Top 10 Things To Do In The Borough Of Waltham Forest

Our tour of the London boroughs moves east. Jon Vanner, a resident of east London since 1992 and of Waltham Forest since 2009, brings us a guide of things to do there.

1. Best little-known historical fact

The first all-British powered flight took place on the Walthamstow Marshes in July 1909. The grandly-named Alliot Verdon Roe took to the skies in his Avro 1 triplane. Walthamstow Marsh was not his first choice of venue, he was turned down from Wormwood Scrubbs and Wimbledon Common so by default Walthamstow earned its place in aviation history. The AVRO aviation company later went on to build Lancaster Bombers which were instrumental in the Dam Busters raid of WW2. See the Shady Old Lady blog for more details.

2. Best pub

The Nag’s Head in Orford Road E17 is not the only pub in Walthamstow Village, but it’s by far the best. Located in a perfectly preserved early Victorian building, with the original coach house (now a private dwelling) next door, the pub has both a beer garden and a front terrace. The Nag’s Head is at the heart of village life, with regular jazz on a Sunday, pilates and drawing classes in the Madame La Zongas room upstairs. They also keep a good cellar of real ales, fancy lagers and serve great Italian food. Even cats are welcome and can be seen doing their rounds of the bar and garden at regular intervals.

From the comments: there’s a lot of love for the Rose and Crown in the comments; Antic’s The Red Lion crops up more than once and of course there’s the William IV / Brodie’s Brewery.

3. Best place with a royal connection

Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge, Rangers Road, Chingford, was built for Henry VIII in1543. The monarch’s guests could view the Royal Hunt and even join in by firing their own arrows from the upper story. Today, it’s one of only a few timber-framed buildings surviving in the borough (another notable one being The Ancient House in Walthamstow Village). It’s now owned by the Corporation of London and open to visitors, who can enjoy the exhibition in the kitchens of what the Tudors ate (quite a lot is the short answer) and also visit the upper stories and see the views that the hunting parties would have enjoyed over 550 years ago.

It was Londonist’s Museum of the Month a while back.

4. Best place not to post a letter

The hexagonal Penfold pillar box stands on Church Road, outside St Mary’s Church Walthamstow. Designed by John Wornham Penfold in 1866, these hexagonal pillar boxes were once a common sight in London though few have survived. Sadly, the one in E17 is now sealed up so you can no longer send a letter by penny post inviting your great aunt to tea. If you’re a fan of the cartoon Danger Mouse — the crime fighting, pillar box-dwelling rodent — you may be interested to know that his spectacle-wearing sidekick was named after the designer of these London landmarks.

5. Best civic building

Waltham Forest Town Hall (formerly Walthamstow Town Hall). This beautiful example of stripped classical 20th century architecture was designed and built by PD Hepworth between 1937 and 1942. It’s made of Portland stone and influenced by Swedish buildings of the interwar period. Although it now has Grade II listed status, it’s not frozen in time, but  plays an important part in the life of the borough. The assembly rooms to the side have hosted concerts by such notables as Placido Domingo and Yehudi Menuhin. A lesser known fact is that beneath the coat of arms foundation stone (laid in 1938) is a time capsule of plans and keepsakes, so in generations to come people can have insight into the lives of people in the borough just before the war.

6. Best restaurant

Trattoria La Ruga is a fantastic Italian restaurant in the centre of Walthamstow Village. It serves delicious fish, meat and vegetarian dishes, all freshly cooked and packed with flavour. The menu is all in Italian and regular diners enjoy the ritual of the waiter explaining each item and making recommendations. They also make their own fresh bread, which is usually accompanied by the waiter’s slightly stale joke ‘freshly made last week’ boom boom! Their puddings are every bit as good as the savoury dishes and if toffee bread is on the menu you MUST try it.

From the comments: bit of a discussion about whether the Orford Saloon Tapas Bar is better than La Ruga. Butler’s Retreat Cafe next to Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge sounds intriguing.

