INDEX May 23, 1987
Vanishing support in seat with lost identity


GENERAL Elections are the best thing that happen to Walthamstow these days. But then this is partly because they are, officially at any rate, the only things that happen to Walthamstow.

It might still be known to the nation's greyhound fans as the home of The Stow, to amateur football enthusiasts as the Avenue and to bargain devotees as a street market the longest in London but Walthamstow's main problem is that is has disappeared.

Ask any local government official for statistics and the response is: "Where?"

Just once every five years does it publicly emerge from anonymity. For the rest of the time this once-proud East London borough is sunk without trace in the bureaucratic province of Waltham Forest.


And even within its own ancient boundaries, it struggles for identity. Only at its leafy Church End is there any trace of the farms and fields that once characterised the rural village which its oldest residents were born into on the banks of the River Lea.

Now all that is left is a seemingly endless sprawl of turn-of-the-century terraced houses, liberally sprinkled with shops, which straggle into Waltham Forest's other present-day segments, the more prosperous 'Tebbit Land' of Chingford on the one hand and Leyton on the other.

Somehow surviving in the middle of it all is the building which offers the region its only claim to cultural immortality. Water House, once the home of artist, designer and literary giant William Morris, is still an arts centre which bears its name.

And it is the words of his timeless sentiment, "Fellowship is life", which today are writ large above the portals of the majestically-entitled Walthamstow Assembly Hall and Antler Room.

It is to be hoped, however, that the ghost of William Morris is possessed of a sense of humour. For, ever since the Labour-controlled Waltham Forest council announced a 62.2 per cent rates rise earlier in the year, fellowship has become a mighty rare ingredient hereabouts.

Obscene phone calls, mailbags full of impassioned letters and even bomb hoaxes have beleaguered Labour councillors after leaflets disclosing their private addresses and phone numbers were distributed throughout the borough.


At least one of these public servants, unnamed, has been given round-the-clock police protection after a series of threats from enraged ratepayers.

Another, Councillor Vi Smith, opened her door to discover that a particularly sick 'joker' had sent a firm of local undertakers round to collect her 'corpse'.

And earlier this month thousands of residents, shopkeepers and business owners converged on the imposing town hall in Forest Road at least the borough headquarters are still in Old Walthamstow to demonstrate their disapproval.


The natives have become restless. And the statistics, when they are finally unearthed from the corporate clutch of Waltham Forest officials, are even more disquieting for the moderately disposed and popular sitting Labour MP, Eric Deakins.

Nearly half the households in his constituency are owner-occupied and another quarter are privately rented. The District Auditor, almost certainly influenced by popular reaction, has moved in to inspect the borough's finances and the local Ratepayers Action Group has made a High Court application for a judicial review of the rates rise.


Small wonder that Deakins is believed to have made behind-the-scenes pleas to moderate the council's apparent spending zeal. Alliance contender Peter Leighton is delighting in his embarrassment and less than a four per cent swing to Tory rival Hugo Summerson would mean defeat for Deakins.

One thing is certain. Eric Deakins and his fellow parliamentary aspirants are not scratching around to find a compelling local issue. Walthamstow is making a vociferous if only temporary return from oblivion.

London Daily News May 23, 1987.
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