In the early 1890s the East London Waterworks Company, who owned a pumping station in Lea Bridge Road, claimed to be the freeholders of 12 acres of Lammas Lands adjoining the road and to have dislammased their freeholding by payment to the Chancery Division of the High Court. They attempted to fence off this part of Leyton Marshes, close to the River Lea, and laid down a track to the main railway line through Leyton Marsh. On the 1st August 1892 “one of the largest assemblages of people ever gathered together in Leyton met on the marshes under the direction of Mr. C.G. Musgrave.” This crowd appears to have numbered several thousands of local inhabitants. Christopher Musgrave and several other gentlemen agreed to take sole responsibility for “dealing with the fences and metals” which they claimed had illegally obstructed the Lammas Lands. Having been joined by a crowd of hundreds of sympathetic protesters from Hackney, a huge mob of men and boys pulled down the fences and pulled up the rails. The events of Lammas Day 1892 are commemorated on a plaque on The Eton Manor Cottage in Marsh Lane.
The Water Company commenced an action in the Chancery Division against Mr. Christopher Musgrave and his friend Henry Humphreys. Christopher George Musgrave, who lived in Grove Green Road, Leytonstone, was a leading local worthy and a member of the Local Board (the town’s Council) and of the Essex County Council. He had offices at 24 St. Martin’s Lane near Cannon Street station in the City. He later became a Justice of the Peace and moved to a house called “Mosborough” in Lemna Road, Leytonstone. Henry Humphreys also lived in Leytonstone. The Company claimed an injunction against both of them and also sought damages.
The Water Company also gave notice that it would apply for parliamentary powers to lay a line of metals (rails) across a footpath running through the Lammas Lands, which probably means the path that is now known as Marsh Lane and Footpath F130. The commoners responded by calling a meeting for the evening of Wednesday 30th November 1892 at Leyton Town Hall, and invited “inhabitants and other persons interested in preserving our public open spaces, and resisting illegal and unauthorised encroachments.” This was chaired by Mr. William Volckman, a local Justice of the Peace who lived at the White House at Knotts Green, Leyton, and was attended by hundreds of people (all of them, apparently, men - Victorian women did not go to public meetings). Mr. Edward James Davis JP, who lived at Broomhill in Vicarage Road, Leyton, proposed a motion “approving the action taken in defence of the common rights on the 1st August last” and “heartily thanking Mr. Musgrave and the other gentlemen who took upon themselves all responsibility on behalf of the Parishioners.” This was seconded by Walter H. Ware, who lived in Nutfield Road near Leyton Station (now on the Central Line). This was carried unanimously
At the meeting a Committee was formed for three purposes. Firstly to defend the action brought by the East London Waterworks Company against Christopher Musgrave and Henry Humphreys. Second, to oppose the Bill brought into Parliament for the extinction of Lammas Rights on part of Leyton Marshes. Third, “generally to protect the interests of the inhabitants of Leyton in the Marshes.”
The meeting elected as Treasurer Mr. Richard Ward, a local businessman in the licensed trade, who lived in Leyton Road (now the High Road) near the Town Hall and later became a Justice of the Peace. Many of the 35 or so men who subsequently became subscribing members of the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee went on to form the Leyton & Leytonstone Ratepayers’ Association. Many of them also subsequently became Councillors, mostly as Leyton & Leytonstone Ratepayers’ Association members but some as Conservatives or Radicals - a list of Councillors present at the opening of the Lea Bridge Road library (on the stone plaque in the wall) reads like a roll-call of the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee!
The Hon. Secretary was to be Mr. Edward Charles Pittam, who then lived at 2 Rose Villas on Grange Park Road and who had made his mark locally by his frequent complaints to the Vestry Council about the lack of adequate water supplies and the failure to deal with frequent flooding of sewers (which probably means the drainage channels on the marshes). However, the Minutes of the Local Board of the 1st December 1891 refer to a letter received from Mr. Pittam in relation to an obstruction having been placed by the East London Waterworks Company across the footpath over Leyton Marsh. Christopher Musgrave, in addition to being an Essex County Councillor, was also a respected member of the Local Board at this time. Edward Pittam’s letter was passed to the Highways and Lighting Committee. On the 5th January 1892 it is minuted that “the letter from Mr. Pittam referred by the Board having been under consideration, your Committee recommend that the East London Waterworks Company be called upon to remove the rails laid by that Company across the footpath leading from Church Road to Lea Bridge Road”. On the 2nd February 1892 it is minuted that a letter had been received from the Secretary to the ELWC in reply to this formal complaint “stating that no public obstruction was caused by the metals across the footpath over the marshes.” Christopher Musgrave proposed a motion, which was carried unanimously, that the Town Clerk should reply to the letter and point out that the ELWC’s “references to Tramways in Roads pursuant to Statutory Powers has no application.” By the time of the Lammas Day action, therefore, members of local government bodies had been stirred into action by Edward Pittam, and after the formation of the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee it was largely he who subsequently carried the organisation forward.
