Joel Hirsch and Jo Robinson call for the preservation of an historic building in Walthamstow
Behind a high wall and railings in Walthamstow nestles an architectural gem dating from 1751; Chestnuts House.
Its last use was for adult education, but it now nestles uneasily next to a Tesco petrol station and opposite a Brutalist 1960s telephone exchange in Hoe Street. It can be easily overlooked as you rush by, but since 1951 Historic England has listed it for being of ‘special interest’.
To its credit Waltham Forest Council has opened up a consultation and not put it under the auctioneer’s hammer straight away. We attended a tour of Chestnuts House and met up alongside other interested parties in October.
The building’s faded glory and atmosphere transported us back to its strange historic past as a former women’s asylum from the 1930s, and we were told this magnificent house was built by a former rich slave trader of Walthamstow.
However, we are concerned that the bottom line for this building’s revival will be profit, at the cost of not fully respecting our heritage and local history. This was reflected in those attending alongside us, who were involved in running craft beer breweries and coffee purveyers, alongside artists’ studios. We want to maintain the character of Chestnuts House and avoid flooding the area with trendy pop- ups, which contribute to gentrification.
Public space is also shrinking because of encroaching privatisation, with whole areas disappearing under concrete and glass. The creeping loss of public and commons space is of growing concern.
We must remember it was the local community that saved William Morris Gallery and Highams Hill Library and spawned the reborn Lloyd Park.
We are not against small traders or artists, but frankly we need a public space for community meetings and activities. We should be involved in a more wide-ranging consultation on such an important building as Chestnuts House, so that it can reflect the history of the past and serve the needs of the community today.
Jo would like to hear from anyone interested in campaigning to save Chestnuts House for use by the community: