bittersweet for local people; Jack Farmer, then aged eight, remembered that the “women sobbing in church and at the war memorials [in Woodford’s Armistice Day service in 1919] was extremely disturbing” and “something [he would] never forget”. The realities of war for local young soldiers and their loved ones will be illustrated in the new museum through material from our collections, such as photographs, medals, letters and postcards. 

The display will also look at how the borough pulled together to support each other and the less fortunate during wartime. Hundreds of refugees escaping the fighting in Belgium sought solace in the borough, with some being housed in Woodford. Local residents organised concerts and even a football match to raise funds for the refugees who’d arrived with only a few personal belongings.

The war transformed the area in many ways, both in the purpose of its people and its buildings. Women went into the workforce, many for the first time, often filling in jobs traditionally taken up by men, like office work in the instance of Daisy Parsons of Woodford. Some of Woodford’s grand houses were converted into convalescent hospitals, such as Highams Manor (now Woodford County High School) becoming the Woodford and Wanstead Military Hospital, where wounded soldiers were treated and allowed to recuperate in “almost luxurious” surroundings. 

There are plenty more stories that will be explored in this new display, but I’ll leave it to the objects, archives and newly designed text panels to tell them.

For more information on the impact of war on Woodford, visit swvg.co.uk/rww1 

For more information on Redbridge Museum and to complete a survey about the new displays, visit swvg.co.uk/rm