Explore life during past and present Waltham Forest through our fascinating displays on domestic life, local history, fashion and toys and games. See our Victorian parlour and enter our police cell!
The Bremer car
One of our star exhibits is the Bremer car. Built locally by engineer Frederick Bremer in 1892, it is one of the claimants to being the oldest British-built petrol driven car. It must have been a curious sight on the streets of Walthamstow. A speed limit of just four miles per hour was imposed by a man walking in front of the vehicle at all times carrying a red flag.
One of the rooms at the museum has been set up to reconstruct a typical local parlour from about 1890.
Walthamstow Tea Service
Little is known about the origins of this set of cups, saucers and bowls other than it was produced in the 1820s for a local well-to-do family. Many of the items depict local houses and because of this it has become known as the Walthamstow Tea Service. A selection from the set is permanently on display.
The police cell
As Vestry House once housed a police station the museum has made use of this in its exhibitions. One of the cells still exists with its original bench and toilet and in this area we have recreated a scene from April 1861.
We know that on this evening Sgt. Charles Carpenter was on duty whilst James Wright, a local labourer, had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly. During a visit you may be “lucky” enough to experience the fate of James Wright by being locked in the cell.
The Domestic Life gallery looks at utensils used for washing, ironing, cooking and for serving food during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Toys and games
Discover some of the toys that were being played with or manufactured in Waltham Forest during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The museum has a very extensive collection of photographic prints, negatives, lantern slides and postcards dating back to the 1860s, consisting of about 80,000 images. This represents a very important and valuable local and national resource and continues to be developed with the addition of both recent and historical material.
A selection of photos of the borough are on the Waltham Forest Borough Photos website. You can look at these images (with a watermark) free of charge. For a fee you can order them as prints.
Between 1730 and 1841 Vestry House was a parish workhouse. Conditions were harsh and it was a place of last resort for many. Yet for the unemployed, sick, elderly, pregnant or orphaned children who lived there, it provided a place of refuge when there was nowhere else to turn. This gallery uncovers what daily life was like for the poor and destitute who ended up in Walthamstow’s workhouse, as well as those who tried to help them.
The beautiful planting is inspired by the garden’s history as an eighteenth-century workhouse garden, with an emphasis on useful plants including vegetables, herbs and dye plants. There is also a wild meadow area and a bed designed to attract butterflies.
The garden is maintained by an active group of dedicated volunteers. If you’ve got green fingers – or if you’re a beginner who is keen to learn – we would love to hear from you.
Our Garden Room is available to hire for meetings and events, including weddings.