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Vestry House Museum

Last updated 19 November 2015

Welcome to Vestry House Museum

Vestry House Museum presents the history of Waltham Forest. Situated in Walthamstow Village, the building used to house the parish workhouse, and was later a police station and private home.

It now contains themed displays capturing the unique heritage of the local area and includes the famous Bremer Car, a Victorian parlour, costume gallery and wonderful display of locally manufactured toys and games.

A collection of 80,000 historic photographs from across the Borough is accessible to everyone by appointment. The beautiful volunteer-run garden is an oasis in which to relax and enjoy the arrival of spring.

Vestry House Museum, Vestry Road, Walthamstow, E17 9NH
020 8496 4391

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Wednesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
Open Tuesdays to schools and pre-booked groups
Free entry

Visiting us

Opening times

  • Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm
  • Pre-booked groups and school visits also welcome on Tuesdays
  • Entry is free

Christmas closure

Vestry House Museum will close for Christmas on 25 December and re-opens on 2 January 2016.

Disabled access

The ground floor of the museum is accessible to individuals with wheelchairs.

Getting here

By rail, tube or bus:

  • The museum is only a 7 minute walk from Walthamstow Central (rail/tube/bus) which is on the end of the Victoria line. Alternatively, it is a 10 minute walk from Queens Road station

By car:

  • If you are travelling by car there is limited parking around the museum and most of the parking bays require visitor permits

Join our mailing list

Join our mailing list for all the latest news on our exhibitions, events and education programmes.


The Workhouse. Life on the Edge in 18th Century Walthamstow

19 September 2015-17 January 2016

Who helped the poor and homeless in 18th Century Walthamstow? This exhibition tells the fascinating story of how Vestry House Museum was once the Parish Workhouse. Revealing the building's dark past and opening up the archives to uncover the everyday reality for the men, women and children who ended up in Walthamstow's Workhouse. In association with Forest Poets

Activities and events

The museum offers an exciting and varied programme of activities and events for all ages, many of which are free.

Sunday Serial: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Every Sunday from 4 October 2015-17 January 2016 (excluding 27 December)

Come and hear this entire classic novel read out loud in 15 parts. Originally published in 1837 as a monthly serial, Charles Dickens tells the dramatic story of the orphan Oliver Twist, who starts his life in a workhouse.

Mostly know through film and TV dramatisations, these readings reveal Dickens’s biting satire and humour as he critiques the Victorian welfare system and the hypocrisy of those who present themselves as ‘doing good’.

An ideal accompaniment to our Workhouse exhibition presented by actors from the Woodhouse Players and Waltham Forest Drama Workshop.

Each weekly reading will start with a brief summary of the story so far. FREE, drop-in.

Workshop: An Introduction to House History

Saturday 14 November

Curious about the history of your house but not sure where to start? In this introduction to house history research, Dr Neil Houghton of the Walthamstow Historical Society will reveal the types of archival sources available and how to use them. £5, tickets can be purchased at the Museum in advance.

Talk: The Last Sack of Potatoes: Stories from the Workhouse

Sunday 15 November

Find out more about the people who lived in the workhouse through the wealth of stories contained in the Poor Law records held at Waltham Forest Archives. A talk by Dr Mary Clare Martin from the University of Greenwich and Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society. FREE

Sunday Screen at the Museum: Passport To Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949, Cert U)

Sunday 22 November

One of the most charmingly whimsical Ealing Studio comedies of the late 1940s. As a result of wartime bombing, an ancient parchment is uncovered, proving that the Pimlico section of London belongs to Burgundy, France. Long taken for granted by other Londoners, the tiny Pimlico populace decides to take advantage of its "foreign" status.

Doors open 2pm, DVD Film Swap Shop, film 2.30pm, close 5pm

Tickets: £5.50/£4.50 concessions (senior citizens/under 12s/students/unemployed)

Book online at or purchase in person at the Museum (cash only).

Vestry’s Victorian Christmas (coinciding with The Village Residents Carols 7-8.30pm)

Tuesday 8 December

This popular festive event returns for both children and adults. Visit a traditional Father Christmas in a magical grotto, make Christmas crafts, stir the pudding and enjoy mulled wine and mince pies. Later shop for gifts by local designers. FREE (Santa’s gifts £3.50 per child)

Events for children and families

Family Activity: Significant Seams: The Poppy Project

Sunday 8 November

Create a giant poppy from fabric and found objects to be part of the Giant’s Garden, a community project to commemorate Armistice Day and Waltham Forest’s contribution to the Great War. FREE

Family Activity: Deck the Halls

Sunday 13 December
1.30 – 4pm

Make festive garlands and sparkly tree decorations to create a special Victorian feel for your Christmas celebrations. With E17 designer Carolyn Abbott. FREE

Volunteering at Vestry House Museum

At Vestry House Museum there are lots of opportunities to volunteer for anyone aged 18 and over. Whether you want to learn a new skill, get some experience to add to your CV or do something valuable for the community in your spare time, volunteering could be for you. You do not need to have any experience of museums and galleries to volunteer as our programme caters for everyone from beginners to experts. Details on how to apply, and the types of roles available will be posted on this website nearer the time of our next Volunteer Open Day.

Explore Vestry House Museum

Themed displays capture the unique heritage of this area or north east London.

Explore life during past and present Waltham Forest through our fascinating displays on domestic life, local history, fashion and toys and games. See our Victorian parlour and enter our police cell!

The Bremer car

One of our star exhibits is the Bremer car. Built locally by engineer Frederick Bremer in 1892, it is one of the claimants to being the oldest British-built petrol driven car. It must have been a curious sight on the streets of Walthamstow. A speed limit of just four miles per hour was imposed by a man walking in front of the vehicle at all times carrying a red flag.