7. Best museum

The William Morris Gallery is the former childhood home of William Morris, one of the founding fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement. It stands in a double bow-fronted Georgian villa dating back to around 1750 and William Morris lived there between 1848 -1856. It contains many artifacts, such as tapestry, wallpaper, furniture and tiles all showing Morris’ genius for design. It also houses objects from other Arts and Crafts luminaries such as Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne Jones. The museum was originally opened by prime minister Clement Attlee in 1950. Over the past couple of years it has undergone extensive restoration and has just reopened to the public. One of the highlights currently on display is Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow Tapestry. The best thing is that you get all of this for free as there’s no entrance fee.

From the comments: if you want other things to do, how about the miniature railway in Chingford Park, or open air Shakespeare? (Thanks Joanne Moncrieff!)

8. Best former sporting venue

Walthamstow Stadium or Walthamstow dogs to most people, was a greyhound racing track that opened in 1933. Sadly, in 2007 the last greyhound hung up its running shoes and the electric rabbit did a lap of the track for the last time. This has been a cause of great sadness to the locals and there is a campaign, Save our Stow, to get it reopened — so far their pleas have fallen on deaf ears and there’s a plan to build houses on the site. The stadium has a fantastic art deco frontage and a matching scoreboard inside the arena. It was also home to the local speedway team the ‘Walthamstow Wolves’ in the late 40s and early 50s as well as  hosting stock car racing during the 1960s. You may be interested to know that London once had 33 dog tracks, of which only three survive.

9. Best market

Walthamstow Market claims to be Europe’s longest street market and occupies all but the last 100 metres of Walthamstow High Street. A cross between a typical East End street market and a souk, there’s no better place to see the vibrant, multicultural character of the borough. The discerning customer can take their pick of fruit and veg, spices, look-a-like designer gear, sari fabric and batteries among the myriad other items on sale. The market began in 1885 and operates everyday except Monday. On Sundays it hosts a farmer’s market and occasionally on Saturdays our Gallic cousins from across the channel, who come to tempt us with French cheeses.

From the comments: Elph recommends Wood Street Indoor Market.

10. Best former resident

This is almost impossible to answer, as the crop of great people from the borough inhabits almost every category from politics, media, sport and the arts. From Fanny Craddock to David Beckham, William Morris to Derek Jacobi, Benjamin Disreali to Damon Albarn. We’ll let you choose your favourite. Ours is Leytonstone’s very own Alfred Hitchcock, film maker and master of suspense. He was born in 1899 at 517 High Road Leytonstone and his name lives on locally in the Alfred Hitchcock Hotel on Whipps Cross Road E11. The entrance to Leytonstone tube station also has 17 glass mosaics showing some of his most notable films.

Got your own favourite Waltham Forest tips? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll add them to the article.

Other instalments in this series: BarnetBrentBromleythe City of LondonEaling, EnfieldHammersmith & FulhamHaringeyHounslowLambethLewishamRedbridgeSouthwarkWandsworth, the City of Westminster.

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  • Elph

    Don’t forget Wood Street Indoor Market, down the road from the nag’s head!

    woodstreetmarket.com

  • http://ayohcee.blogspot.com/ Tomás Seosamh Ó Ceallaigh

    Great article. Just moved to E17 so this little guide should come in useful!

  • One London Rat

    @Elph – but there’s trouble a-brewing at the indoor market

  • ASLEF shrugged

    I must disagree, La Ruga is quite wonderful but the best place to eat in Waltham Forest is the Orford Saloon Tapas Bar over the road. The Crown on Hoe Street is an excellent boozer, there’s the North Star in Leytonstone and I must give a mention of my local the William IV on Leyton High Road where they brew the excellent Brodie’s.

    • Greavsie

      Agreed on all counts – and presumably you mean the Rose & Crown?

    • PsiMonk

      Always found portions at the Orford Saloon a bit small – but not been for ages. Also they never had Pimentos De Padron when I went – most disappointing to me. Plus flavours not as earthy and full as The Windmill. So I’d give it to La Ruga by a mile.

  • TikkiB

    Bit Walthamstow centric. What about the bits of Epping Forest in Leytonstone, the links with Alfred Hitchcock, the Stone Gallery, and the excellent pubs outside W’stow?

    • http://londonist.com/ Lindsey Clarke

      Hiya! Hitch gets a mention as Best former resident, but you’re right, we could do with some more borough wide suggestions. Can you share some of your fave pubs out there please? Would love to know. Thanks!

