WALK 6 - REDISCOVERING WANSTEAD HOUSE

Approximately 6.5 miles / 10.5 Km (about two and a quarter hours)

Click on image to go to an interactive version of this map

Starting and ending at Manor Park, this circular walk looks at places where we can see the lasting remnants of Wanstead House. Although each of these sites only offer an echo of the House and Park in its prime, taken together they provide a surprisingly vivid sense of place and scale. The sites visited include: Aldersbrook Manor, Aldersbrook Farm, The Reservoir Wood, The Repton Oak, The Lake System, The Temple, The Grotto, The Glade, The Mounts, The Stable Block, St Mary the Virgin Church & Churchyard, The Foundations and Cellars of Wanstead House, Evelyn’s Avenue.

USING THE WALK
You can follow the walk directly from your phone. Directions are in black, historical notes are in dark red. There are also links that lead to further information about points of interest.

If you don't want to follow the walk on your phone, you can download a printable PDF version of this walk guide. 

SCROLL DOWN TO START THE WALK

INTRODUCTION

A very short history of Wanstead House and Park

There is evidence of Roman activity on the land, but Wanstead Manor itself dates from Saxon times. In 1499 Henry VII bought the land for hunting. A hunting lodge was built on it, and later a house, Wanstead Hall. It remained in Tudor hands until the reign of Edward VI (Henry VIII’s son). Subsequently, Sir Richard Rich and later Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester) owned it, both entertained Elizabeth I here.

In 1673, Josiah Child, who had made money as Governor of the British East India Company, bought the house and land. He started to grandly develop the grounds. In 1678 Josiah was made a Baronet.

When Josiah died, in 1699, his second surviving son, Richard (1st Earl Tylney), inherited Wanstead House and Park.  Richard, carried on the development that his father had started. He had the old Tudor Wanstead House demolished, and a new Palladian style Wanstead House built instead, which was completed in 1722. The new Wanstead House was approximately 80 x 23 metres.

In 1750, the house and park passed to Richard’s son, John, the 2nd Earl Tylney.  John died childless, so in 1784 the estate passed to his nephew, Sir James Long, who then changed his surname to Tylney-Long.  

Sir James had three daughters and a baby son. When Sir James became ill, he put the house and park into a trust until his baby son, also James, became of age. Sir James died in 1794. Unfortunately for the young James, when he was eleven (in 1805), he also died.

The estate then passed to the young James’ eldest sister, sixteen year old Catherine Tylney-Long. It was held in trust for her until 1810 when she was twenty-one. In 1812, Catherine unwisely married a charming but profligate womaniser, William Wellesley-Pole, a relation of the Duke of Wellington. William changed his name to William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (this was much mocked in satirical articles and cartoons about him).

William ran up enormous debts. Even though he only had a lifetime interest in Wanstead House (that is, he enjoyed its income, but did not own it), he was able, through a legal loophole, to arrange in 1823 for the sale of Wanstead House for building materials. The buyer was to demolish, and then remove whatever could be salvaged. In addition, William was able to sell off the house’s art works and furnishings. Even so, the proceeds of the sales only repaid some of his enormous debts.

Eventually the land was inherited by Henry Wellesley, the 1st Earl Cowley, who in 1880 sold 184 acres of the former house's grounds to the Corporation of the City of London, for preservation as a part of Epping Forest. Wanstead Park was opened as a public park in 1882 after the City had made some improvements, and is still owned and managed by them now.

More detailed information from:
Link to a Chronicle of Wanstead Park
(a fuller account of the HIstory)

START OF THE WALK

ACROSS THE FLATS

WAY POINT 1 - Manor Park Station

Turn left out of Manor Park Station and cross Whitta Road.  Proceed along Forest Drive, walking past a small block of flats and Victorian villas. Over the road on the right is Manor Park Flats, the most southerly point of Epping Forest.

Cross over Capel Road, and then immediately turn left onto Wanstead Flats. Proceed to the nearby information board at a junction of paths. 