Victorian parlour

One of the rooms at the museum has been set up to reconstruct a typical local parlour from about 1890.

Walthamstow Tea Service

Little is known about the origins of this set of cups, saucers and bowls other than it was produced in the 1820s for a local well-to-do family. Many of the items depict local houses and because of this it has become known as the Walthamstow Tea Service. A selection from the set is permanently on display.

The police cell

As Vestry House once housed a police station the museum has made use of this in its exhibitions. One of the cells still exists with its original bench and toilet and in this area we have recreated a scene from April 1861.

We know that on this evening Sgt. Charles Carpenter was on duty whilst James Wright, a local labourer, had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. During a visit you may be "lucky" enough to experience the fate of James Wright by being locked in the cell.

Domestic life

The Domestic Life gallery looks at utensils used for washing, ironing, cooking and for serving food during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Toys and games

Discover some of the toys that were being played with or manufactured in Waltham Forest during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


The costume gallery contains examples of clothing from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries including a Georgian dress, a Victorian wedding dress and a Second World War wedding dress. Within the gallery there is also a display about making and repairing clothing.

In the costume gallery is a wonderful example of wood panelling. This sixteenth century panelling, including the fire place, was removed from Essex Hall during its demolition in 1933 and placed into the museum.

Vestry House shop

Our shop offers a range of products, from small souvenirs to toys and games from the past. Be inspired by our local history and heritage and purchase one of our fascinating history books or maps of the area. Such items make perfect gifts or act as a way of remembering your visit.

The workhouse garden

As part of a visit to the museum, why not enjoy a leisurely stroll through our award-winning community garden.

The beautiful planting is inspired by the garden's history as an eighteenth-century workhouse garden, with an emphasis on useful plants including vegetables, herbs and dye plants. There is also a wild meadow area and a bed designed to attract butterflies.

Our Function Room is located in the garden. Find out more about hiring the Function Room for meetings and events, including weddings.

The garden is maintained by an active group of dedicated volunteers. If you've got green fingers - or if you're a beginner who is keen to learn - we would love to hear from you.

History of Vestry House

Vestry House, a two storey building of brown stock brick, was constructed in 1730 by order of the Vestry. At that time the Church Common covered 27 acres to the south of Church End. The Vestry purchased an acre of this land close to the village for £6 on which to build their workhouse.

A simple eight roomed symmetrical house was initially built on the site at a cost of £343, 12s, 3d. The ground floor room to the left of the front door was to be used for Vestry meetings, and the rest of the building was to be occupied by the paupers. The inscribed stone plaque erected above the entrance to mark the completion of the building still remains in position and declares:

"if any would not work neither should he eat"

Vestry House had since been a police station and a private house.

From 1882 until 1892 the oldest part of the building was used as the headquarters of the Walthamstow Literary and Scientific Institute, after which it became a private house, occupied by the Maynard family until 1912, and then for the next eighteen years Miss Constance Demain Saunders, JP.

In 1930 Miss Demain Saunders offered the remainder of her lease of Vestry House to the Walthamstow Borough Council (the successor to the Local Board), and it was decided to use this historic building to house a museum, the aim of which was to be an educative and popular introduction to the social and economic history of our town and district.

Vestry House opened as a museum in 1931.

Other local history groups

Age Exchange

Works with elder people to improve their quality of life by valuing their reminiscences and giving them opportunities for wider appreciation in the form of visual and performance arts projects, intergenerational projects, exhibitions, publications and documentary film.

For more information email or call 02 08318 9105.

Chingford Historical Society

The Society has been established over 60 years. It is a registered charity No 281623

They organise meetings during the winter on the second Wednesday of each month and coach tours to places of historical interest in the summer. We publish a bi-annual newsletter. Local history research is carried out and books and newsletters about Chingford's past are on sale. The society is affiliated to Essex Archaeological and Historical Congress.

Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society

The Society began in February 2005 at a meeting attended by over a hundred people.

Our long-term aims are to research and promote interest in and knowledge of the history of the area of the former Borough of Leyton and its surrounding region.

News from Nowhere

Founded in 1996, fosters fellowship and challenges the commercialisation and isolation of modern life.

For more information phone 020 8555 5248 or email

The Highams Park Society

Was founded in 2006 and aims to promote a greater understanding of Highams Park.

It holds talks, exhibitions and other activities on topics of local interest. Call 020 8531 2938 for further information.

The Lea Valley Experience Museum Project

A heritage museum for Lea Valley being developed at the Pump House Steam and Transport Museum.

This project showcases Britain's largest forgotten industrial story that most certainly changed the world as we know it today.

The Raphael Samuel history centre

Promotes work on London history, comparative metropolitan histories, memory studies and the intersection of history and contemporary politics.

Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop

The Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop has been in existence for over 25 years. In that period they have recorded over 550 interviews with people connected to the borough in one way or another.

Walthamstow Historical Society

The site provides information on the background of the group, the current programme of talks and visits, a list of current publications and prices, membership information as well as images of Walthamstow and of previous group visits.

Wanstead Flats Working Group

This is an offshoot of the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society, dedicated to exploring the history of the flats, the 450-acre area that forms the southern boundary of Epping Forest.

To find out more email or call 020 8530 3002 (evenings only).

WEA history classes

Are you interested in learning more about local history The Walthamstow Branch of WEA (Workers Educational Association) runs adult education classes in this area on local history.

To find out more email or call 020 8530 3002 (evenings only).

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