Before the manor of Highams
Historical records show that Vikings sailed up the River Lea and settled in, as well as other areas, the Great Forest of Waltham. A Domesday Book entry from 1066 shows a manor of Hecham overseen by a Saxon freeman, Haldene and then latterly Peter de Valgones. It is believed that this village was centred near the present-day Royal Oak pub on Hale End Road, which was where Hale End and then Highams Park began.
Watch this excellent talk to learn more about Highams Park History: History of Highams Park by Sandeep Christian
Building Highams manor house
By 1303 Alexander de Balliol of the Royal House of Scotland was in possession and gave his name to the manor, Higham Bensted which was in the parish of Walthamstow. The original manor house of Highams, was located near Blackhorse Lane.
In 1764, the then Lord of the Manor, Anthony Bacon MP, a prominent industrialist and the wealthiest man in the House of Commons, enclosed a large area of Higham Bushes known as The Sale. He commissioned architect Willian Newton to create a new manor house to be built there in the more salubrious and health-giving area of Woodford Green, albeit its grounds were still within the parish of Walthamstow. "Highams" was built in 1768. The original manor house was renamed Essex Hall.
William Hornby, a former governor of Bombay, owned Highams 1785-1790. He added a central cupola to make the most of the spectacular views, which reached as far as the River Thames, and a balustraded third storey.
Its third owner, John Harman, called in the eminent landscape gardener Humphry Repton in 1793 to design pleasure gardens in the 132 acres that made up the estate. A "fishpool" was formed by damming the River Ching. Repton kept his plans for Highams in one of his famous red books Vestry House Museum, Walthamstow).
Selling off the manor
Harman’s son Jeremiah sold the estate to Edward Warner in 1849. The Warners were a prominent and well-connected family in Walthamstow (Prime Minister William Gladstone visited the Warner family at Highams).
The railway came to Highams Park in 1873, although initially, the station was named Hale End. Courtenay Warner inherited the estate from his father Edward. Likely, he did not reside there very often, regarding the grounds of the manor as a development opportunity, as many estate owners did at this time.
In 1890, 27 acres of the forest and lake were sold to become part of Epping Forest. In 1893, the entirety of the remaining estate, which included Highams, Park Farm and surrounding land totalling 143 acres was advertised for sale by auction. However, the lot did not sell.
Courtenay Warner formed the Warner Estates company in 1891 to manage the manor house. In 1897 a company jointly owned by Warner Estate Ltd. and the Law Land Building Department Ltd. was formed. Around this time, housing was built along Chingford Road, and larger villas were erected for middle-class families along Montalt Road, known as Montalt Villas.
In 1898 the Law Land Building Department Ltd. undertook all its building development in Walthamstow. Those houses along Chingford Road were effectively prototypes for The Warner Estate in Walthamstow, which provided artisans and city workers with high-quality, affordable housing. Once complete, LLBD and Warner turned their attention back to the land around Highams in the 1930s.
Highams served as a military hospital during the First World War. In 1919 the house was let to Essex County Council and in 1922 became a girl’s school, now Woodford County High School for Girls. The hall was stuccoed and extended to the north and south, mainly between 1928 and 1938.
Learn how Highams was transformed into a school
Creation of The Highams Park
Due to a lack of demand from buyers, The Highams Estate development was smaller than anticipated. Sir Edward Warner, who succeeded to the Estate in 1934, agreed to gift the 19.5 acres of undeveloped land to Walthamstow Council in 1937, so long as it was retained as a recreational space for public enjoyment. Thus this area wasn't developed by LLBD, although the council did build temporary prefabricated bungalows there to re-home those displaced by WW2.
The Highams Park was born, attracting day trippers and residents from Hale End, Woodford and surrounding areas. Indeed, Hale End railway station was subsequently renamed Highams Park to encourage visitors to the park and lake.
The Estate during WW2
The Highams Estate suffered hits from incendiary bombs during the war: specifically on the corner of The Charter Road and Tamworth Avenue, in the middle of Henry's Avenue, The Charter Road and Crealock Grove, between Mason Road and Montalt Road, and six fell in and around The Highams Park and Lake. Compared to other areas, however, The Estate was relatively unscathed.
These photos give us some idea of what life was like during World War II for Estate residents: unimaginable disruption followed by relief and celebration.