Take the broader of the two paths immediately to the right of the information board, heading across the Flats diagonally away from the road. As you follow the path, two blocks of flats should become visible ahead on the horizon. Continue walking ahead, until the Alexandra Lake is on your right. 

Historical Note 
The City of London Cemetery is behind the lake on Aldersbrook Road at this point.  Before the cemetery was opened in the 1850’s, the land it is on was the Aldersbrook farm, and before that the site was Aldersbrook Manor, home of antiquarian Smart Lethieullier. Originally, Aldersbrook Manor was part of Wanstead Manor, the site of Wanstead House. See (1) on map below for where Aldersbrook Manor was.

Link to more information about the history of Aldersbrook Manor

If you are interested in finding out more about Aldersbrook Manor, you may like to look at 'Walk 6 - Aldersbrook to Alders Brook' on this site. 
 
Rocque’s 10 Miles Round London Map 1746
Click or tap on the map to enlarge it

The above map is taken from Rocque’s 10 Miles Round London Map of 1746.  As you go around the walk, the position number will be given, so that you can see where you would be on the ‘Wanstead House Estate’. 

Carry on walking across the Flats, keeping parallel with the Aldersbrook Road.

Eventually, on the right, you will come to some houses (used by City of London employees) and some sheds. After you pass them you will come to a walled area containing a few houses, and also a petrol station. Follow the wall around, keeping it on your right.

Historical Note 
This walled off area is the site of the second Aldersbrook Farm. This Aldersbrook Farm was built here in 1854 when the original Aldersbrook Farm was purchased by the City of London for a new cemetery (The City of London Cemetery that you passed earlier). 

This farm also became a garage and a filling station after World War One. It continued to keep a dairy herd up to the mid 1930s. 

Aldersbrook Farm in the 1920’s

You will arrive at Aldersbrook Road with the petrol station on your right.  Cross over the road at the pedestrian crossing, turn left and then turn right into Park Road, part of the Edwardian Aldersbrook estate.  

Park Road is the oldest route on the estate.  It appears as a footpath on Rocque's map, shown earlier, see (2).

WAY POINT 2

THE PARK

At the end of Park Road, continue straight ahead through gate 171 into Wanstead Park.

When past the gate, go straight ahead across a path that crosses yours, just behind the gate.  About 20 metres on, a few metres before the path enters the trees and starts to bend right, take the small path on the left.  Look out for it, as it’s easy to walk past.

Follow the path to a clearing.  There is a good view, if you look through the trees on the right, of the Shoulder of Mutton Pond. Continue on, and follow the main path around to the right going over a small bridge crossing a ditch, then go right at the fork in the path.

Soon after, at a clearing, you will see a broad path going left and right in front of you.  Follow the path left into the trees.  Just as you get into the trees, note the sand and gravel bank on the right of the path, and the raised area covered in undergrowth on the left.  This is the remains of a retaining bank of a reservoir. The area from here, forward to the park exit is known as Reservoir Wood.

Historical Note 
The Reservoir was excavated here between 1715-1745. It was used as a water supply for the lake system.  The bank was breached and the reservoir area made into a wood in about 1818.

See (3) on the 1746 Rocque's map for where the Reservoir was.  

Keep going a few metres past the cutting into the reservoir bank, and on the left you will see the Repton Oak. The planting technique used was one where multiple small trees were planted together so that they would grow and fuse into one tree.  See if you can work out from the shape of the trunk how many trees were planted together.

Historical Note 
Between 1813-1818 William Long-Wellesley arranged for new designs for the park to be made, using fashionable landscape designers Humphry Repton and Lewis Kennedy.

The Repton Oak is thought to be one of the outcomes.


Return on the path that you have just come on.  Stay on this path as it passes the Shoulder of Mutton pond on the right. 

Continue on the path, and it will start to go past the Heronry Pond on your right.  On the left you can see a concrete fence, and views of Wanstead golf course beyond.  Ahead, across the pond, you can see the Wanstead Park tea hut, it’s design based on The Temple, which we will come to shortly.

