News Walthamstow

Vestry House reopening date set for ‘early 2026’

The Walthamstow Village museum will undergo a £4.5m redevelopment starting early next year

By Marco Marcelline

Vestry House Museum

An “early 2026” reopening date has been set for the Vestry House Museum as it prepares for a £4.5million revitalisation project.

In a statement on their website, Vestry House said the museum “will close on 23rd December” while its garden will remain open to visitors “until 18th February 2024”. It will be open as usual Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm up to and including 23rd December.

Waltham Forest Council has appointed architecture firm Studio Weave, who redesigned Lea Bridge Library, to lead the £4.5m project. 

The revitalisation is set to include improved disability and general access, new creative workspaces and a café.

The project comes as a key part of the council’s Levelling Up Fund programme. Work is scheduled to begin in early 2024.

The council has committed £4.5m to the redevelopment after receiving a total of £17m from the government’s Levelling Up fund. The money was granted to the council to boost Walthamstow’s “cultural offer”.

In a 2022 engagement document, the council wrote that the “reimagination” of Vestry House would contribute to the creation of its “15-minute cultural neighbourhood” for Walthamstow, alongside the restoration of other council-owned buildings like Chestnuts House and Hatherley Mews.

Another planned “cultural offer”, Soho Theatre, has been hit by construction delays with its opening pushed back to 2025 from February 2024.

The museum currently receives around 22,000 visitors a year, compared to over 100,000 yearly visitors at the William Morris Gallery which was revamped in 2012. The council are planning to increase visitor numbers to 60,000 and diversify the visitor demographics by inviting school visits and hosting 150 free events.

The 18th century Grade II listed building was constructed in 1730 to house the parish workhouse and was later used as a police station, an armoury, a builders’ merchants and a private home before opening to the public in 1931 as a local history museum.

It is home to the borough’s archives and local studies library which contains 18th and 19th century documents on the men, women, and children who worked there.

The museum has a collection of more than 100,000 historical objects and themed displays that tell the story of the borough. Its collection includes the famous Bremer car, a Victorian parlour, toys, a photo archive and its volunteer-run garden.

Archives from the archive reading room will be moved to Walthamstow Central Library during the renovations, though it is not clear if they will be re-housed in the Vestry House Museum when the works are complete. The archive reading room had once been the women’s ward of the workhouse.

Eddie Blake, Studio Weave’s director said: “Waltham Forest investing in the arts at a time when elsewhere funding is limited and culture is struggling – this is both essential and a great thing to be involved in.

“Vestry House Museum is a great opportunity to lead a talented local team in delivering an important architectural project that will improve access to the borough’s culture and historic archives, whilst expanding the use of the building to attract a wider audience. Studio Weave is proud to be working on such a significant building.”

Councillor Ros Doré, the council’s culture lead said: “We are thrilled to be working with Studio Weave on the revitalisation of Vestry House Museum. Their work on Lea Bridge Library shows they have the sensitivity and expertise to work with us to bring new life to this important historic asset, making it more accessible, inclusive and exciting for all the borough’s residents to enjoy.”

Meanwhile, local residents and historical preservation societies have called on the Bremer car to continue to be housed in Waltham Forest while Vestry House is redeveloped. 

Writing for the Echo’s letter section, Linsey Collier, said the car could go to the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum or the Town Hall during the redevelopment period instead of the National Motor Museum in Hampshire, its currently planned destination. 

The car was given to the residents of Walthamstow by engineer Fredrick Bremer and was the first British four-wheeled internal combustion engine car which was built at his works in Walthamstow in 1894.