Discover local black history

A mural celebrating black history in Wyatts Lane, Wathamstow
A mural celebrating black history in Wyatts Lane, Wathamstow

Andy Simons welcomes the latest edition of a fascinating local history book

It was four prime ministers ago when Leytonstone resident Peter Ashan wrote and published a book on the history of the black community in Waltham Forest.

The book, Freedom Walk: The Roots of Diversity in Waltham Forest, was published back in 2007. If only other London boroughs had an author with such public spirit and willing to do the research! I want to know that the road around the corner was named after one of several local anti-slavery abolitionists and, on the flipside, discover that rich slave-traders brought ‘servants’ across the seas to labour in their new East London mansions.

Long after Britain officially banned legal slavery, immigration from the Caribbean established itself throughout our borough. Men, women and children risked everything to work here, to study here, intersecting with churches and mosques, our NHS and military, our schools and sports teams, and our local politics and foreign policy. In these last areas, multiracial, anti-racist partnerships stretched from Walthamstow Town Hall to Brick Lane and Westminster.

Peter Ashan occasionally takes a break from his work at Royal Museums Greenwich and the V&A, and has used his book as the basis of his two-hour ‘Freedom Walk’ tours. These are Sunday events, all over Waltham Forest, and have the endorsement of both Waltham Forest Council and local trade union branches.

Early in the first lockdown, I asked Peter if he might update his book, and my wish came true. Such a break from the normal buzz proved an ideal time to get it done. The new 2020 edition is a pocket-sized walking guide to sites where important people spent their lives, from slavery tycoons to school teachers, from football stars to festival organisers.

Contributing to the new edition, Vestry House Museum kindly provided some early snaps of residents of colour, back from when photography was new and flash. And as Freedom Walk reveals, we’ve always been a diverse community. You can get to know its history through Peter’s efforts, either in person on his guided walk, or on your own with the book.

Get in touch with Peter if you’d like to know more: