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Vestry House Museum

Last updated 2 September 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

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 Sketch
Every Sunday (in dry weather)
2 – 4.30pm, Vestry House Museum Garden
The Museum garden is a lovely tranquil spot to develop your drawing skills. Every Sunday in dry weather we’ll have paper and sketching pencils available at reception. Share photos of your work with us and prizes will be awarded at the end of September! FREE

Touch the Past
Saturday 29 August, 26 September
2.30 – 4pm
An exciting opportunity to handle objects from the Vestry House Museum’s collection. Get up close and personal with historical artefacts and learn something new about your local area. FREE
The Great Village Produce - Plant & Seed Swap
Sunday 6 September
11am – 3pm
Bring your surplus seeds, produce, plants and terracotta pots and swap them for something different! Horticultural experts will be on hand to answer your questions. Purchase delicious produce from local suppliers such as Aura Rosa and Community bee-keeping project BEE17. FREE 
A partnership event with The Walthamstow Village Residents' Association
Happy Birthday @DiaryIvy
Saturday 19 September
1 – 4pm
What was it like to be young in 1940s Walthamstow? Local resident Ivy was 18 and kept a diary which you can now follow on Twitter @DiaryIvy. Join us as we celebrate her birthday with a special event of 1940s fashion, music and cinema. Refreshments will also be available. FREE
Sunday Screen at the Museum - Oliver! (Carol Reed, 1968, Cert U)
Sunday 27 September
2 – 5pm
Experience the high-spirited adventures of Oliver Twist in this Oscar-winning musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic tale. An orphan boy escapes the cheerless life of the workhouse and takes to the streets of 19th-Century London.
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)
Fun Palace at Vestry House Museum!
Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 October
12 – 5pm
Join us for a weekend of free activities inspired by local inventions. There will be music, arts and crafts, object handling, demonstrations, tea and cake and much more. The amazing Walthamstow-based Slap Haddock theatre company will also be premiering a special new performance about a local toy inventor – Walthamstow Firsts – The Toy Maker. Open to everyone from 0 to 100!
In partnership with The Mill and Slap Haddock
Apple Day
Saturday 10 October
11am – 4pm, Vestry House Museum
This popular community event celebrates the healthy, humble, tasty apple and all the other good things that autumn brings. Highlights include apples for tasting, pressing and bobbing by Organiclea, food by Norman Loves, produce for sale, live music and children’s activities.
Magic Lantern
Saturday 24 October
2 – 3pm
Back by popular demand! Gary Heales reveals highlights from the Museum’s eclectic collection of lantern slides, including images of the Lea Valley in the 1930s. FREE
Sunday Screen at the Museum:  Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942, Cert U)
Sunday 25 October
2 – 5pm
In this classic romantic drama, a spinster (Bette Davis) is driven to a nervous breakdown by her domineering mother, but recovers with a psychiatrist's help. She then takes an ocean voyage where she blooms as a woman and has an affair with a married man that leads to self-fulfilment in an unexpected way.
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)

Halloween Late at the Museum!
Friday 30 October
6.30 – 10pm
Come and celebrate Halloween in our atmospheric Museum. There will be a children's trail, spooky entertainment, cocktails and drinks, patisserie by Aura Rosa and a Murder Mystery Trail. Vestry House is the perfect venue to enjoy the spooky season. £3 donation on the door (children go free).
Workshop: An Introduction to House History
Saturday 14 November
2 – 4pm
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
2 – 5pm
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
4.30 – 10pm
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: Whacky Races
Sunday 9 August
1.30 – 4pm
Did you know that the first British petrol-engine car was built in Walthamstow in 1898 by Frederick Bremer? Invent your own ‘automobile’ and enter into our Whacky Races to see whose design can go furthest. With Scribble and Smudge. FREE
Family Activity: Be a Young Archaeologist
Sunday 13 September
1.30 – 4pm
Dig in Vestry House’s archaeology trenches and unearth intriguing objects from the past. Use your deductive skills to find out more about them and record your finds for posterity. FREE
Family Activity: Discovering the Line
Sunday 11 October
1.30 – 4pm
Artist Ania Bas leads a drop-in printmaking workshop for all the family. Experiment using vegetables, rollers and printing blocks to create patterns and textures inspired by the lines we see around us. FREE
Part of Art on the Underground’s programme ‘Underline’, supported by Arts Council England. 
Half-Term Activities: Holiday Fun for Everyone
Wednesday 28 October
10.30 – 3pm
Join Waltham Forest’s Family Learning Team to enjoy a lively range of arts and crafts activities linked to the Museum displays. Drop in, for families of all ages (children must be accompanied). FREE
Family Activity: Significant Seams: The Poppy Project
Sunday 8 November
1.30 – 4pm
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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