Edward Pittam was a Solicitor’s Clerk, then aged about 27. He was born in Shoreditch, Hackney, and seems to have worked in the City. His wife, Alice Kate, was slightly older than he and was born in the nearby parish of St. Luke’s in Finsbury. Edward was also interested in early cinema and later became a company director of a firm making projection equipment. At the time the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee was set up, his wife had given birth to two children, Edward Charles who was named for his father and then about two years of age, and a new baby called Kate Edith. The oldest child was born in Shoreditch and Edward’s election address in the 1904 local elections states that the family moved to Leyton in 1888. Possibly the young couple had remained living with one or other set of parents, as was then quite usual, until the baby arrived.
In the mid-1890s the family moved to 31 Manor Road in Leyton, an ordinary two-storey family home, and that became the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee’s official correspondence address. By the time of the 1901 census the family had added Ethel Maud then 9 years old (two years younger than her older sister Kate), Alice Ida aged 8, Thomas (age illegible) and George aged 3. Edward’s friend James Baskett, who was also involved in the LLLDC, had been living over the road at No. 36 at the time of their move.
Edward Pittam dealt with all the correspondence of the Leyton Lammas Lands Defence Committee and kept the Minutes. The first meeting of the new Committee was on Wednesday 14th December 1892 and held at Grange Park Hall. Thirty-four men signed up as members - Edward Charles Pittam, Henry Humphreys, Christopher George Musgrave, Edward James Davis JP, Richard Ward, James Baskett, Aubrey Augustus Timbrell, Arthur Thomas Dale, A. Cornish, Walter H. Ware, Edward James Smith, Thomas Edward Grigsby, Edwin John Davey, Alfred Edwin Dolden, B. Pontin, John Davies, N. Joliffe, C. Linden, Andrew Beadle, A.N. Reeve, I.J. Pells, William Rowland Waller, David H. Saul, Walter Basden Whittingham, Mark Chapman, Charles Andrews, Dr. Alfred Peskett, James Calver, William Volckerman (who chaired the public meeting in November, Bernard Berg, W. Atkins and John Embleton Smith. Over the next few weeks dozens more came to meetings and joined.
Edward Davis was appointed Chair of the Committee at this meeting. Aubrey Timbrell was put in charge of preparing the Defence to the East London Waterworks Company’s action against Christopher Musgrave and Henry Humphreys. On Monday 16th January 1893 the Committee met again, this time at the Leytonstone Liberal Club. The Clerk to the Vestry Council, Mr. R.T. Wragg, whose family ran the horse-buses from Lea Bridge Road to the City, attended. It was decided that letters should be sent to the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, the London County Council’s Open Spaces Committee, the Footpath Preservation Society and the Commons Preservation Society (founded by William Morris and now known as the Open Spaces Society), asking them to meet a delegation consisting of Edward Davis, Christopher Musgrave, Edward Pittam, John Pells and a Mr. Orme who had joined at the previous meeting. Christopher Musgrave and Edward Pittam had also already drafted a circular (flyer) asking the public to contribute funds to help fight the two court cases. By the next meeting, on 30th January at the Constitutional Club in Leyton, a Statement of Defence and Counterclaim had already been prepared.
Many letters were sent backwards and forwards and help in the two court actions was sought from the local Member of Parliament, himself a barrister. Eventually the court action was dropped and the East London Waterworks Company proposed terms of compromise under which it gave up all claim to enclose any portion of the Marsh and a sum of £100 was paid to the Defence Committee which was lodged with the Surveyor of the Local Board (basically its Chief Executive), Mr. Dawson, towards the cost of a new footbridge across the Temple Mills Stream, which was prone to flooding. That stream was filled in during the 1950s as part of the works to build the flood relief channel, but its route continued to form the borough boundary between Leyton and Hackney.