A tale of two boroughs

I’ll start From The Edge with a bit of scene setting about Waltham Forest, its surrounding area, and its relationship to the rest of London. None of this will be news to anyone who has lived here for any time, and there are many local residents who have far more knowledge of the history and politics surrounding many of the issues I’ll write about here. However, there are a few key themes which I know will recur throughout this blog – things which certainly inform the way I think about this part of London, things which I believe make this such an interesting place to live in and write about, and things which present a special set of challenges.

On The Edge

Like most London Boroughs Waltham Forest is, or at least once was, a collection of many small towns and villages. Each of them – Walthamstow, Leyton, Leytonstone, Chingford – still has their own distinct centre, community and personality, but are undeniably a part of something much bigger. However, it is not far enough away to have one genuine centre with a strong gravitational pull (unlike for example Richmond, or Croydon) but unlike Boroughs closer to the centre of London, it often feels genuinely disconnected from the capital, especially in the North of the borough. Which brings me nicely onto….

The Question of Essex

Many residents of Chingford will claim they do not see themselves as living in London at all – they are Essex boys and girls through and through. Until 1965 Chingford was a municipal borough in Essex, when it was consumed by London, and became part what is now the London Borough of Waltham Forest. There are those who feel this is an unnatural and unhappy marriage, and it is at times a difficult one, at least in part due to….

The Dividing Line

The A406, or North Circular, cuts through Waltham Forest – on an (infrequent) good traffic day many hundreds of cars must pass through the borough in no more than 10 minutes. Though it is always dangerous to generalise, there are clear social, ethnic, and political divides in the borough, and crossing the A406 can feel like entering new territory. At times, the residents of this collection of very disparate wards and constituencies – from Duncan Smith’s Chingford to Stella Creasy’s Awesomestow are only genuinely united by their disatisfaction with an oft criticised borough council which struggles to achieve genuine consensus or nurture strong leadership. From 2002 to 2010 the political pendulum swung from left to right as you moved north through the borough, with no party having overall control. Although currently labour, the Socialist Worker leafleters in Walthamstow town square excite little sympathy from Chingford residents popping across the north circ to top up on cheap essentials from Wilkinsons.

2 million trees

Finally, a quick word on Epping Forest, an escape for Chingford villagers and Walthamstow workers alike and, for me, one of the main attractions of living on the edge. A five minute walk from Chingford station can take you deep into forest from where you can walk for a day without ever crossing a major road. A popular day trip since Victorian times, and inspiration to artists from William Morris to the inhabitants of the vibrant cluster of studios on Walthamstows Blackhorse Lane, the forest has a magical quality which, in the mist of an autumn morning can transport you back to a time before London swallowed up the hamlets of Woodford and the country manors of Walthamstow.

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