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My grandfather Joseph Silk was born
in Mile End in 1875 and married Emma
Willson in Hackney in 1898. His first
business, following a family tradition,
was as a greengrocer which he ran from
a shop in Brunner Road. Strange though
it may appear today, he also sold coal
from the shop. However, due to the
expansion of housing and the population
in Walthamstow at that time, he found
that selling coal became a more practical
business than selling greengrocery. He
therefore became a full time coal
merchant using the Blackhorse Road
depot as a base.
My grandparents' first Walthamstow home was in Lloyd Road, where their first two children were born. Their third child was born in April 1902 at 6, Essex Grove, a double fronted property opposite The Essex Arms public house. The 1901 census shows the property was then unoccupied. The house, which was named Fairfield Villa, had an expansive area at the rear due to having a wide side entrance. This area was later extended by the purchase of the house next door No.4, Essex Grove. In the early years of the business coal was delivered to customers by horse and cart and stables, complete with a hay loft above, were built at the rear backing onto the gardens of houses in Nicholson Road. When lorries became an obvious choice for delivering coal, garages and repair shops were also built. However, the horses and lorries were used in tandem for a while which I can remember in the immediate post war years. Our coal business was sold to Joseph Cade & Co., in 1955 but one of my uncles continued to live in the house running a transport business from there. This continued until 1966 when the property was compulsory purchased for the development of the flats that now occupy the area between Essex Grove and Nicholson Road.
Running a coal business from the house made it a hive of activity, Local people would come and go to order their coal and pay the bills. Merchants came to deliver the hay and horse feed and the workmen would arrive in the early hours to begin their rounds returning in the late afternoon. When the horses were released from their shafts they would walk over to the scullery at the rear of the property and put their heads over the half door in anticipation of a titbit in return for their labours. Once satisfied they would then walk unaided over to the stables and drink from the water trough. Once their thirst had been quenched they would then walk into the stable and to their own stalls, again all unaided. During this time the drivers would secure the shafts, clean up the can and stack the empty sacks on the rear of the platform ready for the next day's deliveries. My eldest uncle lived in the house after my grandparents retired and at one time had a large gaggle of geese who were quite ferocious. I am sure they kept many an intended burglar at bay. One of my cousins loved the horses and from a very young age would willingly help to muck them out. Her love of horses led her parents allowing her to have her own pony. My sister and I enjoyed our visits to Essex Grove and had much pleasure looking at the horses and playing in the hay loft.
Sadly this era is long gone and just a happy memory of my childhood. The site of the house could be located by the existence of The Essex Arms and it is with much sadness that I learnt of its demise thus removing the last vestige of the old Essex Grove. It was only a small turning but it was certainly a busy place.
The photograph of No.6, Essex Grove below shows my grandmother standing on the right and next to her, holding a small child, is her sister Eliza Martin The child would be Eliza's son Alfred born in December 1909. My father, who was born in 1905, is wearing a brimmed hat. Next to him is his brother Alfred and then the eldest brother Joseph. Far right is the maid, stated in the 1911 census as Julia Cox, then aged 14 years. The side entrance can be seen on the right.