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Vestry House Museum

Last updated 23 March 2015

Easter opening hours

Find out more about service opening hours over the Easter holiday.

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.

An archive 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

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.


Walthamstow Watercolours

4-29 March
Illustrator and muralist Emma Scutt exhibits the 24 watercolour and pen paintings from her sell-out 2014 and 2015 Walthamstow calendars. The paintings feature favourite buildings, cafes, pubs, churches and places in and around Walthamstow, including the EMD Cinema, William Morris Gallery, Vestry House gardens, L Manze, Gods Own Junkyard and Walthamstow market.

We weren’t expecting to stay – and other stories

14 March-17 May 2015
An exhibition by Everyday Muslim, a community heritage project creating an archive of British Muslim life. This exhibition explores the shared experiences of everyday life; clothing, work, food and worship, with a special focus on Waltham Forest. Free entry.

E17 Art Trail

30 May-30 August 2015
This year at Vestry House Museum, we have a number of very talented artists, displaying a wide range of styles and mediums. Don’t miss Della Rees’ beautiful True Colours exhibit, which will be in the museum garden. Free entry

News of the War

1 April-30 June 2015
Follow the Great War through the pages of the local newspapers, in this changing display curated by Waltham Forest Local Studies Library. More source material, e.g. rolls of honour, available on appointment.

Activities and events

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

Waltham Forest Archives

Saturday 2 May, 2.30–4.30pm
Open afternoon in the Archive and Local Studies Library at Vestry House Museum. Come and discover gems from our archive collections! No prior booking needed. Please note: access via stairs only.

Walthamstow Muslim History Walk

Saturday 9 May, 10.30am-12.30pm
Join Abdul Maalik Tailor to discover some of the historical connections, contributions and presence of Muslims in Walthamstow. Starts at Kelmscott School E17 8DN, ends at Vestry House Museum E17 9NH. Tickets £8, £6 for children, pay on the day. For more information please call 020 8496 4391.

Workshop: Neo Noir - Writing for the screen

Saturday 6 June, 2-5pm
Breaking Bad, Drive, In Bruges - these stories show us the dangerous, self-destructive side of human nature. This seminar unpacks the genre and shows how these can be applied to make great new stories. Led by Ian Long, suitable for screen writers and general interest cinema fans. £5. Find out more and register your place.

Walthamstow International Film Festival

Sunday 7 June, 12-5pm
Short films from local and international professional and amateur film-makers and students, five minutes or under. All suitable for family viewing. Drama, Documentary, Animation, Experimental, Silent and Young Film-makers. Free, drop-in. Find out more:

Events for children and families

Spring Blooms

Sunday 15 March, 1.30-4pm
Decorate a flower pot, plant a seedling and watch it grow. Be inspired by the plants and flowers growing in Vestry House Museum’s beautiful garden. With artist Lucy Rainbow. Free, drop-in.

Easter Egg Trail

Saturday 4, Sunday 5 April, 10am-4.30pm
Follow the clues around Vestry House Museum and collect a free chocolate Easter egg as your reward. Free, drop-in.

Holiday Fun for Everyone

Wednesday 8 April, 10.30am-3pm
Join Waltham Forest’s Family Learning Team to enjoy a lively range of arts and crafts activities linked to the Museum displays. Free, drop-in.

Treasured Memories

Sunday 12 April, 1.30-4pm
Be inspired by memories in the Everyday Muslim exhibition to create your own memory mug by drawing designs onto ceramic mugs. With artist Sba Shaikh. Free, drop-in.

The Art of the Pen

Sunday 17 May, 1.30-4pm
Inspired by the Everyday Muslim exhibition, use calligraphy pens to create Islamic patterns around Arabic words. With artist Amber Khokhar. Free, drop-in.

Holiday Fun for Everyone

Wednesday 27 May, 10.30am-3pm
Join Waltham Forest’s Family Learning Team to enjoy a lively range of arts and crafts activities linked to the museum displays. Free, drop-in.

Midsummer Masquerade

Sunday 14 June, 1.30-4pm
Create fabulous colourful masks inspired by the Arts Trail and great for Midsummer parties, then join in a masked parade. Free, drop-in.

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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