St Mary’s Church stands in the centre of the village as it has done for over nine hundred years, emerging from rural crossroads that were here many years before its foundation.
Its ancient graveyard is a haven for bees, insects, birds, bats and mammals, and wildlife is welcomed and kept safe here with careful management of the plants and trees. There are bat boxes and beehives as well as a pond – an essential feature for any nature sanctuary.
All around its churchyard are buildings that are hundreds of years old, all perfectly preserved, including a row of fifteenth-century timber-framed houses.
Explore this area and you will find lanes and alleyways that can still only be used by pedestrians because they were never developed into roads. Vinegar Alley cuts through the graveyard, overlooked by sixteenth century almshouses, which still give shelter to local residents.
Walk the other way for a few minutes and there is another row of almshouses, each with their flower-filled front gardens. Over the centuries, so many older people must have been glad of being cared for by the parish and housed in these diminutive homes.
But next to the almshouses is a reminder of the hardship of days long gone — the workhouse. These villages were not the rural idyll we like to imagine. Vestry House was built in the eighteenth century to house poor people. It does not look like an institution, but more a quaint house with a garden that is once again filled with the sorts of herbs and vegetables that the inmates would have grown as well as dye plants which they may have used for their work.
There is also a wildflower meadow – one of two public spaces in the village which have been sown to encourage bio diversity. The other is on the corner across from the church yard – a small but welcome contribution to add to the total amount of grasslands as most of it has disappeared across the country.
Here, in East London, we can witness the progress of re-wilding and creating a healthier environment for ourselves and the next nine hundred years and beyond.
Walk from Walthamstow Central Station