Historical Note 
It is said that Sir Giles Heron, who was a Keeper of the park in the 1530’s, introduced Herons to Wanstead Park as a joking reference to his name.  Herons still live in Wanstead Park today.  Poor Giles lost his job in 1541 after being accused of ‘speaking too freely of the King’ (Henry VIII). His estates were seized and he was executed!

After a while, a broad path appears going left, which follows the edge of the golf course.  Ignore this path, and instead go straight ahead through a gap in the concrete fence.  

WAY POINT 3

Just inside the gap, on the left, is an information board comparing a modern map of the area with a section of Rocques’ 18th century map, showing Wanstead House and gardens. Well worth a look.

Straight ahead, you will see an avenue of Sweet Chestnut trees heading towards a small building called The Temple. Walk down this avenue towards it.

Historical Note 
In the period 1760-64 John, the second Earl Tylney built The Temple, it’s thought after seeing similar buildings abroad on a ‘Grand Tour’.  Amongst other things, it was used for keeping exotic birds. It is now a Grade II listed building.

See (4) on the 1746 Rocque's map for the position of The Temple.

At the Temple, turn right in front of it, then turn left to walk up the side of it, past the public toilets.  

Link to information about when the Temple is open to the public

Continue along this path, with the side of the Temple on your left, passing some Keepers houses.

Just after a large tree stump on your right a path joins from the right and the path you are on starts to curve left in front of a lake (The Ornamental Waters), continue forward on to a small dirt path that follows the line of the trees and curves right towards the lake.

Soon through a green metal fence that appears on the left, you can see The Grotto.

Historical Note 
In the period 1760-64, John, Earl Tylney, as well as building the Temple, also built The Grotto at the edge of the Ornamental Waters. 

It is thought to have cost about £2000. It was decorated very grandly, with jewels, and shells lining the inner walls, which added to its cost. 

Grottoes were popular with rich 18th century landowners, and thought to add an exotic element to the landscape. This one was also used as a boathouse.

Unfortunately, John didn't get to use the Temple or Grotto very much, as he left the country soon after they were built, and never returned.  We return to this in the section on St Mary the Virgin church, later in the walk.

Even in its current state it is atmospheric, and was used as a backdrop in a 1978 remake of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, starring Robert Mitchum.

Still from The Big Sleep - Copyright 1978, United Artists.  The scene shows Candy Clark as Camilla Sternwood and Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe outside The Grotto.  Candy Clark's character refers to the Grotto as a 2000 year old Roman ruin ! 

Watch a video clip from The Big Sleep that shows the Grotto

See (5) on the 1746 Rocque's map for the position of The Grotto.

From the path, and looking towards the grotto, go left, back the way you came, but stay on the main sand and pebble path. If you are careful, you can go down the slope just in front of the Grotto, holding on to the green fence. From here you get a good view of the Grotto from the water side as in the photo below.

Return to the path and continue away from the Grotto, keeping the Ornamental Waters on your right.

Pause at the first information board on the right, to look back and get another good view of the grotto from the waters edge.

Continue on the path, turning right at the junction.

At the next information board, which appears to the right, there is a good view along the ‘Straight Canal’, a long stretch of water, rather like a canal (it was originally called ‘The Great Canal’, then later called ‘The Streight Canal’). On the left, there is the first of a number of islands.

See just below (5) on the 1746 Rocque's map for the position of ‘The Straight Canal’ and ‘The Fortification’.

Historical Note 
The Ornamental Waters and it's islands were created from a pre-existing lake.  One of the islands had a sham fort with battlements and guns on it (which unfortunately is no longer there!). The Straight Canal lines up with The Glade, to create the effect of a much larger lake when viewed from Wanstead House, the rear of which faced in this direction.

See (6) on the 1746 Rocque's map for the position of The Glade.

From the information board, turn around to see and look up The Glade, a long avenue of trees which used to lead up to the back of Wanstead House. 

Start walking up the Glade, ignore the single path on the left, and after about 180 metres, look out for two paths, one on each side of The Glade.  These are facing each other and leading into the trees. There is a good view of the Straight from here.

