Discover the thriving town centre of Walthamstow with Susie Hyden, Fiona Scott (Gort Scott), and Roland Karthaus (Matter Architects)
Originally a staging post and purportedly London’s first commuter village, like many outer-lying centres it rapidly expanded with the railways. Previously orchards and farmland, much of the town is structured on a loose grid with the High Street running east-west, connecting the original village with convenient crossings of the marshes. One of these routes is known as the ‘black path’ and was an important thoroughfare for goods and cattle on their way to the city.
Today the High Street is a bustling commercial area, with a wide catchment served by excellent transport links. Reputedly Europe’s longest outdoor street-market, the High Street caters for grocery, clothing, convenience and related shopping, with a strong emphasis on value. The street is lined with continuous retail frontages throughout its length and there is a symbiotic relationship between the independent shops and the market traders. The eastern end of the street is anchored by a shopping mall with a retail ‘loop’, the town square, civic functions and a new development with multiplex cinema. The western end of the High Street lacks anchors and the intensity of footfall dissipates after the crossing of Palmeston Road. The configuration of the market along the street has been a long-standing contention: whilst it conflicts with the shopfronts and makes access difficult, it does generate a sense of intensity that is characteristic of the place.
Walthamstow is an area of change. London Borough of Waltham Forest recognise the importance of the market and the need for an overall market strategy and public realm improvements to secure its sustainable long-term future. In 2017, Gort Scott produced a strategy and options for improvements to the High Street and market, emphasising the quality of the public realm and the history of the place. In 2018, Matter Architecture took forward this strategy and are currently implementing a series of pilot placemaking projects to test ideas in the public realm. This year Waltham Forest is London’s first Borough of Culture and is hosting a programme of art and cultural activities, including in Walthamstow High Street.