Whipps Cross Hospital in Leytonstone has been used by generations of Waltham Forest residents for more than a hundred years. It was built and developed in the grounds of one of the area’s grand mansion houses, the aptly named Forest House estate which lay broadly between the forest, the Phillebrook, and James Lane.

The origins of the estate can be traced back to 1492 when the Abbot of Stratford, who was the Lord of the Manor of Leyton, granted 20 acres of land by lease to stockfishmonger John More of London. Over time the land was added to as it passed through different ownership, and by the mid-19th century the estate comprised an impressive 139 acres or so of land in Leyton and the Walthamstow Slip.

The original mid-16th century Forest House stood at the north-east end of James Lane and following extensions between 1601 and 1625, was the largest house in the parish of Leyton according to hearth tax records of the 1660s and 1670, with an impressive 23 hearths. But in 1681 James Houblon, an MP and wealthy merchant from a Huguenot family, bought the estate and decided to build an even grander new Forest House as his country retreat. James is especially famous as he and his brother John were key figures in establishing the Bank of England; John appears on the reverse of the £50 banknote. and was a director from the founding of the bank in 1692.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: The founding of the Bank of England, 1694 (1905).The founding of the Bank of England, 1694 (1905). (Image: Unknown)

The house was updated a century later by merchant Samuel Bosanquet, who purchased the Forest Estate in 1743. Samuel was from a wealthy and influential Huguenot family and he commissioned renovations as befitting a country retreat of such a family. The alterations included remodelling of the exterior to designs by John Soane, and the house’s grand 11-bay stuccoed façade, four-pillared Tuscan porch, and whopping 80 windows made a bold statement as to the family’s great wealth. The interior was no less grand, and designed to impress, with sumptuous and stylish Adam-style décor, which was very fashionable amongst the wealthy at this time. The entrance hall, fine staircase and many first-floor rooms had moulded panelling, some of it painted, and several painted ceiling scenes incorporated Samuel’s initials into the design.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: 1777 map of Essex.1777 map of Essex. (Image: Andrew Chapman and Peter Andre)

Interestingly, Samuel’s daughter Mary eschewed the family wealth to follow the Methodist faith, wishing to devote her life serving God through Methodist preaching and charity. She rejected a marriage proposal from a rich businessman which angered her parents, and fearing that she would try to convert her brothers, they asked her to leave the family home in 1760. She joined the London Methodists and became involved in the great Methodist revival of 1761-62. Mary then decided that she could use her inherited wealth for good, and she and fellow Methodist Sarah Ryan moved to a Bosanquet property in Leytonstone, known as The Cedars, where they set up a Christian community for needy children, relocating to another family property in Morley, Yorkshire in 1768. Mary wrote several pamphlets, mostly for women, and corresponded with Methodist leader John Wesley about her and her fellow women’s calls to preach. She requested his approval for women to preach, which was granted in 1771. Mary went on to marry John Fletcher in 1781, although he died just four years later.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: Mary Bosanquet.Mary Bosanquet. (Image: Museum of Methodism)

The Bosanquet family remained at their Forest Estate country seat until 1831, and they then leased the house to a series of wealthy families until around 1884; much of the land was farmed by a separate tenant.

The families living at Forest House included the Hubbards: wealthy Russia merchant and Kent-born William and his wife Louisa lived at the house in the 1840s and 1850s with their three young children; their youngest was born in December 1851. They were followed by Charles Robinson who had lived at Etloe House in Leyton, and then in the 1860s and 1870s the Fowler family took up residence, using the house as a country retreat. Rachel and William raised their eight children there, and their youngest, Gerald was born there in 1866. William was a Liberal MP and magistrate, and the family were very well off, with a governess and several domestic staff. Sadly, tragedy befell the family in 1868 when Rachel died aged just 38, when their youngest was aged just two. After a short period of grieving, William married for a second time in April 1871, to Elizabeth Fox Tuckett following a postponed wedding due to Elizabeth’s ill health. She died just a few months into the marriage. William married for a final time in 1875, to widow Rachel Leatham, who survived him.

In 1889 Samuel Courthope Bosanquet sold most of the estate to the West Ham Board of Guardians, namely Forest House, outbuildings, Forest Lodge and a cottage in James Lane, a second cottage near to what became the main hospital entrance, and 44 acres of the grounds. The Board initially wanted to build a Poor Law School, but eventually the house was converted for use as a branch workhouse for 300 elderly men, to relieve overcrowding at the main workhouse at Union Lane, Leytonstone. In 1894 plans for Whipps Cross Infirmary were approved in the hosue’s former grounds, and it was completed in 1903.

East London and West Essex Guardian Series: The red dot shows the location of Forest House on this Ordnance Survey map, revised 1939-1940, published 1946.The red dot shows the location of Forest House on this Ordnance Survey map, revised 1939-1940, published 1946. (Image: Karen Averby)

In 1930 Forest House fell under the jurisdiction of West Ham Borough Council and it was used as an elderly persons home until 1962, when it closed following the opening of the Samuel Boyce Lodge in the grounds which served a similar purpose. In 1964 the once grand house was demolished and the site was sold to the North East Metropolitan Hospital Board. One of the grand 18th century marble fireplaces was salvaged and installed in the main building at Whipps Cross.

  • 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.