Each of the two paths, lead to a ‘Mount’, these are small man-made hills. These were built as part of Wanstead House Park in order to get a better view of the patterns of the planting beneath.  They are a little worn now, and overgrown, but can still be climbed. We will visit each in turn. First the smallest one.

See the red dots on the 1746 Rocque's map below for the position of The Mounts.

If you are looking down The Glade, facing the water, take the right hand path.  As you enter the trees, take the right fork. The Mount is on the left, through the undergrowth. Continue around the Mount until you get to the path up the Mount.  

When you are ready, return to the Glade the way you came, and go straight across to the path that is on the other side.  As you enter the trees again, after a few metres on the left, through the undergrowth, is the other Mount.  This one is larger.  Keep going around, keeping it on your left, until you come to a steep path to the top.The path can be difficult to locate particularly in the autumn when it can be obscured by fallen leaves.

Now return to the Glade, either the way you came, or by going down the path on the other side of the Mount and turning left.

When you get back to The Glade, turn right, and continue up the slope.  When you get to the rough grass area covered in ant hills at the top, look back again to get an impression of the view from the back of Wanstead House, which was straight on up the slope from here on what is now a golf course. 

WAY POINT 4

Take the path to the right, and exit the park through gate 169, then turning right. Go through the car park, with the golf course on your left, and then on to Warren Road. Continue along Warren Road and then turn left into Raynes Avenue.  Raynes Avenue bends right, and at the end, turn left into The Warren Drive.  This also bends right, and then, on your left, you will see the side of Wanstead Park Golf Club.  This was originally the stable block for Wanstead House.  

At the end of The Warren Drive, turn left into Overton Drive. You can see into the golf club courtyard on the left and get an idea of what the original stable block looked like. 

Continue along Overton Drive, past the golf club, until you come to Saint Mary the Virgin church.

ST MARY THE VIRGIN CHURCH

WAY POINT 5

See (7) on the 1746 Rocque's map (earlier in the walk), for the position of The Stables and St Mary the Virgin church.

Enter the churchyard through the metal swing gate in its fence. 

Historical Note 
St Mary’s is an excellent example of a late 18th century (Georgian) church. It is rare to find one in such a virtually unaltered state. The pews are the original box pews of 1790, where the rich families would sit. On each side are high galleries, which seated the poorer parishioners.  It was designed by the architect Thomas Hardwick, and is Grade I listed. Near the altar is a memorial to Josiah Child, which was moved from the Medieval Church that preceded this one.

If the church is open and there isn't a service underway, it is well worth going inside to have a look.  If it is closed, here is a link to a newspaper article with photographs of the interior.

The churchyard has memorials dating from 1685, which includes the gravestone of Thomas Turpin of Whitechapel, who was supposedly the uncle of highwayman Dick Turpin.

John Child, the second Earl Tylney, went to live in Naples after leaving England amid a scandal about his homosexuality. He never returned to Wanstead, but died in Naples in 1784. It was not possible to transport his body back home, so his heart was removed and sent back in a jar where it was placed in St. Mary's crypt. On some special occasions, the crypt has been opened and the heart in the jar displayed (see below).

The jar containing John Child's heart in St Mary's Crypt
Photograph by Caroline Barkus

Go past the front of the church, then turn left behind it. Take the first path on the right into the churchyard.

A few yards down the path, on the right, is the site of the medieval church that was demolished after the current one was first built. A little further on, on the right and behind some 18th century gravestones, is the Watchers Box. Go around the other side to see it properly.

Historical Note 
The Watchers Box is a memorial to Joseph Wilton.  Wilton was a sculptor, creator of fancy plasterwork, and a member of The Royal Academy.  Joseph died and was buried here in 1803. 

There was an incidence of grave-robbing in Wanstead in 1824, and in the following years the Watchers Box was used by watchmen, who guarded newly buried bodies against the ‘resurrection men’.

Link to more information about The Watchers Box

Back on the path, continue down it to a low wall on the left that overlooks the golf course.

