View of St James St in 1905

Tuesday 14 March – Saturday 22 April

Public Opening: Thursday, 16 March 2017, 6:30pm – 8pm, All Welcome

Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop brings together historic photographs and documents from Vestry House Museum and recorded memories of more than 30 local shoppers, shop owners and stallholders from the First World War to 2017 in an exhibition telling the story of Walthamstow’s first shopping centre.

I remember when Woolworths was there, on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you think of Oxford Street at Christmas time, that’s how that was. (The market) closed at one o’clock on Thursdays, and you’ve never seen anything like it in your entire life. It was like going to Westfield when it’s at its busiest. You could not move.

Brian B.

The biggest change has to be in the market itself. I think that’s where the biggest decline in Walthamstow has happened, the lower end, the International (Supermarket) area and the beginning where Oxfam is, it’s kind of dried up. The market doesn’t really start until you hit Sainsburys, which is midway, and that’s where the market really is.

Arjun Singh, Simran Flowers at St James Street Station

St James Street Station opened in 1870, bringing crowds of people into the area around it. Over the years it developed into Walthamstow’s first shopping centre. But today, following years of decline, shoppers head for the other end of the market and to Selborne Walk.

Over the last year, Waltham Forest Council, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has been restoring historic buildings and improving shop fronts and the street environment in the St James Street Conservation Area through a Townscape Heritage Regeneration Project. As part of this project, Waltham Forest Oral History Workshop members and volunteers have been interviewing shoppers, shop workers and stallholders and have created a collection of more than 30 recordings to bring the area’s history to life.

Extracts from these recordings can be heard in the exhibition alongside other voices from our archive, some dating back to the First World War. There are vivid memories from many decades ago together with local people’s hopes and opinions about the future of this part of Walthamstow.

We have also explored archive sources in Vestry House Museum and selected images from its extensive collection of historic photographs, to demonstrate how local shops and the local population have changed over more than a hundred years.

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