2 January 2015

Clock this

The Clock House at 13 Pretoria Avenue is just one of the eighteenth-century villas built by wealthy families around Walthamstow village, at a time before all the terraced houses sprang up, replacing the orchards, market gardens and country estates. The area was favoured by merchants, early commuters who could live in style and take a conveniently short coach ride to the City to attend to business. The journey, about seven miles, must have taken no more than an hour.

Waltham Forest council's website has a page devoted to the listed buildings of the borough. It describes the Clock House as "Grade II: Regency style detached villa, erected in 1813 and the original Walthamstow home of the Warner family. Originally set in extensive landscaped grounds fronting Marsh Street (now High Street)". There's a china plate at the Vestry House museum showing a view of the house in its original park setting. Those landscaped grounds surrounding the house were soon developed, though, as Walthamstow became more built-up. The Warner properties along Pretoria Avenue were built in 1888, coming right up to the edge of the house, and Mission Grove was driven through what would have been the front garden. The grand entrance now looks rather out of place so close to the street.

I photographed the house as part of my project to document some of the interesting buildings in the area, and posted the photos on Flickr. Walthamstow man Dan K saw this one and sent me a link to his own photo of the house, with comments sent in over the past few years. A lady by the name of Amanda ("almost 44!") says "I was born and brought up in Walthamstow... We lived in Pretoria Avenue and Chewton Road - in Warner properties (and bought our house in Pretoria from Warners). I expect it's all changed there now - we moved when I was 16 and I haven't been back since my grandparents passed away in the 90s. I miss it - but don't want to go back because I fear it's changed out of all recognition." If nothing else, those new flats behind the house would be a surprise, but otherwise Pretoria Avenue can't have changed very much since then. She continues, "I remember seeing an old photo of it looking very grand in a park like setting - it belonged to the Warner family and I guess it was their home. When I was little it used to be a flour factory and I remember a HUGE chute at the back where sacks of flour used to be shot down to waiting lorries".

The present owner bought Clock House in 1999 when it was used as a warehouse, and spent a year restoring it as flats. He had a hard time convincing the council to allow the change of use, and had to comply with stringent Listed Building requirements for the way the work was carried out. The side of the house had been made into a two-storey advertising sign with lettering made of cement render, which you might think of as an interesting part of the building's history, but that had to be removed. The original stone portico was completely missing, and a new portico was built, no doubt at huge expense, to a historically accurate pattern based on old illustrations and photographs.