A version of Lancaster’s has been trading in Walthamstow for over 100 years, though we haven't always been on Wood Street. The business was originally located just off of Queen's Road at 52 Lennox Road, what's now the corner Gordon Close.
Kelly's trade directory of 1886 shows a greengrocer at the corner of Lennox Road under the name of James Lyon, though the history probably goes back a little further.
Ownership of the shop, which also included the flat above, passed through several different families, including the Williams, Kings, Le Beaus and Carters before it finally came into the possession of the Lancaster family in 1934. We're unsure of how or why the business was passed over to them.
Pictured below is James Lancaster, who managed and lived above the shop with his wife and 3 children up until the early 1940s, when it was taken over by his son Frederick. The Lancasters continued their ownership right up until 1957 and it's from this site where Edwin J. Lancaster, brother of Fred and our namesake, first started to sell coal.
(Jim Lancaster outside the greengrocers, 1943. Photo provided by Tony Lancaster)
Walthamstow would’ve looked a lot different during this time. If you look at the Ordnance Survey map from 1888-1913 below, you'll see a goods yard next to most of the local railway stations. Most of the firms operating from these yards would’ve been selling coal and coke, perfectly located for trains needing or delivering fuel.
Interestingly, the location that our garden center sits on today (known as The Old Station Yard) has had a registered coal merchant on the site since the early 1900s, when Walthamstow was still a part of Essex! The largest depots in the local area, however, were at Leyton Midland and Queen’s Road, which would have been very convenient for the Lancasters.
(If you zoom in you should be able to see the Queen’s Road and Leyton Midland yards)
It’s assumed that at some point in the late 1930s Eddie Lancaster became a ‘coalie’, using the greengrocers as an office. Even though there were several coal merchants already working in the area, shops would sell smaller bags of coal, just enough to keep a family going for a few days to a week.
In spite of the vast competition, Eddie managed to build up a reputation for being one of the best coal men in the area. Although we haven't found any documentation that uncovers what happened during the Second World War, it’s assumed that even after the greengrocers was no longer, Eddie continued to supply coal to the residents of Walthamstow from Queen's Road.
(Not Eddie Lancaster)
The post war economy brought opportunity for some and hardship for others, meaning that many of the smaller coal firms were bought by or merged with larger merchants. One of the most popular was Charrington’s, who also had a factor in Queen’s Road. They later merged with British Fuels Ltd to form CPL, who now supply most of our coal and firewood.
Lancaster's resisted being swallowed by a larger group and was made a limited company in 1962 by 4 directors, one of which was William A. Sutton, father of the current owner. All of the part owners had worked around the Queen's Road yard together for a number of years, mostly as coal suppliers.
Though we’d been operating from Queen's Road since the late 1930s, E. J. Lancaster Ltd. officially registered an office and shop front at 7 Queen's Road in 1964 and held this address right up until the 80s. This was where all bookkeeping and orders would take place, with deliveries leaving from the railway yard.
(Original sign from the Queen's Road office, we still have the same phone number)
By the mid 1960s, Eddie Lancaster had retired and the business was taken over by the Sutton family, though the E. J. Lancaster name was retained.
In 1984, the area around our premises in Queen's Road was due to be redeveloped, forcing us to move the coal yard to our current spot on Wood Street. The order office was also relocated to what was coincidentally a greengrocer at 434 Forest Road (opposite the William Morris Gallery), almost bringing the business full circle. It was also around this time that we expanded into selling fireplaces and homeware, utilizing the extra shop space.
(Picking up coal from a supplier in Manor Park, 1990s)
We continued to operate in two locations until the old timber yard that stood in our current spot ceased trading and we were able to expand the Wood Street site in the early 90s. By 1996 we were officially registered at Unit 2, The Old Station Yard and began building the shop. The extra space allowed us to branch out into garden supplies (starting with compost) as central heating and industry shifts had negatively impacted the demand for solid fuels.
(As seen in the 1996 BT Telephone directory)
Gardening supplies are now what we’re known for and we're the largest garden centre in Walthamstow! Though when the colder months come around, we still supply our customers all over north east London and Essex with coal and firewood. Also paying homage to the methods of old, we deliver everything from our own yard and use our own drivers (sometimes even tipping the coal into bunkers). We now offer plants, composts, pots, houseplants, homeware, local produce, landscaping services and of course, solid fuels.