THE FOUNDATIONS OF WANSTEAD HOUSE

From here you can see a lengthy and deep indentation in the ground. This dip is the remains of the foundations and cellars of Wanstead House.

Continue down the path to where the wall turns ninety degrees right. If you look over the wall here, on the left there is a much better view of the remains of the cellars and foundations. Wanstead House was about 80 metres wide, and the size of this dip gives you an excellent impression of its scale.

Here is a link to a case study blog about Wanstead House written by Hannah Armstrong.

Wanstead House

Return to the gate out of the church yard, either on the path that you just walked down, or by following the wall and fence around.

When you exit the church yard, turn left and continue along Overton Drive.  

It is grass on the left side of the road, but stay on it if you can.  If it is too muddy, you may have to cross over to the other side of Overton Drive, which has pavement.  

THE BASIN

On the left side of the road, opposite to the junction of Seagry Road on the right, is a good view of The Basin, now on the golf course.

See (8) on the 1746 Rocque's map at the beginning of the walk for the position of The Basin.


The Basin as it is today.

As you can see from the map, The Basin was right in front of Wanstead House with the main front drive pointing out towards Leytonstone. Originally, a causeway split the pond into two semi-circular parts, but about 1722 the causeway was dug out, and the hexagonal pond shown on Rocque’s map was created.  Over the years the edges have worn and it has changed into a roughly circular pond.  Looking at The basin from this angle, Wanstead House was to the left and behind the pond.

This OS map from 1863 shows the area you are now in. You can see at the top that Blake Hall is marked (in earlier maps it is labelled as Bleak Hall). It was built in 1690 and demolished in 1909. The position of it's site is about halfway up Seagry Road, which branches off Overton Drive, opposite to the Basin. - Link to full OS Map

Continue along Overton drive until it starts to bend around to the right.  As you can see, the end part of the road is in line with Bush Road, heading towards the Green Man roundabout at Leytonstone.  This part of the road follows the original drive from Wanstead House and is in a line with The Basin, and behind that, the site of Wanstead House.

Link to a short video that flies over Wanstead Park, showing the area that you have just walked.

Historical Note 
At the junction of Overton Drive and Blake Hall Road, on either side of the road, are the original gate posts from Wanstead House, erected here in 1715 by Sir Richard Child.  The posts bear his monogram.  Sir Richard Child was the person who demolished the old Tudor Wanstead House, and built the new grand Palladian style house instead.

WAY POINT 6

Cross over Blake Hall Road at the traffic lights and head towards the keepers cottage.

Historical Note 
Blake Hall Road was first built by William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley and his wife Catherine who lived at the Palladian Wanstead House in the early 19th Century.  They were trying to prevent the public from going through Wanstead House park after a madman with a knife was found at their front door.  For centuries there had been a right of way across Wanstead Park, and there was much resistance to the change.  William finally stopped the public crossing the land by getting a private Act of Parliament passed (he was an MP at the time).

Straight in front, is a path that goes through gate 176, and then goes past the keepers cottage.  Take this path. This area has some very old Sweet Chestnut trees, planted in the time of Wanstead House, and there is one in the front garden of the cottage, which you pass on your left side.

Keep on the path, and in about 60 metres, on the left, you will see another very old and gnarled Sweet Chestnut tree.  Go past it and shortly afterwards there is a junction with a crossing path.  


There is a third very Old Chestnut tree here.  These three trees are in a line, so must have been part of the formal planting shown on Rocque’s map.

Turn left at this junction, then go straight ahead, passing a path joining from the left.  

EVELYN'S AVENUE

After a short distance you come to a green and yellow post and a junction with a broad path. Turn right here and walk down the broad Evelyn’s Avenue.

Historical Note 
Evelyn’s Avenue, named after John Evelyn, who was a late 17th century diarist, gardener and writer of ‘Sylva, or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber’.  

Evelyn certainly visited and wrote about the old Wanstead House and Park in the time of Josiah Child, not entirely uncritically.  You get the impression that he thought Child, with his new East India Company money and lavish expenditure, was a little bit vulgar.  It is said that Evelyn’s Avenue was planted by Evelyn, at Josiah Childs' instruction. The trees in the Avenue now are Lime Trees, and were planted at a later date.  

