Heritage column: Insight into Wanstead from a historical image archive

Photograph from the Hobbs family album 1896-1907. Picture: Richard Arnopp

Photograph from the Hobbs family album 1896-1907. Picture: Richard Arnopp - Credit: Richard Arnopp

This is the first in a monthly series by historian Richard Arnopp about his photography archive of Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Bush Wood.

Here in Redbridge we are fortunate to have an important and historic open space.

Wanstead Park was once the setting for the palatial Wanstead House, sadly demolished in the 1820s.

Though their focus has gone, important features of the landscaped gardens survive, notably five listed structures and an extensive cascade of artificial lakes.

Designated a Grade II* historic landscape, the public areas of the park are also an important local amenity with an estimated 200,000 visits per year.

In addition, Wanstead Park is an important refuge for wildlife, particularly waterfowl.

Since 2007 I’ve been involved in the campaign to raise public awareness of Wanstead Park.

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More recently, I have been a member of the steering group tasked with developing plans for its restoration and future management.

I’ve also been an active researcher into various aspects of the park’s history, to inform the development of plans for the future by shedding light on its past.

One of my projects has been to build up a collection of historic images of Wanstead Park, Bush Wood and Wanstead Flats.

My main purpose was to create a reference source for the historic appearance, management and use of Wanstead Park and its wider landscape.

However, I’m also conscious that, in collecting and digitising this material, much of which is on chemically unstable media, I’m helping to ensure its preservation.

Over the coming months, I’m going to give you a taste of this “treasure trove” of postcards, original photographs and other items, many of them rare or even unique.

Some of them incidentally shed light on social history, local events, recreational activities, personalities and much else.

My ultimate intention is to donate the collection to a public repository.

In the meantime, at the suggestion of colleagues at Epping Forest, I have made the entire collection available on eHive, which is an online resource used by museums, societies and private collectors worldwide to catalogue and publish their collections.

You can access the Wanstead Image Archive by clicking here.