As you already know work is underway on a Heritage Lottery Fund redevelopment project to improve Epping Forest District Museum. As well as improving the services with a community room, lift and the collections at the heart of the museum, the team will also be working to preserve and interpret the history of the house that the museum lives in.
So we thought we would share a little history about the building with you.
The first recorded references to Sun Street are seen in a rental of Waltham c.1320 and two deeds of c.1321-2. Here Sun Street is referred to in its former name, East Street.
The building that the museum is now housed in (no 41) started life in the 16th century as a two storey timber framed house.
In the early 17th century the roof was raised to add an extra storey to the building.
Prior to 1730 41 Sun Street was owned by Henry Woollasten. Woollasten was a leading figure in Waltham Abbey, he was the son of a draper. He was prominent in church and local affairs and in 1642 he was given a commission from King Charles I to repair the keepers’ lodges in Epping Forest.
The houses and the wider estates it was a part of stayed in the Woollasten family before parts were sold to James Dobson a draper from Covent Garden. The property then stayed in the Dobson family for 200 years.
Within the house the fireplace lintel in one of the downstairs rooms reveals some history about one of the tenants. It bears the initials “TCT.” It is likely these refer to Thomas Taylor and his wife Constance. Their 6 children were baptised in Waltham Abbey church between 1671 and 1680.
Other occupiers included Richard Watkins from c.1731 and the Harvey family who seemed to have been occupiers between c.1742/3 and the early 1790s.
c. 1761/2 39 and 41 Sun Street were given their common roof. This was at the same time as number 39 was built. Number 39 is also a timbered framed structure.
The previously mentioned Harveys were the occupiers when a fire broke out in August 1786 which could have destroyed 39 and 41 Sun Street but was averted because of a change in wind direction.
Another notable occupant was John Bently and his son who were occupiers of 39 and 41 Sun Street by 1890. Bently had a lot of importance in the area as a builder, contractor and undertaker. He was involved in the building of St George’s Church, Enfield Highway, Waltham Abbey Town Hall and Woodredon House as well as the rebuilding of the upper part of the Abbey Church tower in the early 1900s.
He largely reconstructed 39 Sun Street himself and was responsible for the mock Tudor timbered front on the two houses.
For a large part of the 1900s 41 Sun Street was occupied by various doctors including Dr Percy Streatfield, DR R H Carter, Dr Bell Smith and lastly Dr Parkinson who lived and practiced at no. 41 until 1973. Parkinson extended the property by the addition of a purpose built surgery and waiting room.
The last owner-occupier was Rowland Blake, wheelwright, who owned the property from 1958 to 1972. It was then bought by Waltham Holy Cross Urban District Council in connection with the town centre redevelopment. It was then used under Epping Forest District Council as a residence before being empty in 1979. It was in this same year that vandals entered and set fire to the property. Luckily this happened during the day so a lot of damage was prevented.
In 1974 No. 41 was listed as of “special architectural or historic interest” (Grade II) before being upgrading to Grade II* and in 1975 the Waltham Abbey Historical Society were granted a tenancy-at-will to use the ground floor as a museum. When they took over the building they had to remove the ceiling as it was falling down – when the material was sifted they had some interesting finds. Amongst the finds was an Elizabethan silver sixpence dated 1562, it was in mint condition and could have been lost shortly after it was made.
Finally in November 1981 the District Museum was opened in both 39 and 41 after a conversion project in the previous year.