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Vestry House Museum presents Water and Life: The Story of Walthamstow Wetlands

A new exhibition at Vestry House Museum tells the fascinating story of Walthamstow Wetlands as it is transformed into the largest urban wetland nature reserve in Europe.

Water and Life: The Story of Walthamstow Wetlands reveals the long and surprising history of the site through drawings, photographs, maps and archaeological finds. Once home to woolly mammoths, it played a crucial role in the incredible growth of Victorian London when East London Water Company created 10 reservoirs on the site.

Today the reservoirs are an internationally recognised haven for wildlife and the largest fishery in London, as well as a source of drinking water for millions of Londoners. A major Lottery funded project is currently underway to transform the site into a distinctive urban wetland reserve with a café, education centre, exhibition spaces and a viewing terrace.

The project has been spearheaded by the Council, which secured £4.47million of funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund last year. They have further supplemented this with just over £1m, with another £1.84m from site owners Thames Water and £750,000 from the Greater London Authority.

The new site will open to the public in spring 2017. The exhibition at Vestry House offers a sneak preview.

Cllr Chris Robbins, leader of Waltham Forest Council, said: “The opening up of Walthamstow Wetlands will bring huge environmental and cultural benefits to the people of Waltham Forest and the wider east London community. This compelling exhibition puts the project into historical context, revealing the site’s rich natural and social heritage.”

Steven Swaby, Wetlands curator, said: “Water and Life gives us access to the secret past of a little-known corner of Walthamstow, across a thousand years or more. It reveals the vital role the reservoirs played in the rapid growth of Victorian London - and what a feat of engineering, manpower and sheer determination that involved. And, it gives us glimpses of the area's ancient past: Ice Age mammoths, Stone Age hunters, Roman farmers and Anglo-Saxon warriors - they all left their mark in time here by the banks of the River Lea, in wild landscapes far removed from our modern urban environment.

“It's been a pleasure discovering more about the genuinely rich and surprising history of the site, and there remains a lot more still to tell when the Wetlands Centre opens next year.”

Notes to editors

Water and Life: The Story of Walthamstow Wetlands

Until 16 October 2016

Vestry House Museum

Vestry Road Walthamstow

London, E17 9NH

Monday – Wednesday, 10am – 5pm. Free entry.

For further information and images please contact Ian Mason:

020 8496 4726

07740 046143

The Walthamstow Wetlands project is being led by the London Borough of Waltham Forest in partnership with Thames Water. London Wildlife Trust is delivering the project and will be responsible for conserving and enhancing the site’s wildlife and heritage.

Family events inspired by Water and Life

Be a Young Archaeologist

Sunday 10 July

1.30pm - 4pm

Discover the exciting finds made during the construction of Walthamstow’s reservoirs in 1900, including a medieval boat. Have a go yourself by digging in Vestry House’s archaeology ‘trench’. Discover mysterious objects from the past and record your finds.

Ripples and Reflections: Printmaking

Thursday 11 and Sunday 14 August 

1.30pm - 4pm

Inspired by Walthamstow’s Wetlands and its 10 reservoirs, explore patterns created by water through a range of printmaking techniques such as marbling (oil on water) or mono-printing. Look at how artists such as Hockney and Van Gogh have depicted water. With artist Anna Alcock.

‘Green Grow the Rushes Ho!’ Weave a Basket

Sunday 11 September

1.30pm - 4pm

Explore the many different types of grasses growing in the Wetlands. Since ancient times, people have used grasses and rushes to make things for their homes.  Weave a rush basket to take home. With artist Lucy Rainbow.

About Vestry House Museum

Owned and managed by Waltham Forest Council, Vestry House Museum is the local history museum for Waltham Forest and home of Waltham Forest Archives and Local Studies Library. Set in an 18th century former workhouse in the heart of historic Walthamstow Village, the Museum tells the story of the borough through a series of permanent displays and special exhibitions. A favourite exhibit is Britain’s first petrol driven car, built by Frederick Bremer in 1892

If you would like more information about any of these press releases or have a different media enquiry please contact us at or on 020 8496 4521 / 4802.

For out of hours please email or call 07966 915 157.