An historical society has helped shed light on hidden facets of Waltham Forest’s past after paying for a series of paintings of the borough to be restored.

Walthamstow Historical Society donated £3,200 to the Vestry House Museum in Vestry Road, Walthamstow, to restore six paintings which had been gathering dust and becoming worse for wear in the museum’s storage rooms.

Now the images, framed and repaired by experts in Cambridge, are not only on display in the museum’s gallery, but have been scanned and uploaded to a BBC online gallery of British collections.

Society chairman Neil Houghton said the paintings of old landmarks in Chingford, Highams Park and Walthamstow, made in the 19th and early 20th centuries, depict Waltham Forest as it turned from a leafy rural getaway for the rich into a busy area of east London.

He said: “They give an amazing snapshot of how different things were. I think people will be really surprised at some of what they see.”

One such painting is of a factory owned by Wells Brimtoy, one of Britain’s biggest toy manufacturers in the 1920s until the Second World War, by an artist called G T Colvin.

The building in Somers Road, Walthamstow, was one of the first places to offer women a decent wage for their work assembling toys.

Mr Houghton added: “It was amazingly important in producing metal toys when most of that was produced in Germany. There were lots of factory jobs for men but this was one of the first places to offer good wages to women.

“What’s fascinating is it gives us a view inside the factory and provides a sense of how it worked.”

Another painting by a man called Cyrus Swolt is called Unknown House, but Mr Houghton said it depicts the home of the Warners, at the end of Walthamstow High Street.

The Warner family were one of the biggest landowners in the 1800s, with a fortune amassed through the sugar trade and slavery.

They also built the Warner estate in the 1880s, but it was not the philanthropic gesture many people consider it, according to Mr Houghton.

He said: “It was about securing their wealth. They realised the area would urbanise because London was expanding, so they bought up a lot of land and built on it.

“They made a lot of money that way, then sold their manor and moved away.”

The paintings can be found online at, along with others in the Vestry House collection including local landscapes by figurative painter and former resident of the borough Cyril Mann.