I was baptised at St Peter's-in-the-Forest Church. I am a keen family historian, and so forever grateful that British churches started keeping written records of baptisms, weddings and burials as early as 1538 – long before civil registration of births, marriages and deaths was introduced in 1837. My own family's links with the church are far more recent, of course; they poignantly illustrate aspects of life in and around St Peter's during and after the Second World War.
The London Blitz of 1940-41 saw 28,000 Nazi bombs rain down on the capital. Their targets were the docks, factories and homes, with east London being a prime target. My maternal grandfather, Frank Orriss (1896-1940), was in charge of a 'flight' of barrage balloons over West Ham , a few miles from Walthamstow.
1) Corporal Frank Orriss, 1939
2) Frank Orriss with his colleagues and a barrage balloon, 1940: Frank is standing, fourth from the right
The balloons were actually miniature airships and were anchored to the ground by steel cables, thereby forcing the enemy aircraft to fly higher and so reduce the accuracy of their bombing. The local authorities kept meticulous records of where high explosives fell during the war, plus details of the associated damage they caused. All this information for the Blitz has now been digitised and mapped on an interactive website: one map shows the area around St Peter's and Whipps Cross. It is annotated with a red parachute symbol at the junction of The Risings with Forest Rise. This probably represents the land-mine (or parachute mine) that fell on 77 The Risings on the night of Wednesday 16th October 1940, killing Frank and his mother-in-law, and badly injuring my then 15-year old mother, Margaret Orriss, and her baby cousin, Madeline Rouse. Margaret's brother, Edward Orriss (1926-2016), wrote in a 2008 letter that “the whole twin-building [Nos. 75 & 77 The Risings] became one big crater, from which not even knives & forks were saved”.
3) Map of bomb sites near St Peter's, WW2: The red symbols indicate where German high explosives fell on The Risings in 1940-41. St Peter-in-the-Forest is to the top right of the map.
There were happier times in our family in the 1940s, of course. On Saturday 6th September 1947 my parents were married at St Peter's. They kept newspaper cuttings with reports of the wedding. One describes the appearance of the key participants: “The bride wore a gown of pink taffeta and carried a bouquet of pink rosebuds and carnations. She was attended by three bridesmaids also wearing pink taffeta and carried mauve carnations and heather”. This information on colour schemes would obviously never have been captured in the black-and-white photographs of the day! After the wedding ceremony the reception was held at the bride's home, the re-built 77 The Risings – just a stone's throw from the church (Fig. 6 and Fig. 7). The couple then flew to Scotland for a week's honeymoon, the newly married Margaret wearing a navy blue outfit.
4) 1947 marriage register entry for James Carroll and Margaret Orriss
5) The 1947 wedding party outside St Peter's: Left to right - Constance Rouse, Douglas Carroll, Anthony Pace. James Carroll, Margaret Orriss, Pearl White, Edward Orriss, Madeline Rouse
6) Wedding reception, 77 The Risings, 1947
7) The bride and groom with the bridesmaids, 77 The Risings, 1947: To the right is the Anderson shelter, the family's wartime air-raid shelter - still there more than two years after the end of the war.
My family's ties to St Peter's continued into the 1950s. James and Margaret Carroll had three children in quick succession: myself, Mark (1949); my sister, Victoria Anne (1951); and my brother, Martin James (1953). I am a local boy, born in the maternity home at 108 Upper Walthamstow Road. Despite the fact that Vicky was born in Egypt and Martin in Berkshire, all three of us were brought to St Peter's to be christened. The church's records of those events, in the parish registers, provide extra information of value to family historians, such as the names of the godparents.
8) Christening of Victoria Anne Carroll, St Peter's, 1951: Left to right - Mark, James (Jim), Margaret, Victoria – the Carroll family.
9) Parish register entry for the baptism of Victoria Carroll, St Peter's, 1951:Column 8 has the names of the three godparents.
Another branch of our family has had similar strong links with St Peter's. Margaret's brother, Edward, had given her away at her 1947 wedding because their father had been killed 7 years earlier. Edward himself was married at the same church, on 12th August 1950, to his childhood sweetheart, Eileen Joyce Baker. A year later their son Stephen Edward was born in the same bed as that used for me, at 108 Upper Walthamstow Road. He too was christened at St Peter's, on 6th April 1952. Although Margaret and Edward eventually moved away, my grandparents remained in the local area: in Wanstead and in Leytonstone. Many years later I renewed my association with the church in the form of family history projects concerning the transcription of the memorial inscriptions on the gravestones in the churchyard. But that is another story.
10) Marriage of Eileen Baker and Edward Orriss, St Peter's, 1950