Chingford probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.

Chingford in 1906

You’d think the origin of its name would be a no-brainer. After all, it sits on the River Ching, so it must have been a ford over that, right? Well, apparently not. It seems the name of the river was “back formed” from Chingford after Chingford got its name. Although there are a few theories, current thinking is that Chingford probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “king’s ford”, the king in question being Harold I (Harold Harefoot, not to be confused with Harold II, of arrow-in-the-eye fame). Supposedly Harold lived nearby, and the ford would have been over the River Lea. True or not, there’s a pub in Chingford called the King’s Ford.

A sad scene at Chingford's old church in 1856
by Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes

Chingford gets a mention in the Domesday Book of 1086, which spells it “Cingefort”. It’s been spelt in all sorts of ways since then – Gingeford, Synglesford, Schingelford and Chynegford among others – before its spelling became standardized around the seventeenth century or so. In the thirteenth century it got a manor housetwo, in fact, the other dating back to Saxon times – but it remained a small agricultural settlement right up until the coming of the railway in 1873. The older manor house, Chingford Hall, became the Chingford Hall Estate, until that in its turn was demolished in the early twenty-Os. The other manor was rebuilt a few times, and survives in its latest (1839) incarnation as Friday Hill Hall on Simmons Lane.

Charles II knighting
the steak

A seventeenth-century dovecote, in what’s now a nature reserve to the north of Friday Hill Hall, is all that’s left of a farmhouse with the dubious-sounding name of Pimp Hall (after the Pimp family, who once owned it, in fact). A nearby pub, originally called the Sirloin, took its name from a silly story (sometimes set in Lancashire or other places) in which merry monarch Charles II was so impressed with a loin steak he ate at Pimp Hall that he knighted it; take that with as many pinches of salt as you like, but don’t forget the mustard.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge in the snow
(photo by William Warby, CC BY 2.0)

Not to be outdone by Nell Gwynne’s sugar-daddy, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I also claim a link to Chingford, in the form of Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge on Ranger’s Road. Despite its name, it was actually Henry who commissioned it. It was completed in 1543, and was originally called the Great Standing. Its hilltop perch afforded Henry a fine view over the deer hunts in the surrounding area, and the top floor was an open platform, allowing archers to shoot deer straight from it. Elizabeth had it refurbished and it’s been named after her ever since. Supposedly, on hearing of the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, she was so excited that she rode her horse up the staircase.

Chingford station: end of the line
(photo by Geoff Henson, CC BY-ND 2.0)

In 1873 came the railway, now a branch of the London Overground (trains non-stopping at Cambridge Heath and London Fields). Naturally that changed Chingford from a quiet village to a suburb of London. It also made it a popular leisure destination, as Londoners used the choo-choo to pop up to Chingford for a day in Epping Forest. Gradually, more houses were built, and the area became urbanized. The London County Council put up the Friday Hill Estate to use as council housing, and the arrival of the North Circular Road in 1925 created a natural boundary with neighbouring Walthamstow, but also gave Chingford better connections to the whole of north London. The Chingford Historical Society have a big gallery of old photos of the neighbourhood on their website.

Chingford's old town hall
(from photo by Julian Osley, CC BY-SA 2.0)

By 1894, Chingford was urban enough to be made an urban district, and was promoted to the rank of borough in 1938. Its independent municipal boroughdom was short-lived however, as the 1965 creation of Greater London saw Chingford joined up with Leyton and Walthamstow to form the London Borough of Waltham Forest that we know today. Chingford’s elegantly baroque 1929 town hall, on The Ridgeway, was of course sold off, in 2013, and being too posh to turn into flats, was converted into apartments instead.

Pick of the candidates: Chingford's MP

Chingford became a parliamentary constituency in 1974 and has so far had only two MPs, both from the right-hand end of the Conservative Party. The first was Margaret Thatcher’s pugnacious employment minister Norman Tebbit, best known for claiming that his father in the 1930s didn't riot, but instead “got on his bike and looked for work”. Locally, Tebbit was a popular constituency MP, and built up his majority from just 4,645 in 1974 to a whopping 17,955 in 1987. His place was taken in 1992 by Iain Duncan Smith, who actually became the Tories’ party leader, the only one so far to have been thrown out in a vote of no confidence by his MPs. Apparently he once – twice indeed – lived on the breadline while married to a super-rich aristocrat. In recent times Duncan Smith has been most famous for publicly eating one of his bogies in the House of Commons. His seat in the meantime has gradually become increasingly marginal, and will undoubtedly be a top target for the Labour Party in the next election.