Leytonstone High Road has been a dominant thoroughfare for centuries, as part of the main highway from Epping to London, leading from the Green Man inn to Stratford. Not only was the high road used to transport goods to London markets, it was also on the main turnpike to Norwich via Woodford. As a result the road had some of the oldest inns along its route, providing beds and stabling from at least the 17th century, amongst them the Green Man, The Harrow, and Robin Hood, which became the Red Lion.

Until the mid-19th century Leytonstone was a small hamlet on the high road, with houses straggling south from the Green Man. Several large grand residences were built along the road in the 18th century, including Leytonstone House near the Green Man, which is now within Hanbury Drive and was converted for use as a hospital. Most have been demolished, however, including Park House near Granleigh Road in 1968 after being used as a library, and Sycamore House, demolished in 1958 to make way for the Welsh Church.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Leytonstone High Road

The character of the wider area changed hugely following the coming of the railway in the mid-19th century, and Leytonstone was transformed from a rural settlement to an urban area, with residential streets springing up all around the high road. Shops to supply the newly-expanding population were built along its length and together with the installation of tram routes in the 1870s, its appearance was forever transformed.

Service businesses including tailors, garages and a cycle repair shop were established, and every shopping need was seemingly catered for, with shops for quality clothing and furniture as well as an array of independent shops, among them fishmongers, butchers, greengrocers and bakers.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Postcard of the High Road

Bucks Bakery at No. 568 is especially worthy of note, famous for its spectacular building and fairytale-themed Christmas cakes.

High street names such as Woolworths and British Home Stores had premises here, and the renowned independent department store of Bearmans was hugely popular, its enchanting Christmas displays in particular being fondly remembered.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

Postcard of Bearmans

The high road was not only used by locals; good transport links to Stratford and Epping bolstered the numbers who shopped here. Amenities such as tea rooms, public houses, and several cinemas were hugely popular, including the The Rex, The Palace, The Rialto, and The State.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series:

The Rex Cinema c1959

The fortunes of Leytonstone High Road as a shopping centre perhaps reached its zenith in the 1950s and 1960s, when the street was jammed with shoppers, especially on Saturdays. In time, however, the high road was unable to compete with the big shopping centres that were built in the later 20th century and a general decline in shoppers led to the closure of many long-established shops and business.

Some establishments have endured, however, most notably the Red Lion, and several independent eateries have opened in recent times, with cafes, patisseries and restaurants offering a variety of cuisines.

Karen Averby is a seaside-loving historian and research consultant specialising in researching histories and stories of buildings, people and places. She researches house histories for private clients and collaborates in community heritage projects (karenaverby.co.uk). She is also director of Archangel Heritage Ltd, an historical research consultancy providing research services for the commercial heritage sector (archangelheritage.co.uk). Also found on Twitter @karenaverby and @archaheritage