It is thought that the very old Sweet Chestnut trees that you saw earlier may have been part of the original late 17th century planting. 

Evelyn's Avenue

See (9) on the 1746 Rocque's map at the start of the walk for where Evelyn's Avenue is shown.   

This avenue points directly at the City of London, and would probably have been the route Child would have taken to the City (The main part of London in the 17th c.). Walk down the Avenue, on the right hand path.  Look straight ahead, and in the gap between the trees at the bottom of the avenue, you can see the Shard.

Go across a tarmac path, with a lamp post which crosses the avenue, and then over a dirt path crossing.

Continue on down the avenue, past smaller lime trees which were planted more recently to maintain the avenue. Two blocks of white and pale green flats appear in front on the left.

When you come to a wide dirt track crossing, with a green and a white topped post on the right, turn left. 

Follow the dirt track across the playing field towards the trees.  There are mowed playing fields on your right and a rough grass area on your left.

To the right is a view of Canary Wharf.

THE LAKE HOUSE

Walk straight ahead on the track, towards a row of trees, behind which is the Lake House Estate.

Historical Note 
The Lake House Estate was built in the early 20th century, on the area where the original Lake House was.  The Lake House was built on an island in a lake and was part of the Wanstead House estate. You can see it on the 1746 Rocque's map, beneath the number (9).

In the early 19th century, William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, who lived at Wanstead House and was married to Catherine, was accused by Captain Thomas Bligh (with some cause) that William was having an affair with his wife, Helena. Helena had lived at the Lake House before she was married, and had got to know William and Catherine then.  William had claimed that he had spent a lot of time with Helena because she was his cousin.

Between 1832-1835 Thomas Hood, the English poet and author, lived at the Lake House. It is where he wrote ‘Tylney Hall’, his only published novel. 

The Lake House had originally been built as a banqueting hall for Wanstead House.


"The Lake House belonging to
Sir James Tilney Long
on the Ilford Road, Essex"
- an engraving dated 1792

See more pictures of The Lake House at wansteadwildlife.org.uk

WAY POINT 7

When the path reaches a junction, turn right and follow the path along the line of trees.

At a green metal box on the left, turn left and cross Lake House Road on the bend, so that you can see traffic coming from both ways.

Walk on to the path that goes on to the Flats from the bend, and cross another dirt path just afterwards.

Keep walking straight ahead, crossing two more paths.

You may see cars passing ahead on Centre Road, and also parked cars in the Centre Road car park. Head straight towards them.  On reaching the information board on the left, and gate 185 on the right, cross Centre Road, and go into the car park through gate 187.

WAY POINT 8

Go straight ahead past another information board and through gate 189 on to the broad path.

You will pass by a low information board on the left, about the skylarks that nest here.

Eventually, a low green building will appear on the right. These are sports changing rooms. Head towards it, and pass it on your right. Capel Road is in front of you.  Go left along the Flats, keeping Capel Road on your right.

WAY POINT 9

Eventually you will pass the Golden Fleece pub, a perfectly acceptable pub with an extensive food offering and a beer garden with a playground for children.

If you are not tempted, continue past the pub, and follow a straight path parallel with Capel Rd back to an information board. Now turn right, and follow Forest Drive back to Manor Park station.

END OF WALK

Further reading and information about the history of Wanstead House and it’s owners

The Angel and the Cad, by Geraldine Roberts

Wicked William, a blog about William-Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley, the most notorious inhabitant of Wanstead House.

The Owners of Wanstead Park, an in-depth look at the owners from 1086 to 1882

The History of Wanstead Park

A short video of the park in winter from High Flying Drone Shots

A John Rogers video of walking around some of the locations in this walk 

A video of a Wren Group Talk by Mark Gorman & Peter Williams about Wanstead Flats and Wanstead House


LINKS TO OTHER INTERESTING RELATED WEB SITES

LINKS TO HISTORICAL OS MAPS OF THE AREA


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Russell & Paul