Local History Month: Ilford Historical Society strives to show town does has a history
PUBLISHED: 12:00 20 May 2017
Ilford’s streets may be lined with high-rise flats, housing developments and shops more than remnants of eras gone by, but the town has a varied history, from its origins in the ancient era as part of Barking parish, to its centuries of rural domesticity and the house building and population boom of the 20th century.
The latter saw the town become a destination for businesses and shoppers alike: with Fairchilds department store, Ilford Limited photographic company, Plesseys electronics, navigational company Kelvin Hughes and many more.
Ilford Historical Society has been researching and sharing tales from Ilford’s past for almost 50 years, and president Jef Page has been involved for two decades.
“We’re not doing too badly at the moment, we have a fairly stable membership of about 50,” said the 66-year-old. “We had a decline in money and numbers but got some grants and have been able to keep subscription at £12 a year.
“As president I push all the time, I’m very hands on, I probably drive everyone up the wall. We have a committee, I do believe in that, and the programme is partly suggested by them and members.
“Some members are in two or three societies, some have visited just once and never come back, it depends. People come because they want to have a good evening and learn some history.”
The society hosts nine talks a year, monthly between September and May, at Ilford Hospital Chapel, Ilford Lane. The site is the oldest building in Redbridge, founded in c.1145 by Adelicia (Adeliza), Abbess of Barking, as a hospice for 13 elderly, infirm men.
Jef, who has organised the society’s talks programme since joining, strikes a roughly 50/50 balance between local and national history, with local heritage sessions – covering Redbridge as well as wider London and Essex – generally the more popular among members.
Upcoming topics include the history of Gants Hill, the Battle of the Somme (which took place 100 years ago last year) and potentially Indian independence, with July 2017 marking 70 years since the partition.
National history sessions occasionally hark back to the Middle Ages and the early modern period – previous topics have included Elizabeth I, and Henry V’s triumph at the Battle of Agincourt – but local sessions tend to focus on the 19th and 20th centuries, with records more easily accessible, as well as photographs.
The society publishes a popular newsletter, in print and digital, three times a year, edited by vice-president Georgina Green and featuring a range of articles written by members.
Jef, who lived in Newbury Park for four decades before moving to Chingford in 2004, joined the group about 20 years ago, so has fond memories of many stalwarts of Ilford’s local history scene, who are sadly no longer with us.
“Some of the best historians have gone unfortunately, that sort of generation has mostly gone.
“For me, the most skilled historian was Bert Lockwood, his research was excellent. He would check everything and draw out the fine detail.
“Then there was Peter Foley and Peter Wright, different personalities, different interests. Peter Wright was the research librarian here in Redbridge, he was very good.
“And then Norman Gunby [author of A Potted History of Ilford], who could bring things together in a popular way.”
Jef himself has a long background in the heritage sphere. He holds Bachelor of Arts and Masters degrees and worked at the National Gallery for 25 years.
There are two other historical societies in Redbridge – Woodford Historical Society and Wanstead Historical Society – and the groups tend to keep to themselves, though the Ilford group is hoping they may join forces to commemorate the end of the First World War centenary next year.
Much has changed in Ilford over the last 100 years, and beyond, and Jef is keen to connect more residents with their past.
“A lot of the old buildings have gone unfortunately, the only ones which have survived are Ilford Hospital Chapel and Valentines Mansion, it’s very sad.
“People think Ilford doesn’t have a history, but the echoes of the buildings and the people who have lived here, that all lives on.”