THE Bakers Almshouses, in Leyton, are a prominent feature of the local landscape, standing out from the surrounding buildings. Reporter Sian Harrison looks at the history of the houses, which is still evident on the site today.

TUCKED away on Lea Bridge Road, Leyton, is a tranquil garden set in the grounds of beautiful, 17th century buildings.

Stepping off the busy main road and through the gates of the Bakers' Almshouses, there is a sense of being in a different place altogether.

Residents living there today are proud of the site and aim to preserve the history and character of the Almshouses.

Colin Martin, chair of the Bakers' Almshouses Tenants and Residents Association, said: “We call it a little oasis. Not many people know about it, even in the local area.”

The Bakers' Almshouses were built between 1857 and 1866 by the London Master Bakers' Benevolent Institution.

They were purpose-built for retired people who had spent their lives working in the baking industry and were initially open only to those who lived within a 12-mile radius of Charing Cross.

The Almshouses were designed in an Italianate style by architect Thomas Edward Knightley, who was the surveyor of Hammersmith and also designed Queen's Hall, in Langham Place, which was destroyed during the Second World War.

They gave their name to the former Bakers' Arms pub, which recently became a bookmaker's, and that in turn became the name by which the area around the crossroads is still known today.

Although the Almshouses have been council-owned since the 1960s, evidence of its former use can still be seen, particularly on the entrance gates, exterior stone carvings and in the meeting rooms.

The meeting rooms were previously used as offices by the London Master Bakers Benevolent Institution and boards detailing the people who contributed to the institution and the building of the Almshouses still hang there.

Founded on December 13, 1832, the institution was set up to provide pensions for those who struggled to support themselves after retiring from the baking industry and to help the widows of bakers and millers.

On one of the boards lists Joseph Rank, owner of the Rank flour mills and keen philanthropist, as President of the institution.

Joseph Rank's organisation went on to become Rank Hovis McDougall, later known as RHM Foods, and his son was J Arthur Rank, the famous film mogul.

Key contributors to the fund are also listed on the boards. Among the largest donations were those of Seth Taylor, who donated £1,000 worth of New South Wales stock, which provided £30 a year.

The inscription reads: “£30 per annum to fund a special payment, to be given to any respectable member of the baking trade fallen into poverty, eligible according to the rules, or to the widow of such.”

In the late 1960s, Greater London Council put a compulsory purchase order on the site, proposing to demolish it for road widening.

English Heritage stopped the plans for demolition, and also blocked a later proposal by Tesco to build a superstore on the site.

The Almshouses were later refurbished into the flats that exist today, which are owned by Waltham Forest Council and managed by Ascham Homes.

The bakers' charity moved out and built new villas in Epping, which residents were transferred to by 1972.

The villas remain in Bakers Lane, Epping, along with the head office of the charity, now known as the Bakers' Benevolent Society.