Vestry House Museum
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
- Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm
- Pre-booked groups and school visits also welcome on Tuesdays
- Entry is free
The ground floor of the museum is accessible to individuals with wheelchairs.
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
- 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.
E17 Art Trail
30 May-30 August
There is so much to discover at this year's E17 Art Trail, and we are proud to host a number of very talented artists, displaying a wide range of styles and mediums. Don’t miss Della Rees’ beautiful True Colours exhibit in the museum garden, or try the Walthamstow Bunny trail. The Forest Poets have created The Secret Lives of Vestry House Museum, a series of poems inspired by the history of the building and its collection.
Inside you will find The Set of Love by Sba Sheikh, See What You Missed by Matt Taylor, Walking in the Sky by Penny Fielding and The Door Diaries by Deborah Nash. Not to be missed is the From Poland to Waltham Forest exhibition, which tells surprising and moving stories of Polish migration. 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.
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 achives to uncover the everyday reality for the men, women and children who ended up in Walthamstow's Workhouse.
Activities and events
The museum offers an exciting and varied programme of activities and events for all ages, many of which are free.
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: www.walthamstowinternationalfilmfestival.com.
Secret Lives of Vestry House
Sunday 14 June, 12.30pm and repeated at 2.30pm
Join Forest Poets on a short, atmospheric poetry tour of Vestry House Museum's many guises: workhouse, police station, private home. Free, no need to book.
Friday 10 July, 6.30-10pm
Celebrate the long summer evenings in the atmospheric garden. Enjoy music, poetry from the Forest Poets, delicious cocktails from local Gin Palace Mother's Ruin and light savouries and cakes with a seasonal twist from Aura Rosa. Entry £2 on the door, all ages welcome, drop in.
Every Sunday in dry weather, 2-4.30pm
The Museum garden is a lovely tranquil spot to develop your drawing skills. We have paper and sketching pencils available at reception. Share photos of your work with us and prizes will be awarded at the end of the summer.
Events for children and families
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.
Fantastical Flying Machines
Sunday 5 July, 1.30-4pm
The first ever British airplane took off from Walthamstow Marshes in July 1909. Construct your own imaginative flying machine inspired by both man and nature, with Michelle Reader. Free drop-in.
Touch the Past
Saturday 11 July, 2.30-4pm
An exciting opportunity to handle objects from the Museum's collection. Get up close and personal with historical artefacts and learn something new about your local area. 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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 02 08318 9105.
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.
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.
Founded in 1996, fosters fellowship and challenges the commercialisation and isolation of modern life.
For more information phone 020 8555 5248 or email email@example.com.
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.
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.
Promotes work on London history, comparative metropolitan histories, memory studies and the intersection of history and contemporary politics.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8530 3002 (evenings only).
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 email@example.com or call 020 8530 3002 (evenings only).