  • E17er

    The best pub in Waltham Forest at present must be the Red Lion in Leytonstone. Vast range of well-kept ales and craft beers and great food too. Walthamstow hasn’t quite caught up with the rest of London in the ale-pub stakes yet, but I hear rumours of changes afoot in the Bell on Forest Road, so watch that space.

    E17 Art Trail – a two week-long art festival which mostly takes place in people’s own homes – is coming up in a few weeks and that is well worth a visit.

    And for a sport venue? What about Eton Manor arena for the Paralympic tennis!

    • sketchy

      Red Lion has the flattest beer i’ve encountered. every occasion visited. just awful

  • http://www.facebook.com/leytonstone.london Leytonstone London

    In good weather it’s got to be Epping Forest, whether it’s Chingford Plains or Leyton Flats/Hollow Ponds in Leytonstone, the only boating lake for miles around:
    http://leytonstonetoday.net/areas/hollow-ponds/

  • Walthamstowman

    No, the best pub in walthamstow is the Rose and Crown. Not yet taken over by gentrified yuppies it won camra east London pub of the year last year. There’s a theatre upstairs, bands, vintage sales and great beer and cider. The village is so 2010…

  • Walthamstowman

    Piece of trivia: walthamstow is named twice – literally forest-village-village (ham and stow both mean village) presumably it was the village near Waltham, further up the way.

  • Walthamstowman

    Also most famous for abandoned mattresses. http://www.walthamstowtourism.co.uk/index.html

  • http://twitter.com/ForestPoets Forest Poets

    Top pubs in WF? The Red Lion – Leytonstone, Ye Olde Rose & Crown – Walthy, Nag’s Head – Walthy, Village – Walthy, Castle – Walthy. Where do I live?

  • http://twitter.com/WWalks Joanna Moncrieff

    I would add Butler’s Retreat cafe next door to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford. The cafe has been totally transformed and serves great food. For an unusual Sunday activity take a ride on the miniature railway in Ridgeway Park, Chingford and once a year see Shakespeare performed in the Greek theatre in the unlikely setting of Walthamstow Girls’ School in Church Hill http://www.greektheatreplayers.org.uk/about.html

  • PsiMonk

    Picking The Nags Head over The Rose & Crown is a travesty!

  • Lucy

    Apparently Walthamstow is the only place in Waltham Forest!

  • http://twitter.com/redleaderlondon Red Leader

    Have a look at the Wood Street area, there’s an online listing of all the shops, services & restaurants in the area at http://www.e17woodstreet.co.uk, look at for the famous Pie & Mash Shop at http://www.e17woodstreet.co.uk/shop/pie-and-mash-shop and the stunning neon cave that is God’s Own Junkyard http://www.e17woodstreet.co.uk/shop/electro-signs, and if you’re not full up by then try the delicious Churros & real Hot Chocolate at Bonito’s cafe http://www.e17woodstreet.co.uk/shop/bonitos

  • Country meets City

    Walthamforest is home of Brooks Farm, the only city farm in this area!
    The farm is open from 10:30am- 5:00pm on Tuesdays – Sundays and what makes it even more appealing and exciting (especially for the parents) is that Brooks Farm is FREE for everyone to visit (we do charge £10 for large group visits). They have a large collection of friendly farm animals most of which you can get up close and personal with! Its a beautiful and peaceful slice of nature and allows you to get away from city life for an hour or so! For the children, theres also an adventure playground within Skeltons Park which is where you access the farm. Check out the website http://www.brooks-farm.org for more information.

  • Leah

    I much disagree on the Nag’s Head… service can often be terrible. The Bell is alternatively my favourite, stocking a variety of lagers, ales and ciders and with a great atmosphere!

  • Mathew

    If this is the 10 best things to do then I look forward to moving early next year.
    Many of the things on the list are not things to do at all…
    eg
    1. Best little-known historical fact,
    4. Best place not to post a letter
    10. Best former resident

    If you’re looking for something to do then try TimeOut.

  • PaulusJnr

    You haven’t really ventured that much out of Walthamstow have you?